Safety and Training

What I Carry When I Fly

A guest article by Jason Hanson Most people suspect—or know—that airport security isn’t that great, which is why informed travelers want to make sure we are as protected as possible in case something happens and we have to defend ourselves.

Jason Hanson
Jason Hanson’s safety and survival training has helped thwart kidnappings and stop home invasions. Photo courtesy the author.

Last month was incredibly busy for me. I went to Denver, Anaheim, Dallas, Los Angeles, and right now I’m on a plane to New York. When I fly, I try to stay protected, as always, but I’m obviously limited in what I can bring. The thing is, most people don’t realize there are still a lot of self-defense items you can legally carry with you.

For instance, depending on what training I’m doing, I’ll have handcuffs, handcuff keys, pliers, rope, duct tape, lock-pick sets, and zip ties in my carry-on bag. (Yes, the carry-on bag that comes on the plane with me.) I also have my monkey’s fist keychain made of paracord and ball bearings. Of course, my main survival tool on a plane is my tactical pen. I’ve never had a problem flying with my tactical pen, and I’ve been all over the world with it.

I know that you likely don’t have any reason to bring handcuffs or pliers on a plane, but you should at least still have your tactical pen and monkey’s fist keychain. And, if you want to add another protection tool, you can carry a sock full of pennies with you, and I know a few people who do this.

Of course, a couple of the items I do not have with me on the plane are my knife and gun. My knife always goes in my checked baggage. Don’t forget, the credit-card knives that many of us carry are real knives, and they should not be riding in your carry-on bag. However, in my last course, I had a fellow tell me he accidentally carried three of the credit-card knives on a plane.

One of the biggest questions I get about flying with gear is what I do with my gun. In short, flying with a gun is a lot easier than most people think. Before you head to the airport, make sure the gun is unloaded and put it in a hard-side case, such as the case the gun came in when you originally bought it. Next, put the case inside the luggage you plan to check, NOT your carry-on luggage.

Pistol, Knife, Channel Lock Pliers, Ammunition, Flashlight, Duct Tape
You can’t carry a pistol, ammunition, or a knife on board an airplane, but there are other options, such as pliers, a flashlight, and duct tape, along with other non-pointed work tools. Also, the author has flown all over the world with a tactical pen.

When you get to the airport, tell the person at the check-in counter that you need to declare a firearm. They’ll hand you a small card to sign, in which you state that you’re not a convicted felon and that the firearm isn’t loaded. Once you sign the card, you put it inside your luggage and you’re all set to go.

Also, if you have ammunition, just keep it in the regular cardboard box and plastic tray that ammo comes in and throw it inside your luggage like that. I’ve flown out of numerous airports, and, coincidentally, the only one that I won’t fly in or out of with my gun is JFK in New York, which is where I’m flying to right now. Even in Maryland I’ve never had a problem flying out of BWI (Baltimore–Washington International Airport) with my gun.

The bottom line is, since airport security isn’t that great, make sure you’re prepared with all of the items you can legally carry aboard a plane to protect yourself.

And don’t forget to put your knives and guns in your checked baggage.

What do you carry when you fly? Share your tips in the comment section.

SLRule About the Author: Jason Hanson is a former CIA officer and security specialist. He’s appeared on numerous television shows, including ABC’s “Shark Tank,” NBC’s “TODAY Show,” and the “Rachael Ray Show.” He has also been interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, and Fox News for his security expertise. Jason’s unique safety and survival training has helped people thwart kidnapping, stop home invasions, and prevent a number of other crimes. To get a free credit-card knife from Jason and to see a list of Jason’s training courses, visit

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 (34)

  1. Jason Hanson, I just checked out this particular blog, and thought I had commented on it previously, so my question to you is: since I have a Concealed Carry Permit from Tennessee, I can fly to other states that RECOGNIZE my permit, but you stated you fly to Los Angeles with guns in your check in baggage. Is that correct? Are you a California resident? If you are not licensed to carry in California, how do you get away with it upon arrival in LA? I drove all the way there because I couldn’t fly with my EDC. It was alot nicer driving there anyways!!! Thanks for ANYONE who replies…

  2. Hi Jason. I just read your article What I Carry When I Fly, and I wanted to let you know, so hopefully you can correct the article, that the gun must be in a locked, hard sided case. It is prohibited from flying unlocked.
    Thank you.

