My responsibilities to Cheaper than Dirt, Gun Nuts Media, GunUp, and all my other sponsors keep me on the road quite frequently. Because that usually involves shooting matches or other firearms-related events, that means I get the pleasure of flying with guns almost every time I do fly. In fact, recently it’s gotten to the point where the guys at the SeaTac American Airlines counter just pull the firearms declaration form out and hand it to me when I walk up. Good customer service! Flying with guns is actually pretty easy, but if it’s not something you’ve done before then it can actually be a very intimidating process. Here are some guidelines that I’ve found that will make the process go smoothly for you when you try it.
- Know the rules! I can’t stress how important it is to be intimately familiar with the TSA and your air carrier’s guidelines on traveling with firearms. The TSA publishes their rules at this link, and when I travel I carry a printed copy of those rules in the pocket of my Woolrich Elite Tactical Pants. However, just knowing the rules often isn’t enough, because I’ve had multiple occasions where the particular TSA agent didn’t know their own rules and regs as well as I do. In those situations, the most important thing to do is stay calm. Getting angry won’t help, and will likely increase your chances of missing your flight. Speak to their supervisor, be polite and firm but do not allow the TSA to do anything that could compromise the security of your firearms.
- Keep your guns in a separate case than your other checked items. This Pelican Gun Case is a perfect example of the best way to transport your guns. Since I usually fly with multiple pistols, magazines, and the legal maximum of 11 pounds of ammo, I always use a long gun case for my pistols. I also fly with cameras a lot, so any valuable cameras will go in the locked Pelican case as well.
- Speaking of locks, get good locks. You can actually buy sets of Master locks that share a common key, which eliminates hassle both in packing and loading at the airport.
- Ammo is important as well! Know what your ammo weighs. My preferred carrier is American Airlines, and their rules state that ammo is limited to 11 lbs per passenger. 250 rounds of .45 ACP ammo weighs about 11.8 pounds in boxes, and the TSA will pull passengers off the plane for having too much.
- Be courteous to everyone. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I firmly believe that part of why I’ve always avoided drama when flying with guns is because I’m just so dang happy. Everyone gets smiled at, even the TSA guys, because it doesn’t do me any good to go through the airport glowering and scowling at folk. Attitude helps a lot, and having a good attitude can be the difference between an easy trip or getting to know your airport’s holding center.
Now that we’ve looked at things to do, let’s look at a couple of possible crash landings that could cause problems. Here is my list of “don’ts” for flying with guns.
- Don’t connect in Chicago. Seriously, just don’t do it. I will pay extra money to avoid Chicago. I don’t want to risk my plane getting delayed overnight, and all of a sudden I’m stranded in the most anti-gun city on earth with a bunch of guns. I have no desire to be a test case for the Firearms Owners Protection Act.
- Seriously, don’t connect in Chicago.
- Don’t talk about your guns! Mostly for security purposes, but whenever I’m checking in at the airport, I don’t know what greedy baggage handler or sticky fingered TSA agent might be listening, so if anyone asks I’m carrying “my dad’s old junky .22 to give to my nephew for his birthday”.
There is a lot more to flying with guns, and I’d like to hear from the readers out there as well. What are you experiences with flying with firearms, good reports and bad reports? One thing that always cracks me up is whenever I get on the shuttle to go from the airport to the car rental center, I will almost invariably make a new friend who wants to know if I’m a hunter. I take that time to preach the gospel of action pistol shooting.