Traveling With Firearms

By CTD Blogger published on in Gun Gear

Today I’m heading out for the 4th Annual Gun Blogger Rendezvous. It’s a great opportunity, not just for writers, but for anyone, to get to know the bloggers and to learn a LOT about firearms. These writers are a veritable fount of knowledge when it comes to firearms. But since I’m flying up to Reno, I felt it appropriate to post an article on flying with firearms. It can be intimidating for the uninitiated, but it’s really not a huge deal if you know the rules.

Airline travel can be a giant headache and, in recent years, air travel has just got plain ugly. We aren’t offered food anymore, seats are getting smaller and restrictions have gotten everyone, travelers and security, grumpier. Because of the high volume of air travel a day, the popular statistic is more than 2 million people flying per day, airport and airline employees are busy dealing with cancelled flights, delayed flights, over-booked flights, long lines at security and check-in and a wide variety of other travel issues. Add in a “special item”, such as your firearm, and airline travel can get even trickier. Remember the grumpy, overworked airline employees? These same employees may be uninformed of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) rules and regulations and the airline employee may even be uninformed of their own company’s rules and regulations. Armed with your basic travel etiquette (be polite) and the rules and regulations of the TSA and of the airline you’re traveling on, taking your firearm with you does not have to be a giant pain.

The TSA states:

  • Firearms, ammunition and parts can not be carried on. They must be put in checked baggage.
  • You must declare all firearms to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process.
  • The firearm must be unloaded.
  • The firearm must be in a hard-sided container.
  • The container must be locked. A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from access by anyone other than you. Cases that can be pulled open with little effort do not meet this criterion.
  • Federal regulations prohibit unlocked gun cases (or cases with broken locks) on aircraft. TSA locks are not approved for securing firearms.
  • You must securely pack any ammunition in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging that is specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.
  • You can’t use firearm magazines/clips for packing ammunition unless they completely and securely enclose the ammunition (e.g., by securely covering the exposed
  • You may carry the ammunition in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as you pack it as described above.
  • You can’t bring black powder or percussion caps used with black-powder type firearms in either your carry-on or checked baggage.

In the NRA article, “Travel Smart With Firearms” the TSA’s Michael J. Restovich tells us that federal law only gives the airlines guidelines and specific requirements if they choose allow firearms. It is up to the airline to “determine if, when and how guns are transported on their airline.”
Following is examples of major United States carriers and their different firearms policies.
American Airlines:

  • Specifies that only small arms ammunition used for sporting purposes will be allowed.
  • You can not transport firearms into the UK.

United Airlines:

  • Archery equipment in a checked bag cannot exceed 50 lbs. or be any longer than 62”.

Southwest Airlines:

  • Magazines or clips containing ammunition must be securely packaged (placed in another small box or in a secure cutout in the carrying case, in order to protect the primer of the ammunition).
  • Ammunition must be in the same case as the firearm.
  • Loaded magazines or lose ammo are not allowed at all.

Delta:

  • Small arms ammunition, in quantities not exceeding 5 kg (11 lbs.) per person, are allowed as checked-baggage only when securely boxed and intended for that persons own use. More than one passenger may not combine quantities into one package.
  • One case with up to four rifles or shotguns is allowed, plus “shooting materials” and tools.
  • One case with up to five handguns, one scope and tools.
  • Excess baggage fee is charged when the gun case holds more than two rifles.

US Airways/America West:

  • No limit to how many items are in the gun case, but the case can not exceed 50 lbs.

Northwest:

  • One piece of luggage can not weigh more than 70 lbs.
  • One rifle case with up to four long guns, one shooting mat, one noise suppressor and tools.
  • One pistol case with up to five handguns, one scope, one noise suppressor and tools.
  • Baggage fee will be charged if you have a suitcase and a separate gun case.

Continental:

  • Accepts one item of shooting equipment per person, for example: one case with up to five firearms, 11 lbs. of ammo and tools.
  • Can not transport firearms to and from Israel or Denmark.

