flying with your firearm


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Has anyone had any first hand experience flying with their weapons? I have a trip coming up and I am a bit nervous checking my weapons.. I would hate for something to happen to them or they get lost or something. Can someone calm me down just a bit ;)

I only have second-hand information. So far most of the responses have been positive. The only negative is that in some airports you were not allowed to accompany your bag to TSA inspection. Try to encourage them to let you.

Two items of advice. First, check the TSA site for the latest info, print a copy and take it with you. Second, check you're airlines site as they may have more restrictive rules than TSA. For example one airline (I can't remember which one) required ammo in a separate bag.

Another hint. I recommend a COM safe It takes up minimum room, meets TSA requirements and the cable can be looped around internal parts of your bag to minimize casual theft.

For the most part is painless and successful.
Traveling With A Gun Via Air

Having traveled a number of times, here's how I go at it:

  1. Put the unloaded weapon(s) in a lockable hard-sided case with locks only you have the keys to open. TSA locks are not allowed.
  2. Check the airline(s) you are flying on:
    -Determine if the ammo MUST be in boxes OR can fly in loaded magazines.
    -If loaded magazines are permitted, make sure the pouches fully cover the magazines.
    -The round from the pipe(s) must be in a box, not loose.
  3. Secure and protect magazines and ammunition boxes from possible damage.
  4. Put the lockable hard-sided case with the weapon and the ammo/magazines into a cheap, non-descript bag - with clear labeling outside and inside - for checking in. The labeling should be limited to:
    -Your Name
    -Your Cell Phone - if you have one, or your home phone if you do not
    -Your personal email address - if you have one
  5. Other stuff - like shampoo, mouthwash, toothpaste, etc, could be in this checked bag also.
  6. Check this non-descript bag at the airport. Have the rules for the airline in hand.
  7. Make sure you have the keys to the lockable hard-sided case with you and you alone (Per Federal Regulations § 1540.111 Carriage of weapons, explosives, and incendiaries by individuals - Link Removed) at all times. You will have to open the lockable hard-side case to demonstrate to the airline that the weapon(s) are not loaded at check in, and if the TSA wants to see.
  8. Have the serial number(s) and descriptions of your weapons on you, so if they "disappear" you can report the loss/theft to the airline, the FAA Regional Office, and the ATF Regional Office immediately.
Other things to consider:

  1. Check to determine:
    -If you can possess the weapon at all your stops.
    -Where and how you can carry at all your stops.
    -What are the deadly force rules in each state you are visiting.
  2. Have a copy of the Don Young Transportation Letter on hand - Link Removed. This covers changing modes of travel - car to plane to car - in a single journey.
I flew from New Jersey to Nevada and back with a declared pistol (didn't fly with ammo). I didn't face any problems. The airline simply had my sign a form stating that the firearm was unloaded. Then they escorted me to the TSA station, where the agents put the bag (gun was in locked case inside) and ran it through the scanner. They gave me the thumbs up, and I went to my gate and boarded my flight. Pick up at the arrival airport was just as smoothe.

As long as you take precautions like stated above, and follow the regulations to a "T," you shouldn't have any problems. One note of caution--if the counter clerk doesn't know what to do, show him/her the printed out regulations of the airline, AND ask for a supervisor.

Also, don't let them label your luggage as containing firearms. It is 100% illegal to do so as per FAA.
Living on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you can imagine that I do A LOT of air travel. I've traveled on several airlines, landing at several airports. I have a couple of different cases that I use for transporting my firearms. One is an aluminum case for my rifles and handguns if I'm taking handguns on the same trip, the other is a Pelican 1450 case. Both are approved for travel with firearms. Before heading to the airport, be sure to have both the airlines and TSA current regulations regarding transportation of firearms. You'll be surprised at how many airline representatives don't know the proper procedure for checking in firearms. Although FAA regulations allow it, I ALWAYS transport my firearms SEPERATE from the ammunition. I'll have the ammo in it's original packaging or if using reloads, in a reload container in my checked bag. Remember that airlines can impose stricter rules than what FAA and TSA allows. Bottom line is that the airline has the final say in how your firearms and ammo can be transported. Ammunition is limited by weight. Depending on the airline, I've experienced anywhere between 5 and 10 lbs.

