Flight Testing Our Carbon Fiber Harp Case
We are so grateful to Sunita Staneslow for being our harp case beta tester! We outfitted the case for her Camac Ulysse and sent her off with it from the Somerset harp festival in July. The harp has now been loaded and unloaded on seven different planes, and Sunita has been sending us regular updates, great observations and suggestions, and glowing words of praise. We thought you’d all be curious to hear how her experience has been, and what improvements we’re making based on her feedback.
Sunita says, “I love the case and feel like a true professional!!!! Thank you!!”
“I love going to the airport now with my slick case and I used to dread going to the airport. For me, I feel like my travel experience has been completely transformed!!!”
“Fit in the back seat of my Uber to the airport!”
“The case is so easy to handle. I brought my dad to a performance at his former retirement community and the harp fit with the wheelchair (collapsible) in the back of my mom’s Prius.”
“With my harp it is only about 40 pounds.”
“When I checked in at Southwest, they were so surprised by how light it was…”
Dusty: Typically, if a checked bag weighs more than 50 pounds, the airline will assess an overweight fee, commonly $100. Since you will already be paying an oversize fee for a harp, keeping the overall weight under 50 pounds will eliminate that extra surcharge.
“The harp and the case are so light, I feel that I can lift it and put it anywhere. The wheels just glide, but I can’t set it on its back if there is a slant on the sidewalk because the harp will just keep on rolling! Maybe a locking wheel would help? Or, I will just be careful. I love that it rolls – or rather glides across the pavement.”
Dusty: We went for maximum maneuverability with the wheels, and it sounds like we succeeded on that front! We did design the case to stand up on end (the way your harp does when it’s out of the case), and it won’t roll in that position. Also, the front wheels are easily removable (they can be popped out), which would be another way to keep the case from rolling away.
Opening and closing the case
“[I] don’t like the hinges that separate the two pieces of the case. The case comes apart too easily into two parts and I find it annoying to line up the hinges when I close the case.”
“Every time I put the harp in the case, it is a bit of a production. I need enough room to open it completely and then stand in the back and rehinge it.”
Dusty: The hinges are designed to come apart so that there is as much flexibility as possible for the user. But we have now added a removable strap that holds the lid open and upright, cutting down on the “production” of loading it, and the space needed. We hope this will also make it more of a foolproof process for people who aren’t used to it, such as TSA officers opening it for inspection. (Though Sunita has reported that TSA has put it back together correctly every time so far!)
Sunita’s response: “I love the strap idea and was going to suggest it. Perfect solution.”
TSA inspections and baggage handlers
“It is interesting how all the airports seem to have different ways of handling oversize baggage. In the Twin Cities, I can request to watch them open it.”
“We do need to have a label telling the TSA to open it the proper way. Right now I just have a hasty sign. Would be good to label the case with the word HARP, and maybe something more elegant like ‘I’m a harp, please handle me gently. Lay flat, open this side up…’”
“It isn’t obvious to people that it is a harp. It could be sports equipment. Having something that clearly states that it is a harp may help with the handling.”
Dusty: Because she can’t always watch this process, Sunita has taped instructions onto to the outside of the case so that TSA knows which side to lay it down on when they open it. We like this idea, and plan to incorporate instructions into the case design. We also agree that people will be more likely to handle the case gently if they know there is a harp inside, and we’re working on a few different ideas for making that clear.
“I have to be careful to put my harp all the way in the base/bottom of the case or it doesn’t close. I’m getting much better at the alignment and am so happy that it is snug.”
“The harp shows no damage in any way.”
Hard vs. soft case
“I used my soft case for regular transport because it is easy to get in a car and just grab it and walk with it. But, if I need to put anything else in the car or I am flying, then I want your case.”
Dusty: Because we felt it was important to accommodate the widest range of harps and also keep the overall size and weight down, we opted for a size and shape that means many harps will only fit without their bulky soft case. We have tried to make the hard case as easy as possible to use, so that it can actually be a reasonable substitute for a soft case when you can't bring both.
What plane travel looks like, as reported by Sunita:
1. Get dropped off at curb.
2. Walk inside to check in.
3. Harp is so light and case has such great wheels it practically floats on the sidewalk. Even with a carry on and a suitcase, I didn’t need a cart.
4. Check in. Bags tagged. On Southwest I pay $75 oversize instrument fee.
5. Oversize bags need to be left at end of check-in area. You usually can’t follow it farther but in Newark, the TSA area was close by and I could watch them inspect the harp. In San Diego, they picked up the harp from the oversize baggage drop off point and I couldn’t follow it behind the closed doors.
6. Harp is collected at the area for oversize baggage claim, usually very close to where I pick up my regular luggage.
7. I rented a cart in Portland because I had extra time and wandered around to shop and eat. The harp fit through the elevator and even into the bathroom.