Whether you’re travelling and find an artwork you love – or are moving to another city and want to bring your favourite custom frames with you – it’s worth knowing what your options are when it comes to transporting framed art.

Depending on the dimensions and weight of your picture frame, it may be possible to check it in as carry-on baggage. However, some airlines may require you to transport the frame as checked in baggage and others may prohibit bulky picture frames altogether. It’s important to do your research and plan ahead to make sure you’re able to transport your items safely and cost-effectively.

Can framed art be carry-on baggage or does it have to be checked in?

Most airlines list what’s allowed and prohibited as baggage when travelling with them. If you can’t find any information on their website about framed artwork, call the airline directly and explain your situation.

Many airlines will allow you to take picture frames on the plane as carry-on, provided it meets the carry-on luggage requirements. For example, Qantas explains that your carry-on baggage must fit under the seat in front of you or in the overhead lockers. It must also weigh less than the carry-on weight allowances.

If your frame exceeds the carry-on allowances, it may be possible to transport it as check-in baggage, provided you package it properly. Small frames can usually be packaged and stored inside your suitcase.

Some airlines make special carry-on allowances for bulky items such as large artworks. You may be required to purchase an extra seat and notify the airline that you will be carrying a bulky item. They may ask you to make sure your packaged frame has a handle or restraining point so that it can be secured properly.

If in doubt, contact your airline directly for more information.

Know the risks of carrying artwork on a plane

Your airline may allow you to bring your artwork on the plane as carry-on or checked-in baggage, but that doesn’t mean it’s the safest way to transport your framed artwork. Transporting frames on the plane comes with risks – it’s important to understand what they are to determine whether it’s the best option for you.

If your item is valuable or precious because of its sentimental value, it’s reasonable to feel wary about checking it in as checked in baggage. Even if your package is labelled as fragile, any mishandling could cause damage.

You can keep more of an eye on your carry-on baggage, but frames may still suffer damage in the overhead lockers from the vibrations and turbulence. Older frames are especially at risk of chipping and misalignment.

How to pack your frame for transport

The best way to protect your framed artwork during the flight is to ensure it’s appropriately packed. For valuable pieces, it’s worth using professional frame packing services. You should also consider insuring the piece in case it is damaged during the flight.

If you are packing the frame yourself, use artist tape on the glass to prevent it from shattering and damaging the artwork. Place corner protectors on the corners of the frame as they are particularly vulnerable to chipping and misalignment.

Wrap the frame in layers, starting with brown paper, and then lay a thick cardboard rectangle over the glass to reinforce it. Wrap the entire frame in bubble wrap, using multiple layers if you want extra protection. Place the protected frame inside an appropriate sized box and if required add extra padding to stop the frame from moving. Finally, wrap all four sides of the box with packing tape.

Keep in mind, your airline may have specific packing requirements. Follow their guidelines to ensure your item can be checked in with no problems.

Alternative options for transporting art

If you can’t take your artwork on the plane or find that it’s too expensive to be worth the hassle, here are some other options to consider:

    • Roll the artwork – many artworks, including canvas paintings, can be rolled and transported safely in a tube. This technique may also reduce the size, weight and cost of transporting your package. At your final destination, take the rolled artwork to a local framing studio and ask for canvas stretching or custom canvas frames
  • Get the seller to post it – many art sellers around the world offer a postage service for the artworks they sell. When purchasing art overseas or interstate, ask about their shipping options. It may be cheaper than the airline’s extra baggage fees.
  • Post it yourself – take your artwork to the local post office or call a courier service and ask whether they can ship your artwork. Rolled artwork will be cheaper to post than framed art, but many postal companies offer a fragile service which may be worth the upgrade.
  • Purchase the art online – digital artworks, including prints and photographs, can often be purchased online from the artist. Instead of transporting a physical print home with you, consider purchasing a digital copy and then printing it yourself with a local printer and framing it with a local framer.

Is it worth the trouble?

If you’re trying to transport a framed item that doesn’t have much financial or sentimental value, you might find that taking it with you on the plane is more trouble than you’re willing to go through. On the other hand, if the piece is valuable to you, then you’re probably happy to spend time and money on ensuring it’s safely transported.

Before you get on the plane, make sure you do your research and weigh up your options – including transporting the artwork without a frame. Knowing what’s possible could save you significantly in transport fees and prevent irreversible damage to your item.