When checking in, present your identification, boarding/flight info and state to the airline representative "I have UNLOADED firearms and ammunition to declare." The airline representative will have you fill out a firearms declaration form. It's usually a bright colored card approximately the size of your average luggage tag. This will go INSIDE the container holding the firearms. Be sure to have lock(s) for your gun case. They can be keyed or combination provided that only the passenger transporting the firearms has the combination and/or key. (TSA locks are not supposed to be used, but I've seen a couple of instances where they were allowed by airline representatives and TSA personnel.) In most cases you will be escorted to a seperate area where TSA will inspect the firearms to see that they are NOT LOADED. When coming in contact with the TSA personnel, it's a good idea to again state "I have UNLOADED firearms and ammunition to declare." Once TSA is done with your firearms, they will ensure that the case is locked and advise you that you're free to go to the gate.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to PM me. I've got names and ID numbers of various TSA personnel at various airports who have given me problems. Best thing to do is not argue with them, request a supervisor and bust out a pen a paper to get their identifying info. In a couple of cases, the TSA agent attempted to obscure their ID tag, so in that case I wrote down a description of the agent and was able to snap a photo with either my digital camera or cell phone.

Skindad88, I fly on a regular basis and always take a fire arm. Let me start off by asking which airline you will be flying with, where you are flying from and your destination? Flying with a firearm is really easy. We have all heard the horror stories but I have only had trouble a couple of times, and they were with people at the counter who did not know the proses or were anti-hunters. If the person at the desk is uncomfortable or you feel that they are not shore of what they are doing,smile and ask for a supervisor. I never give them the keys to my gun case. I always request that TSA inspect the case in my presence, when they are done I lock the case and put the keys in my pocket. After you get that first flight under your belt you will realize that it is not that big of a deal. If you have any specific questions feel free to PM .
I also have a trip coming up and have never flown with my firearm--my question is where is my luggage with my locked case inside when I arrive at my destination? Does it come off the conveyor with everyone else's or do I pick it up somewhere else?
I also have a trip coming up and have never flown with my firearm--my question is where is my luggage with my locked case inside when I arrive at my destination? Does it come off the conveyor with everyone else's or do I pick it up somewhere else?

There is no indication on your bag that it contains a firearm. This is by design in the regs. The form that you sign when you declare generally goes into your locked case.

Go safe. Come safe.
I also have a trip coming up and have never flown with my firearm--my question is where is my luggage with my locked case inside when I arrive at my destination? Does it come off the conveyor with everyone else's or do I pick it up somewhere else?

Unless your luggage is unusually sized or shaped, it will come out through the conveyor for your flight number, just like any other luggage. There is no indication on the outside of the luggage that there any firearms, so no one will treat it differently. As mentioned earlier, not tags are allowed on the outside that state that firearms are inside.

On the other hand, if you're traveling with long guns and the case is too long for the conveyor, then it will be sent to a different, but nearby area. This would be the same area you would go to pick up skis or any other unusual luggage.
Unless your luggage is unusually sized or shaped, it will come out through the conveyor for your flight number, just like any other luggage. There is no indication on the outside of the luggage that there any firearms, so no one will treat it differently. As mentioned earlier, not tags are allowed on the outside that state that firearms are inside.

On the other hand, if you're traveling with long guns and the case is too long for the conveyor, then it will be sent to a different, but nearby area. This would be the same area you would go to pick up skis or any other unusual luggage.

