Audio Snakes on a Plane!
Getting on an airplane is always a little scary; but when you're taking lots of production equipment with you, it's downright terrifying! Traveling with gear requires preparation. Without the necessary cases, packing, and precautions, your equipment may not survive the trip. Join me as I pack for a flight to Detroit, on a mission to record some tracks with one of the best drummers I know. The fate of my favorite gear is uncertain.
The very first thing that should be discussed in this article are flight cases. They're called flight cases for a reason. I've always had an instinctive desire to "travel light." When you leave for the airport with a flight case included in your luggage, traveling light is not an option. Flight cases are made with thick wood, durable plastics, dense foam, and steel. They're heavy. Even when a flight case is empty, you don't want to pick it up. If you plan on stowing your delicate equipment in the cargo bay of a Boeing 757, you're always best off protecting it with a flight case.
The second thing that needs to be discussed in this article is how you pack. It's very important that there are no loose items in your case. Everything needs to be protected from the item next to it and from the walls of the case itself. Nothing should be allowed to freely float around, not even harmless little cables and such. You protect your equipment by stuffing loose foam (or other soft materials) between the objects in the case. Everything needs a layer of shock absorption around it. If you're not comfortable with the idea of throwing your case down a long concrete staircase when you're finished, then you haven't packed carefully enough.
Another key thing to consider is your carry-on luggage. An item I strongly recommend is the Pelican 1510. The magic of the 1510 is that it complies with the current FAA requirements. In short, you're allowed to bring it on an airplane and stow it in the overhead compartment. It's water proof, dust proof, chemical resistant, and best of all it almost looks normal and unassuming (it's always good not to make it obvious that you have equipment). One thing you must be mindful of is its weight. Different airlines have different rules about how heavy your carry-on can be, and a 1510 with foam dividers weighs 15 lbs when it's empty.
The beauty of the 1510 is that in the event that the airline does not allow you to carry it on, your gear will still survive as a checked piece of luggage (if you pack it correctly). Above you can see how my RME OctaMic II fits inside the 1510. I'm concerned about the rack ears not having enough of a buffer between the walls of the case. Also in the back of the unit, the wordclock connector sticks out pretty far, and that worries me too. I removed the little foam dividers that come with the 1515 Padded Divider Set when I took this picture. I'll likely stuff them into these vulnerable points when I travel to Detroit.
Everything that I pack into my 1510 (microphones, cables, my OctaMic II, etc.) must be cushioned and protected. However, it's critical not to make your pack job impossible to quickly unpack and repack. Security officers will likely riffle through your case several times at the airport. You need to make it completely obvious how to repack the gear, even if you're not present.
This advice isn't exclusive to audio equipment. Any kind of gear that you travel with for photography, video, etc. will benefit from having the right kind of case. And of course, if the items are improperly packed, it doesn't matter how tough your case is; your equipment is doomed. When you're a piece of luggage, every flight is a turbulent one. Pack wisely, and don't be afraid to make the globe your own personal studio.
When I return from my trip, I'll let you know how it went in the comments section of this post. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for me or the other readers, we'd love to hear about them in the comments section!