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Flights with Firearms, A Finale

Flights with Firearms, A Finale

Flights with Firearms, A Finale

I may be, what some might call, a seasoned traveler. I’ve flown on domestic flights and international flights, small planes & double decker jumbo jets. I’ve been in and out of the Delhi airport more than twice, and taken many flights over 11 hours long. I find the sound of jet engines soothing and the rumblings of take-off almost always rock me to sleep. I’ve had an passport from the time I was a few months old & took more than a few flights in utero. I had the privilege of taking a military transport DC-10 and slept through most of the blindingly loud trip. I’ve even taken the controls and piloted a small four seater (with an instructor by my side) between take off and landing. But today I crossed into a new realm of commercial flight. Today I completed a trip with a firearm.

My first post on this topic involved all the planning that went into this new adventure, but now that I am back home after taking my firearm on the “Girls Gun Getaway”, I can say:
Flying with a firearm is a far less stressful proposition than it seems. Further, a travelers might even discover that they and their checked bag may be handled with more care because of the contents of the bag.

Some background on this trip:

  • I purchased my flight using frequent flier miles and, as anyone who has done this can tell you, there is very little wiggle room when it comes to these tickets. One can rarely upgrade, hop on an earlier or later flight or make other changes, without incurring charges almost equivalent to the original cost of the ticket.
  • I had a direct flight from my home airport (currently known as the busiest airport in the world) to a small mid western airport.
  • I made sure to purchase specific TSA approved locks, which allow the bag to opened by personnel with the proper key, or by me, with a personal combination. The lock also offers a feature that shows me if the special key was used after I handed over my bag.

Flying out I arrived early and followed the plan I had previously established. Though it seemed I knew more about the procedures than the ticketing desk personnel, I paid for my check bag, displayed that my firearm was unloaded and was sent (solo) to the TSA with my bag. There was no discussion of ammo. The TSA placed my bag on a table, opened it and swabbed the inner walls for chemical analysis. They didn’t look in the gun case or ask to see the “firearm unloaded” tag that had been locked within. Again, no discussion of ammo. Having passed the swab test, we closed my bag and I was allowed to place a lock on the outside. My bag slid down the black belt and I went off to my flight.

As boarding time neared the gate announced that our flight was oversold and they would be offering flight vouchers and other rewards to anyone with flexible travel. I had the time to spare so I hopped up and was the first to reach the desk. My biggest concern was that my checked luggage arrive with me and I mentioned this to the agent. She took one look at the computer screen and said, “Oh, you’ve checked a firearm.” (These bags and travelers are obviously flagged in the system.) She explained that because the plane was already loaded and we were close to our departure time, my bag would stay on this earlier flight, be pulled from the carousel at our destination, and be waiting for me, in a corded-off area, when I arrived. I know these holding areas since I am familiar with luggage leaving me behind and visa versa, they are rarely locked or even watched. Also, a bag often spins around the carousel for an extended period before personnel retrieve it. The airline was not offering me enough money to accept such a risk, so I had to pass.

I arrived in the midwest and high-tailed it over to the baggage claim. Soon my bag arrived and I headed out to my rental car. One flight down, one to go.

A few days later I was heading back to that small airport with my gun packed just as before but with a bit less ammo. I rolled up to the ticket-counter a barely an hour before my flight (driving back to the airport took longer than the first drive) and was “greeted” by a frowning agent who knew my name, too quickly, and scolded me for being “late”. She informed me that she was seconds away from bumping me to a later flight. She had me open my bag, show her that my firearm was unloaded, pay for my checked bag and sign the red slip that declared “firearm unloaded”. Unlike my first flight, the tag was to be placed on the outside of the gun case. I zipped and locked my suitcase just as she snatched it away. Yet again, no discussion about ammo.

I ran to my gate which had not yet begun boarding. (insert eye roll here) We finally boarded, late. Then sat sweltering for an amount of time that I wouldn’t call excessive, but that the toddler in the back seemed to find unbearable. The pilot announced a problem with the plane and asked us to disembark while they looked for a mechanic. We waited in the terminal. The pilot came out and said that they were working on it. An hour and a half went by. I noticed the pilot speaking with the gate agent and jumped on line at the desk, fearing what the next announcement would be. While no announcement came at that point, the next flight to Atlanta would be boarding in an hour and I wanted to be on it. I knew that, because of the type of ticket I had, and because Atlanta was my final destination, passengers with connections and almost anyone else would probably be of higher priority to be switched than myself, but I had to try.