I've traveled many times with my firearms. I experienced only one instance where my firearms were secured by baggage personnel. All of the other times, the firearms came off the conveyor belt with the other luggage. This is why I make it a point to make it to the baggage claim area A.S.A.P. I've run in to one occasion where another passenger claimed to "accidently" put my rifle case on his baggage cart. After a brief chat with airport police, the man was observed and subseqently questioned by authorities when he proceeded to leave the terminal with all of his baggage, none of whiche remotely resembled my aluminum rifle case. :wink:

Be careful when traveling by air with firearms. Never know what kind of folks you'll run into. Another word of caution is that some airlines don't allow you to put your firearms case into another bag, hence my Pelican 1450 case for pistols and aluminum long gun case.

thanks for all the responses everyone, I'm glad to hear that its not as bad as I thought it could be. Still makes me nervous leaving my babies to the airport personal.

my first trip is planned to go from Minneapolis to Florida and then back. Next will be from Minneapolis to Nevada. Not sure on what airlines just yet, just the destinations.
You won't have any problems if you're flying into Las Vegas. The airline personnel are very proficient in dealing with flyer's and their guns due to the number of people attending Front Sight Firearms Training Institute each weekend.
Experienced air traveler

Have CCWs will travel. I typically take three to five handguns and 11 lbs of ammo with me when I travel.

I have been to the following airports without issue;
  • AZ; Phoenix (PHX)
  • FL; Orlando (MCO), Tampa (TPA) and West Palm Beach (PBI)
  • MO; KS City (MCI) and St Louis (STL)
  • NV; Las Vegas (LAS); home airport
  • TX; Dallas (DAL and DFW)
  • UT; Salt Lake City (SLC)
Here's the process at the airports I've been;
  1. Verify the airline policy on firearms.
    Not all airlines allow firearms. Some have stricter requirements than TSA. Also some airlines will not insure baggage that contains firearms so you lose if the baggage is lost or the firearm is stolen from it; you are out of luck.​
  2. Pack your bags in accordance to airline policy. Keep in mind that you cannot use TSA approved locks on your hard side firearm case.
    Per 49 CFR 1540.111; only the passenger(s)/lawful owner(s) of the firearm(s) are to have the key or combination to the firearm case. It is ok to give the TSA screener the key if they need to get into your hard side firearm case under your supervision.​
  3. Verbally declare your firearms at the time you check your bags to the ticket agent. Do not check your bags at the curb.

  4. The process after that varies;
    • Most of the time, the ticket agent gives you a red or orange "unloaded firearm(s) declaration tag. You take your firearm hardside case out of your piece of luggage and open it up for the agent. You put the filled out unloaded firearm declaration tag inside the case, lock it up, put it back inside of your luggage, lock your luggage then weigh it. You are then either escorted to the screening station by the ticket agent or the bag is put on the conveyor with the other bags. If you are escorted to the screening station, wait for the thumbs up from the screener before going to your gate. Sometimes the TSA screener will hold on to your boarding pass while your bag is being screened. No big deal, just policy for that particular airport. In Dallas (DAL, Love Field), the bag is put on the conveyor and you walk to the TSA screening area. Tell the TSA staff why you're there and wait for your bags to go through. DAL is a good airport to watch what is happening to your luggage during TSA screening.

    • In MO airports, your bags are weighed then the airline agent escorts you to TSA screening. You fill out the firearm declaration tag in front of the TSA agent. Wait for the thumbs up from the TSA screener then go to your gate. I suspect this may have something to do with MO being the "Show Me" State.
  5. Go to the baggage claim area immediately upon getting to your final destination. If you are changing planes, your luggage should be moved to the other plane. Just go to your next plane.