Before You Leave
Pick a good, sturdy case. Storm Cases and SKB make heavy duty, lockable gun cases that are airline-approved. SKB’s  40″ SKB ATA Single Carbine Case even offers insurance on the contents of the case. A case with wheels will help when you are transporting the case. Pick a gun case that has padlock receptacles and is made of heavy duty construction. The rules say that the gun case must be locked and only the passenger may have the key to the gun case. Further, pick heavy duty locks, such as Master Locks to lock up your gun case. TSA-approved gun locks are not recommended, because they can be broken into.
Before heading to the airport, completely clean out all the bags that you will be taking with you, especially your carry on bag. Completely clean out your firearms case, too. Loose ammo is not allowed on the flight at all. It is a good idea to break down your gun as much as possible. If you are going to be checking a bolt-action rifle, remove the bolt and put it in a Ziploc bag and place it in the case. You can even put trigger locks on all your guns. Also, chamber flags can be used to show immediately that the gun is unloaded.
The rules for archery equipment are basically the same as checking a firearm. The majority of airlines allow one bow, one quiver with arrows and a maintenance kit. All major United States airline carriers allow 11 lbs. of ammunition packed in the original manufacturer’s box or a wood or metal box. Before you travel, call your airline to get the most updated rules on checking your firearm. It is a good idea to have them fax you a copy of the most recent rules and take it with you to the airport, so if there are any problems, you may present them with the rules.
Allow for extra time at check-in. You will have to show the airline employee that your gun is unloaded and fill out a Firearms Unloaded declaration form. The declaration form goes inside the gun case, never outside. You never want to draw attention to the fact that a gun is inside the case. Once you get to the airport, do not attempt curb-side check-in. Firearms are not allowed at curb-side check-in. You must go inside the airport to a check-in counter. It will not be the airline’s responsibility to ask you about the laws of the State you are going to. So, make sure you will be legally allowed to have the gun you’re taking to the State you are taking it to. This is true also for traveling by car with your firearms. The NRA has a comprehensive website that will help you find gun laws for the different states.
When you travel internationally, you must first go to a Custom’s Office and get a Custom’s Form 4457 for the guns you will be taking. The best way to make sure you are handling international travel with firearms properly is to go with a travel agent specializing in international travel with firearms, or a reputable hunting outfit that will show you how to get your gun to your international destination.
Each airline varies a little in their requirements, so double check before you book your tickets. There are only a few other rules to remember: any item that requires an FFL to transfer is considered a firearm and is treated the same way as a firearm when you are traveling by air, TSA prohibits “replicas” of any kind (except for tie tacks) through security check points. This includes bullet key chains, belt buckles, lapel pins, necklaces, etc.

Knowing the rules and regulations and following them will make traveling with your firearm hassle-free.

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The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (3)

  • Tony

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    I am planning on going to Australia in September. I will be flying to Honolulu the sailing to Sydney to attend a target comp then flying back to the US..my concern is damage to my expensive rifle, I have a stainless steel case so it should be ok. Has anyone experience damage or rough handling of their rifle?

    Reply

  • Nappy Rash

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    i am afraid of travelling by plane by i might just get an airline travel when i go to europe this month ‘~*

    Reply

  • John

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    Just a heads up. I flew with my firearms this past week from Chicago to Denver via Southwest airlines. You stated that “Ammunition must be in the same case as the firearm.” This is not the case on Southwest. Ammunition MAY be in the same case as the firearm as long as its in cardboard boxes, etc. I flew with my limit of 11 lbs of ammunition checked inside a plastic container that was placed inside my wife’s luggage.

    On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised how hassle free it was to travel with my firearms. I flew out of Chicago with two handguns and an AR-15. I broke used “through the magazine well” locks on all my firearms and even separated the upper and lower of my AR. The TSA agent said “nice job, makes my job easier since I don’t have to touch them to see the chambers are clear.”

    Reply

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