One of my students is a pilot for American Airlines. He sometimes stops by for a lesson if he's flying through Nashville. I recently got a question from another pilot-student about easier and/or lighter options for flying with a banjo and I referred it to Willie, since he has a lot of experience in that area. I know most of you aren't pilots, but I found his answer interesting and informative:
Willie Spence here. I'm a First Officer on the 737 out of Miami with American Airlines. Been carrying the banjo with me for about 8 years. I lugged my main banjo around for a while in a gig bag and have never had a ding. BUT ..... It was too heavy and began to be a pain in the [back]. I tried a 2/3-size Gold Tone and although it solved the weight problem, I didn't like the right hand posture on the smaller head. On visiting a luthier he was showing me how good a well set up "cheaper" banjo could sound and pulled out a Deering Goodtime Special. Voila... weight, size and sound problem solved. It's about half the weight of my Heartland. I use a gig bag always to carry the Goodtime. It's lower profile and offers reasonable protection for my instrument. I use a bath size towel (stuffed between the coordinator rod and the head) to mute my banjo when I'm playing in a hotel (it's the only way to mute it and preserve the sound if that makes any sense---no sustain like a bridge mute) and wrap it around the pot of the banjo for additional protection when carrying it (kind of looks like a weird football but lots of protection).
My general feeling about carrying my banjo.... I MUST carry it with me everywhere I go and WILL practice when sitting around otherwise doing nothing. Pulling it out in an airport is a great way to get over playing bashfulness and I really need the practice everywhere I can get it... the banjo is a very mechanical instrument, almost anything can be fixed or adjusted and generally I've found my Goodtime to be very durable. I would say mine takes a fair beating in our travels and holds up well... and did I say it was light??? My thinking is that if the Goodtime is somehow destroyed in my travels, I have more than gotten my money's worth out of it and would go get another one and another gig bag as soon as I could get it and keep on pickin'.
So if you see a tallish guy in an AA uniform, picking a Goodtime the next time you're at the airport, be sure to stop by and say hi!