During firearm training classes, the question of flying with firearms comes up a lot. People have a fear of flying with firearms, but it’s just a lack of knowledge about the process. As long as you know how to proceed it’s not a big deal. (This column contains general information. Check the TSA website and your airline’s website—which sometimes has more specific rules—for details.)
To start with, your firearm must be in a hard-side case. This case must be designed to hold firearms, and capable of being locked, or separate locks that secure the case, and not allow easy access inside the case. A soft-type bag is not acceptable. I put semiautos in the case with the slide locked to the rear, which shows empty. That case goes into my suitcase, which should also be a hard case with locks. This is how you transport your gear to the airport. Do not get on the grounds of the facility and then start unloading your concealed carry weapon and packing it in your luggage.
You declare the firearm when you check in your bags. “In my suitcase, I have a firearm to declare.” Do not step up and announce, “I have a gun.” The agent will give you a card to sign and date stating the firearm is unloaded. This goes inside your suitcase. That’s when things will start to vary. I know all this is supposed to be standard, but each airport – and airline – seems to work a little differently.
Sometimes, the airline agents have me open the firearm case to show them the gun is unloaded. Other airports will leave the firearm case locked, and you don’t have to show them the guns are unloaded. Just ask them what you need to do.
Next, the suitcase or long gun case goes to TSA to be inspected. Normally, the ticket agent will have me wait while the baggage is inspected. Once clear, a TSA agent will let me know everything is clear and I’m on my way.
Flying with long guns is the same, except you’re using a rifle case instead of the case in the suitcase. Get a quality case for your long guns. Baggage handling is rough. You need a case that holds up to being tossed around, crammed into the cargo compartment of the plane and otherwise abused.
I normally fly with a small amount of ammunition. Ammo must be packaged in the manufacturer’s original package, or securely packed in “fiber, wood, plastic, or metal boxes and provide separation for cartridges.” I just leave it in the factory packaging, and tape up the box to ensure it doesn’t come open. You cannot fly with gunpowder or ammo with explosive or incendiary bullets. Usually there is an 11-pound limit on ammo.
Once you arrive, it’s time to collect your bag. In the old days, it came out with the rest of the luggage. Due to recent events, bags containing firearms now go to the baggage agent and you have to show a claim stub to take possession of your bag. Then you’re out the door, heading to somewhere safe, so you can get loaded and geared up, if that is your choice.
I don’t fly with expensive firearms. Some prefer to travel with something that won’t break your heart if it gets lost or stolen. Take out extra insurance on your bag. If something does happen, with insurance you’re covered and can replace your gear. It doesn’t take much in the way of firearms, ammo, magazines, holsters, and pouches, and related gear to add up quickly. Insurance is cheap compared to what you might lose.
Everyone hears horror stories about flying with checked firearms. I’ve only had a problem once. The agent had a problem with me, or the fact that I was a firearms owner. Plus, he didn’t know what he was doing and the proper procedures. I politely asked for a supervisor and everything was good.
Flying with your firearms is a painless process. Check with TSA and your airline beforehand to ensure you’ve got everything set up properly. Then, enjoy your trip.
Do you have a tip for flying with firearms or a a story about what happened to you? Share your answers in the comment section.
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WOW! The first article I’ve read that was close to correct and accurate (to my experiences). The only difference that I have encountered, is my checked bag that has my handgun, always shows up with the rest of the baggage. Now, that COULD BE, because of the airports/airlines I have been using and that they are either a little more lax, or, just not caught up with the rest of the industry. Mostly I fly to and from Chicago’s Midway Airport and Corpus Christi, Texas using Southwest Airlines.
I would like to add that you can not (at least the places I fly from), declare a checked firearm, using the curbside check-in. You have to go inside the airport and use the full service counter.
I agree with all with one exception the hard case does not need to be in a hard suitcase, soft-side will work fine.
Also concerning ammo I use 50 round plastic reload box’s as I fly weekly and the original cardboard boxes do not hold up.
Concerning other countries or non free states do your homework. I fly every week to all states. I only take a firearm to states that I have resopracity with my TX LTC. Exceptions are AK VT and ME which have no need for permission to exercise 2nd amendment civil rights.
I think the author was recommending a hard side suitcase (not a bad idea anyhow), not saying it had to be a hard sided suitcase. My suitcase is soft sided but as long as the gun case is hard sided it’s good to go.
James Janssen says
What about flying to other countries like ……. California ect ???.
Great article and pretty much describes most of my travel experiences when flying with a weapon.
I did have one negative situation when I was flying out to see my kids in Arizona. I had purchased a case which could handle two pistols and since I was unsure if it met the TSA specifications I drove to the airport here in Charlotte, NC and showed it to one of the TSA supervisors at the airport. He inspected it and determined it met all their requirements.
Several weeks later I’m at the airport checking-in for my flight to Phoenix. I tell the airline agent at the counter that I’m traveling with a checked weapon and will need to have a TSA agent inspect my bag. I’m escorted to a small room next to the ticket counters and asked to open my suitcase. The TSA rep conducting the inspection tells me the case does not meet their specs. When I tried to explain that one their supervisors had looked it over and given it a thumbs up fell on deaf ears. He suggested I go buy another case or leave the pistols in Charlotte. My flight left in 2 hours and I had no way to leave the airport as a friend had dropped me off. I asked to see a supervisor but was told it could be an hour or more before one would be available.
It looked like I was going to miss my flight. I was trying to figure out how to deal with this problem when the TSA rep told me I could purchase an approved gun case from one of the airlines. (Not the airline I was flying on. Is this story beginning to take on a particular smell?) The gun case was going to cost $60.00 and the cost of rebooking my flight was going to be around $75 and I’d need to make new arrangements rides to and from the airport in Charlotte and at my destination in Phoenix.
I was furious but kind of between “a rock and a hard place”. I coughed up the $60.00, got an “approved gun case” and made my flight to Phoenix. I realized there was little I could do at the time but I did file a complaint with the TSA and also sent copies to my US Representative and both US Senators in my state. I’ve flown numerous times with pistols since this happened with absolutely no problem. I guess you could call it a “TSA shakedown”.
What about the original case didn’t meet with approval? As long as it is a hard sided case that can lock (and the TSA can’t unlock), it should be just fine. Mine is made of hard plastic and has a couple cheapy clasps that lock, with keys that look like they go to a kid’s diary lock. Never once had an issue with mine. Not sure I would check mine not in a suitcase because I know I could stomp on it a few times to get it to pop open. But it still passes inspection at O’Hare, Midway, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Knoxville, Corpus Christi, and Houston airports.