Traveling With Your Firearms – Airplanes
Richard & Corinna Coplin - Suarez International Instructors
It might sound daunting. Getting to the airport and on board your flight has become complicated enough post 9/11. Doing it with the intention of bringing firearms into the airport and having them sent with your luggage can sound overwhelming. Fear not! Knowing what to do and what not to do makes it pretty straightforward.
Depending on the airport, the way the involved personnel react to the presence of a firearm and interact with you can vary. The airline employees in New York or Boston are likely to be somewhat intimidated by your gear while those in Montana or Arizona may treat the items as they would any other luggage.
- A secure case is mandatory. Any of the major manufacturers such as Pelican and SKB produce suitable hard-sided cases that have holes for placing your locks.
- The cases with metal reinforced holes are preferable.
- Get sturdy locks. They do not have to say “TSA” approved. They can be either combination or keyed but combination locks are preferred by frequent firearm fliers. You keep the combination and open it for TSA if requested. The solid brass three number combination locks available at Home Depot will fit most rifle or pistol cases and are plenty rugged.
- MAKE CERTAIN THAT THE FIREARMS ARE UNLOADED! This can’t be stressed enough. Unload and pack the weapons at home, not at the airport. Triple check that they are unloaded. And, check and re-check the case for loose ammunition.
- Unload all magazines. Empty magazines can be transported in the case but must be unloaded.
- Recheck your carry-on luggage for any ammunition, magazines, knives, pepper spray or firearms parts. Remove them and place them in your checked luggage with the exception of loose ammunition. That must be in a factory box.
- You are limited to eleven pounds of ammunition. Some airlines allow even less. Do not exceed this weight regardless of whether you ship it within the same container as your firearms or in your checked luggage. Check with your carrier for their current restrictions on ammunition weight and whether it can be transported in the locked firearms container or if it must be separate and placed in your checked luggage.
- Check the ammunition restrictions (if any) of your destination. Example: you don’t want to fly into New York with hollow points.
- All ammunition and any gun parts, including shotgun chokes, muzzle brakes, magazines, etc. must be in your checked luggage or checked gun case. A holster should not be a problem and could be transported in your carry-on for quick retrieval later (see #19).
- All ammunition must be in a factory box. Does this mean that the ammunition contained therein has to be what the label says on the box? Maybe yes, maybe no.
- Lock the slides open on handguns. When they x-ray the locked case, it makes it easier to see that the weapon is unloaded. It also helps if no magazine is in the mag well.
- When you check in with your airline, let them know you have UNLOADED firearms to check in.
- They will give you an orange card to fill out. See Photo. You will write your name and date on the card verifying that the firearms are unloaded.
- You will open the case and place the card inside the case. If you have a small pistol case that will be inside your checked luggage, you will place the card on top of the case. Sometimes the airline personnel will ask you to open the case and they will visually inspect the contents and place the card there themselves. Follow their instructions.
- Lock the case with your combination locks.
- Have a separate card on your person with your firearms make, model and serial numbers in case they go missing.
- You might be asked to stand by for a few minutes in case TSA wants you to open the case for inspection. Give yourself a little extra time for this. Thirty minutes should be sufficient.
- Picking up your locked firearms case will normally be done at the luggage office, not the carousel. This way they can better control the firearms until the rightful owner (with I.D.) can retrieve them.
- I wouldn’t recommend opening the case in the airport to load and holster your sidearm. Too many eyes and it would likely result in law enforcement being called, though in theory, you may be legal in many jurisdictions to carry concealed right up to the TSA screening. Instead, have a friend who is picking you up, slip a pistol to you surreptitiously.
- Expect to pay the airline extra for the rifle case. Some airlines have a flat fee, others don’t. Though we have had it checked through without paying. It might pass as your normal luggage allotment and it might not. This varies by airline and who is on duty that day.
The following link will get you started with the TSA.
Another helpful link for information regarding your destination(s):
It would be wise to contact your airline for any clarification of their policies and procedures prior to your flight. Go to the TSA website and read their information as well. If you have any questions contact TSA.
Be conversant in the firearms laws at your destination, e.g. ammunition restrictions, magazine restrictions, transportation methods, concealed/open carry laws, etc.
As complicated as it may sound, the entire procedure functions reasonably well and given our present state of politics and culture, the fact that we are actually able to arrive at and enter an airport with our firearms, check them through to our destination and retrieve them there is a very positive thing.
United Airlines Tag (front and back) for inside your baggage if the locked container is shipped within your regular luggage or inside the locked container if shipped as stand alone luggage.
Two solid brass combination locks and two pistols inside a locked hard sided case inside of a checked piece of luggage.
A rifle case as a stand alone checked piece of luggage with unloaded magazines, rifle, pistols and ammunition with “Unloaded Firearm(s)” card placed inside the case.