  6. If your luggage is in similar condition to when you checked it. No worries. If your luggage has been broken into. Immediately file a claim and a police report. It is not necessary to contact ATF, the local law enforcement agency taking the report will put this into the NCIC hot firearm list.
Other tips for traveling;
  • Arrive early; 90 minutes prior to preboarding.
    More time if the airport is busy. This is to allocate additional time for screening. Your bags will be hand searched (at least the one with the ammo will be).​
  • Avoid the rush.
    For example in Vegas, I avoid flying out on a Sunday or Monday because the airport is wall to wall tourists. I fly out midweek, Friday or Saturday. LAS is busy with ingress tourist traffic on Fridays and Saturdays. I make it a point to return midweek, Sunday or Monday. If you know there's going to be a high volume of egress traffic at your airport of origination, schedule your travel around it if possible. Fortunately the NRA Annual Meeting in Louisville KY is after the KY Derby.​
  • Take two checked bags
    Many airlines this incurs an excess baggage fee. While it is legal to have your ammo and locked firearm case in the same bag or even in the same case as the firearm, an airline can require they be in separate bags or not in the same case.​
  • Avoid airlines that have more stringent firearm policies.
    Only travel on airlines defer to TSA regulations and do not have any special weasel clauses in their contract of carriage. I fly Southwest with US Airways being my backup airline if I can't get a good airfare at the last minute from Southwest.​
  • Fly non-stop.
    This minimizes the risk of your checked baggage being put on the wrong plane. If you must change planes, do not change airlines as your connecting carrier may have more stringent policies and prohibited items.​
  • Avoid 2A hostile jurisdictions.
    Do not change planes in 2A hostile jurisdictions that require an ID, license or permit to possess.; IL, MA, NJ and NY. You can get arrested and charged when you go to check your bags if you end up getting stuck there. DC is ok because there is are no airports in DC. Ronald Reagan and Dulles are in VA, not DC proper which is a pro-2A State thanks to the hard work of VCDL.​
  • Use TSA approved locks on your luggage that your firearm case is in.

  • Weigh your luggage ahead of time.
    If you don't have a shipping scale then use a bathroom scale; weigh yourself (obtaining taring) then weigh yourself holding your piece of luggage. The positive difference should be the weight of your checked luggage.​
  • Ammunition transportation.
    Transport your 11 lbs of ammo in a plastic or metal ammo can. Loaded magazines need to be in a magazine carrier protecting the primer. Your luggage with the ammo always will be hand searched for explosives as ammo triggers the screening equipment.​
  • Have a hard side case specifically for traveling.
    I have three travel hard side cases I use. The hardside case that your firearm(s) come in typically have manufacturer's factory logo on it. It's not a good idea to have a case that screams "gun." If you take multiple firearms, clean, old balled up socks make great packing material for firearm cases to cushion your firearms. Your firearms will shift around in the hard side case during the flight and baggage handling, you can get some travel dings on your firearms from this shifting. My S&W 908 has some travel dings in the magazine well.​
  • Keep spare keys to your firearm case padlocks in your carry on.
    I have two key rings I take with me. My travel key ring and my spare that's in my laptop bag which is my carry on.​
  • Record the make, model and serial numbers of your firearms.
    Keep this information with you or in your carry on in case they need to be reported as stolen should your luggage turn up missing. If you have a PalmOS device, use an application such as GunDB which is free. If you will have Internet access while traveling, you can also e-mail this information to yourself.​
  • Take firearms that can be easily replaced.
    While difficult for traveling shooting competitors, take firearms you can easily replace or are still in production.​
  • Arm up in the airport if it is legal to do so.
    In quite a few States, the entire airport is a prohibited area for CCW; FL and NV being the two States that immediately come to mind.​
  • Pack your holsters with your firearms and ammo.
    TSA can arbitrarily decide to not allow a holster past the check point. An obvious exception to this rule would be the SmartCarry or Thunderwear. I use my SmartCarry security to carry my passport as backup ID as well as emergency cash so it's doubling as a money belt.​
  • Carry a print out of everything.
    Print up the airline policy and TSA regulations pertaining to firearms and ammo.​
  • Other self-defense items.
    If you carry other defense items such as batons, knives, martial arts items, stun guns or tasers, make sure they are legal at your destination and are packed with your firearms. I put mine in the ammo can with my ammo. There are quite a few shall issue States that ban or restrict non-lethal self-defense devices. In many States, your CCW is for concealable firearms only. It's not a broad spectrum weapon or self defense device license or permit.​
  • Brush up on the laws
    Especially prohibited areas, what you can carry (i.e. anything over .45 is illegal in OK), recognition and reciprocity for your destination and points where you are changing planes. Firearm laws do change and not necessarily for the better. Anytime you change planes you may end up being stuck there because of some unforeseen circumstance.​
  • Take all CCWs you have.
    While traveling, you may end up or be diverted anywhere. With this possibility you need the broadest coverage possible. When I am at home, I just have my NV CFP with me. In my travel wallet I have my other States. While traveling, I have the most recognized or CCW that obtained recognition or reciprocity first behind my NV CDL in my travel wallet. Since AZ and UT are we honor all States, it's not that big of a deal if I forget my other CCWs when driving to AZ or UT.​
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I am flying out of Orlando on Monday. My first time taking gun and ammo. I wasn't going take it till I read these posts! Now I am ready to give it a try!