  3. In ’85 I was flying from NC to Fl on orders from the Marines and I was carrying a briefcase I hadn’t used in a while. Inside it was a pair of handcuffs that I had forgotten about from previous duties. I forget how the airline personnel found out but they found out before loading luggage and I had to put them inside a cardboard hanging clothing box they gave me and check them in as check baggage. The only procedures in place then were left over from the days of highjackings that took place in the late 60s and 70s. I often flew with a pocket knife and a knife pen but they wouldn’t allow the handcuffs in my carry on bags even though I was in uniform and on orders.

  4. Not so sure about the pliers. I used to carry a 4″adjustable wrench as a key fob. TSA confiscated it on one trip. I guess they were concerned that I might disassemble the plane in flight.

  5. I have been studying martial arts on and off for several years, there are some arts that do not have you jumping around like Van Damme. I’m getting older so I tend to skip all the fancy artsy stuff. I’d Suggest starting there. Some of our weapons forms involve non traditional weapons that are easily carried, even through security. Use common sense here, many well known martial arts weapons will get you a trip downtown to the pokey. Check out Guru Doug Marcaida at Rochester Kali for some videos on improvised weapons. He even has a video on using a ball cap as a weapon, sounds corny but if that’s what you have you might as well use it to your advantage. Most of all, be it a tactical pen, short length of wooden dowell or short piece of broomstick learn to use it and practice. You want it to be a muscle memory reaction. Don’t think…. React.

  6. Check with the airline about perks offered in first class (you don’t have to actually fly first class). If they offer wine from a proper bottle (most do), then make friends with the flight attendants. There will be a corkscrew in the galley closest to the first class section.

    Years before 9/11 I worked in an airport gift shop & had to go through security every day. My compact umbrella was one of those 007 gimmick ones that had a steel spike concealed in the center. I always made sure I put it through the x-ray machine handle first. The security person would recognize it as an umbrella right away & ignore it, never noticing the spike. I’d be afraid to try this nowadays because it is definitely illegal (always was) & the consequences are undoubtedly severe.

  7. Similar to the chopsticks, I cut the end off a broom stick just long enough
    for some to extend a little from my fist. Been all around with it in my back pocket. Only once did anyone check it out, a French security guy pulled it out and looked at it and then he handed it back. You can do a lot of damage with something like that.

  8. The Sig is either a P938 9mm or P238 .380 – you can’t tell from that photo, I have both & you can’t tell from that photo. You can guess and have a 50/50 chance at getting it right & thinking you are an Internet hero!!!

  9. usually once I’m through security I go to the food court and find a Chinese place and get a couple sets of chop sticks, not the greats weapon but if you snap them off about an inch or so longer then your palm you basically have two (sorta) sharp stabbing tools, and if you have duct tape, tape them together or off set them and tape them together so you have a (again sorta) sharp stabbing tools that stick out one inch, or so, sticking out of both ends of your palm.
    and since it’s pass security you never have to worry, make a couple of them and then if you have to go through security again at a different airport, dump and repeat on the other side.
    of course you will need a Chinese restaurant, so know your airports and don’t have that as your only plan

  10. The info about the handgun being in a hard case is correct; however, the note about the lock needing to be TSA approved is incorrect. The rukes state that the owner of the weapon is the only one authorized to have access (read: the key to the locked case) to any weapon that is located in checked baggage. At least the airlines don’t require that awful bright orange tag be placed on the outside of your suitcase … all that did was alert a sneaky baggage handler that there was something worth filtching from your bag.

  11. Re; Caring your hand gun. Before you travel, check with the airline you are traveling on and they will have a list of requirements that must be met. Your UNLOADED gun must be in a SEPERSATE LOCKABLE hard case. The registered owner of the fire arm must maintain and control the ONLY key to the lock. Many airlines will move you to a secure area and inspect your fire arm. You may use a combination lock provided it’s TSA APPROVED. (Same for a keyed lock)

    Since I started caring on flights it seems as though they take EXTRA TIME screening me…other than that, it’s pretty simple. Just follow the law.

