How to Survive Flying in the Not-So-Friendly Skies

Like previous hunts, this hunt also came down to the final hours. Running behind schedule, I found myself racing toward Denver International Airport in hopes I would have just enough time to check a bag and bow case, clear security and grab a sandwich before boarding the plane.

My hopes were quickly dashed at the baggage check counter when it became apparent the ticket agent was having a really bad day. Plus, she had no clue what a bow and arrow was, nor did she have the desire to find out either. In her eyes, I was a threat. Before I could utter the word “bow,” she abruptly shushed me as she phoned her supervisor.

Chances are if you have ever traveled by plane with firearms or archery tackle you have probably encountered similar issues. It can be stressful and even a bit chaotic. However, it does not have to be if you keep a few things in mind.

Use Airline-Approved Cases

First, be sure you are using the proper airline-approved cases for your gear. When shopping for an airline-approved case there are several key features to consider:

  • Does it state it is airline approved?
  • Does it have locking capabilities?
  • For long guns and bows, does the case have feet so it can stand or sit freely without tipping over?
  • Is it lightweight?
  • Is the outer shell durable enough to withstand trauma from baggage handlers?
  • Does it have wheels or an adjustable handle? (If you do a lot of traveling, a case with these features might make more sense.)

Regardless of the airline you are flying, it is your job to meet the airlines’ requirements for traveling with such equipment.

Thanks to the Denver incident, now the day before I fly anywhere I go online and PRINT off the latest guidelines for flying with a firearm, archery and other hunting equipment such as knives. I keep a copy with my ID, so I can quickly refer to it if I run into issues.

Do’s and Don’ts for Flying with Firearms

A few other do’s and don’ts to help you survive flying with firearms:

  • Ammunition—ammunition must be carried in a case separate from your firearms.
  • Pick your words carefully; refer to guns as firearms instead of weapons.
  • Dress appropriately and do not wear offensive graphic tees. Sporting such clothing at an airport is probably not a good idea at anytime.
  • Use a locking device on the firearm or remove the bolt so the TSA can quickly see the gun is not capable of firing.
  • TSA has been known to cut off locks. Carry a set of replacement locks and know what the airline requirements are for locking cases.
  • Take inventory of the firearms in the case and anything else you have packed in it, also any ammo you have packet in another piece of luggage. A cell phone photo is a quick way to snap a visual inventory of your gear and the condition it was in before you turn it over to the TSA.
  • Keep on your person a copy of the requirements plus serial numbers of the firearms and all check-in documents.
  • Allow yourself extra check-in time in case you run into issues.
  • Be respectful, polite and patient.

Despite the fact I followed the rules, I still found myself in a sticky situation in Denver, which caused me to miss my flight. However, I chose to remain calm and polite with the supervisor. Instead of being angry, I used it as an opportunity to show hunters in a positive light.

Thankfully, the airlines apologized for their unprofessional behavior and booked myself and my gear another flight home.

The lesson when flying with firearms or archery equipment is simple:

Know the rules and keep a copy of them on hand. Stay calm and remain polite, even if they treat you poorly. You never know what preconceived ideas on firearms or hunting the person behind the ticket counter may have, which was the case in Denver. Although it maybe difficult to remain calm, you maybe someone’s first impression of a hunter or shooter.

And wouldn’t it be nice if we left them with a positive first impression towards shooters and hunters?

Do you have any tips for flying the friendly skies? Share them with us in the comment section.


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 (13)

  1. We were traveling from Oklahoma to Texas and were checking in my wife’s Colt 1911 45 at the ticket counter. The lady at the ticket counter looked very, very carefully at the pistol examining it from end to end before exclaiming, “This is just like mine!” with a big smile.

  2. I am flying to Manatoba, Canada in November on Air Canada. Their requirements for ammo are, cannot be packed in the same case with the firearm. Ammo must be packed with your checked baggage. Also, the firearm must have a trigger lock inside the hard locked case. These are the Air Canada rules not TSA rules.

  3. The author says “Ammunition—ammunition must be carried in a case separate from your firearms.” Au contraire, mon ami..

    From my own experience, I find the following quote from your own reference (“”) to be much more accurate:

    “Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75 caliber for a rifle or pistol and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as it follows the packing guidelines described above.”

  4. I traveled back to the San Francisco Bay Area in May. I brought home a rifle. I found at Harbor Freight tools they carry 18″ stainless metal zip ties. Cheap under ten dollars. Have the cased locked with a standard lock. After TSA checks the case use the zip ties to lock the case at all the lock points. I worked for me. I just keep 8-10 in my case, precut to the right length about 4″ just long enough to go though the holes with about an inch to spare. I cut them at home and make sure there are no sharp points. No one with out a pair of diagonal cutting pliers will be able to get them off.

  5. Brought 2 inherited guns back from Las Vegas. Bought a new lockable case and had no trouble checking in. At Ohio my case was almost in almost destroyed condition but not broken open. Normal wear and tear, not even a “we’re sorry”.

  6. There is one point of concern I have with United. It is very clear that the firearm must be in a lockable hard sided case. United’s website also states that the firearm, if being transported in checked luggage, must additionally be in a hard sided suitcase. I don’t know if this is enforced in practice, and would appreciate anyone’s comments on their experience. Very few people these days travel with a hard sided suitcase.

  7. One other quirk I’ve run into–an alaska airlines agent demanded that all lock holes be secured with a lock. For one of the hunters in our group, this meant four locks and he only had two (of course this wasn’t enforced on our way north in a city that would’ve been easy to find new locks). A friendly airport employee called her husband and he stopped by the airport on his way into town and gave us two locks that were surplus from their property rental business….
    We were also told that the troublemaker agent was a desk jockey from the home office up in the hinterlands to train the local staff, so you may even find trouble in an airport where the majority of the staff are comfortable with hunters.

  8. Ammunition (depending on caliber) does NOT have to be carried in a separate case from the firearm. It may be in the case but must be in the factory containers or in magazines.

    From the TSA website link you provided:

    Travelers must securely pack any ammunition in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.

    Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75 caliber for a rifle or pistol and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as it follows the packing guidelines described above.

  9. Nice article, Lisa. I might add that for non-firearm articles (especially when traveling to a foreign country) don’t leave any valuables in your checked baggage, even though the baggage has locks. TSA people, foreign or domestic, have keys that are compatible with modern baggage’s locks. The locks can be easily opened by TSA, and not all TSA workers are honest. Take cameras, etc., with you on your flight. I know from experience on a trip to China. My checked baggage was rifled by some Chinese worker and a few somewhat valuable articles were stolen.

  10. In my very YOUNGER years I was raised in the south, and taught from a very young age the SECRET words that got attention and respect. They are PLEASE, THANK YOU, SIR and MA’AM WHILE SMILING AND LOOKING THEM IN THE EYE. Try it, it works ! ! ! ! At age 64 I still use them.

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