Thanks for the very good info!:icon_biggrin:
russian roullette

Netentity has got it right. I've flown several times in the last couple of years bringing handguns, rifles, and shotguns (sometimes all at once in the same case). If you follow all the rules and give yourself plenty of advance time to get through TSA, you shouldn't have any problems. My experiences are with USAirways, JetBlue, and Delta.

You must keep your key on you, and be prepared to open the case to demonstrate weapons are unloaded. I haven't had any bad luck yet, but for full-size long-gun cases, they may not always show up on the luggage carousel in baggage claim. Sometimes they decide the case is too big and set it aside in a back room. Then I get all stressed as the last bag is plucked from the carousel and I still don't have my weapons. There's usually no one around to ask, but I've always been lucky to find a baggage handler caring enough to help me track it down.

It's feels a bit like playing Russian roullette (I can only surmise there) because you do hear so many bad stories, so I tend not to choose air travel with any weapons that I value highly. Of course, if I were planning a safari to Africa or somewhere else exotic, I would have to take that chance and bring the appropriate firearms. Any place within an eight or ten hour drive, I end up driving as you'll spend just as much time waiting in airports, going through TSA, and getting to/from the airports anyway.

Good luck.
Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I've always heard that by declaring the firearm, the airline is thus aware of it and therefore responsible for its safe handling and passage.
Firearms and airline liability...

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I've always heard that by declaring the firearm, the airline is thus aware of it and therefore responsible for its safe handling and passage.
Your better airlines will not exclude firearms or have weasel clauses in their contract of carriage. Frontier or Northwest had a policy specifically excluding firearms in baggage claims meaning if it turned up lost of stolen, they would cover everything in your luggage except your firearms. Do your due diligence and read the contract of carriage for the particular air carrier.

I have not had issues with Southwest or US Airways. However, I just heard that US Airways is cutting service to LAS (Las Vegas NV), so I will probably be looking for another backup airline when I can't get good airfare via Southwest.
Administrative changes at LAS and my experience at SDF (Louisville KY)

I just got back from Louisville KY yesterday from the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits. LAS (McCarran Int'l Las Vegas) has changed their policy again. Now the ticket agent puts the firearm declaration tag in your luggage outside of the hard sided firearm case.

SDF: Lousiville KY is like PBI (West Palm Beach FL) and LAS, they just put the bag on the conveyor. The ticket agent for Southwest just told me to hang outside of the TSA passenger screening area for 15 minutes, if I didn't hear my name over the PA to return back to the SWA ticketing counter, go ahead, go through and have a nice flight.

My checked bags appeared at LAS without issue with my firearms along with the half dozen White Castle singles I was asked to bring back that I picked up on the way back to the airport.

Another successful trip via air with firearms and another State to add to the will visit list through personal experience.

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