  12. Hey Jason, What about the person that the NRA was helping out about 1 year ago. He was traveling to and from a state that allowed a firearm with the proper CCW permit. Only to have his plane diverted to (I forgot) N.Y. or N.J. I think it was due to bad weather or problem with the plane. After dismemberment and unloading the luggage, he was arrested. The TSA, Police, DA, nor the Judge didn’t want to hear that he was coming or going from any legal place and this was just an unforeseen circumstance He was serving time the last I heard the NRA was working on it…What do we do if something like this happens?? Thank you.

  13. Having a long term martial arts background makes me rationally paranoid anyway. Traveling post 9/11 has been less than fun for all of us. I have found that purpose built devices like a kubotan of tactical pen in an invitation for trouble. I now carry a Sharpie pen a perfect kubotan and a
    magazine. Having these items is only half of the plan. I also practice my moves with both the Sharpie and the rolled up magazine together and each alone. This is my plan for air travel and EDC in gereral.

    1. A Mike.

      I don’t think so, the grips of P938 have a greater depth and also squat in height, look at the grips more carefully. These grips, have longer grips.

    1. @ Jango Fett.

      If I had venture a guess, my guess would be a P226. As far as caliber, your guess is, as good as mine. But, I’ll go out on a limb and probably say .40S&W (10x22mm). As far a the Laser Designator, probably LaserLyte.

  14. To get around the Kubaton problem, I keep my keys attached to a Mini Maglite. It is the same diameter and length and no one has never said a word about it.

    1. @ Austin.

      That’s all well and good if its Synthetic, but if its made Metal. And shows up on the X-Ray Machine, then your going to have problems.

  15. My safety/convenience item is a woven nylon belt with solid nylon or carbon fiber end clips. I can wear it in my jeans as a belt through a metal detector.

  16. I once tried to board an aircraft (pre-9/11) with a Kubaton on my keyring. The gate Gestapo (a rent-a-cop) told me I couldn’t board with a “personal defense item”. My sheriff’s office badge didn’t impress him; in fact, he got in my face and said since I was a peace officer I should have known better. When I asked to speak to his supervisor, this POS told me that he could get his boss, but that I would probably miss my flight. I surrendered my precious Kubaton because I didn’t seem to have any options.

    1. Now…wait just a minute. They can take my AR-10, my razor-sharp machete and my rocket-launcher, and I have no issue with that, but when they try to take my Kubaton, we’ve got a problem, Houston!!

  17. Are there carry on restrictions with tactical flashlights? Some bezels are jagged and mildly sharp. They are designed as a potential defensive weapon.

    1. @ Stephen.

      I own at least (20) SureFire Tactical Flashlights, of (6) different types. And have never had any problems with the Flashlight themselves. The Lithium-Ion batteries, are another story. The lithium in lithium-ion batteries are atmospheric pressure sensitive. Considering most Airline cabin pressures are usually set for air pressures of between 8,000 and 14,000-feet. 14,000-feet is in the upper limits for comfortable breathing without an air mask. Even with cabin pressures like that, Lithium-Ion batteries, have been known too explode or rupture. Releasing Lithium Gas into the breathable atmosphere, white Oxygen is human friendly, Lithium is not. If you have Lithium-Ion powered Flashlight, for safety reason take the out. And by new one at you destination.

  18. Secundius, since ground shippers (from my experience) always have you fill out the description of what you are shipping, have you run into any problems when you enter the word “firearm” in the description box? In other words, has UPS or Fedex ever refused to ship your firearms and/or ammo? Or do you ship by Greyhound bus, or what?

    1. @ Smitty 550.

      You could try sending them pieces and reassemble them when when you get to the Hotel/Motel. And buying you ammunition at your destination site.

  19. Other than myself, I carry a couple Debit Card, about $30.00 in cash and change, my iPad, cell phone and some personal belongings and my wheelchair. Everything else, I ship to myself to the hotel/motel that I’m staying at. That way, I’m not burdened with heavy loads and don’t have to explain to much about my visit. You know, K.I.S.S.

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