I said to the gate agent, “I’d like to switch to the next flight to Atlanta, but because of my check luggage I’m not sure if it is possible.” (I gave her my saddest puppy-dog eyes.) She typed on her computer than looked at me, “Oh, you’ve checked a firearm?(This wasn’t really a question.) I’ll move you and your bag to that flight now.” I kept my composure because if I haven’t I might have fainted from shock.

(I must admit: It seems that by the time we boarded, everyone with a connection had been moved to another flight and the rest of us had all been moved to the later flight. The early flight was obviously canceled and the other must have had many empty seats. Still, I will give some credit to my gun in my luggage, for my exceptional treatment.)

We arrived in Atlanta and during the long trip from the gate to baggage claim, my bag arrived on the carousel. I was surprised to check the lock’s indicator and realize, the TSA had not opened the bag. Due to the rush of the ticketing agent to get my bag on the original flight, I believe the TSA never touched my bag. I was surprised at this and relieved to see my bag, but then considered how many other last minute passengers’ bags, the TSA might be skipping.

That thought might keep me up at night if it weren’t for the other thought that we gun owners often repeat: Law abiding citizens will declare their guns to the airline when they fly with them, just as we will obtain permits for our guns if our state requires us to do so.

My conclusion about flying with my gun: I’d, happily, do it again!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Schmidtap Andrew Schmidt

    I’ve flew several times with both ammo and fire arms and never had issues. Been to atlanta, honolulu and next week ohare. Suprisingly its pritty simple, just allow extra time for the bag check.

  • Cory K

    I’m glad that you had a relatively good experience. I fly with my handgun 2-3 times per month, through large and small airports. Some just take your bag, hand it to TSA and ask me to wait while they scan my bag. Only once Ihave I had to open the bag while standing there. Other airports have me open the case, show the weapon, then close and lock the case and bag. Then I am escorted by the ticket agent to the TSA screening area.
    Other times, I’m given a form with my boarding pass and instructed to hand it to the TSA when going through security. The TSA agent calls a supervisor, who then calls the baggage screening area to make sure my bag has cleared. Only 2-3 times have I been delayed more than 3-4 minutes while they check things out.
    Still other times, the ticket agent calls the TSA person over to do the inspection while the tag is installed on my bag. Point is, each airport may have different procedures, but your bag is checked in some manner before it goes under the plane. One time, when I was delayed, but my bag wasn’t, my bag was waiting for me in the loggage office, not in the roped off area in front.
    Never, after more than 100 flights with my weapon, has anyone touched it in my presence. Only once have I been asked about weight of ammo. Usually, just a question to make sure it is in a separate container. They do not like loaded magazines, even if they are physically in another container. Usually, these processes add between one and five minutes to the check in experience.
    I have never had any airline or TSA employee mention my checked weapon after the process was complete.

  • gcooper

    being a former tsa agent and having flown with a firearm, it is relatively simple…as long as the ticket agent has you open your bag and place the tag in the suitcase. my last flight, she did not and I was called back to the ticket counter AFTER going through security and then had to go through security again. also, if you will read on the tsa’s website, they do not want you using TSA locks on you firearms case. suitcase – yes, firearm case – no. as long as your ammo is in the original box, plastic boxes for ammo or in a magazine in a magazine holder or case you are fine. I carried 4 magazines in the outside pouches of my softsided pistol case. pistol was locked in the plastic box I bought in it. hope this helps. tsa,gov is really helpful when flying anytime.

  • gcooper

    just read the rest of your article….no bags get skipped when going through security. all checked baggage either gets sent through an xray machine or in smaller airports gets hand checked. there is no need for them to go through your baggage if they already know the firearm is in there and is packaged correctly. ONLY if something looks suspicious in the xray or if a hand check reveals something is the bag searched.

  • dkmatthews

    The ticket agents are generally clueless at most airports. They will frequently tell me to put the unloaded firearm declaration tag INSIDE the locked gun case in my duffel bag when, in fact, the tag should be OUTSIDE the locked gun case so TSA can see that the ticket agent verified it and that I attested to it. Just remember that the gun case should not have TSA locks but locks that can ONLY be opened by you.

  • BDL2

    My biggest concern (and one of those around me, apparently), was being asked to pull a weapon out of my luggage and show it was empty. I understand it must be empty, but for someone who is not a law-abiding citizen, what is to stop them from having loaded weapons and using them?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H7RA4FTW5PESPCBOU7DIUY6PAU Van

    My only problem with flying with a firearm dealt with ammo. Georgia Arms packs their ammo in heat sealed plastic bags. The Atlanta airport had no issues, but San Diego would not allow it, even though it was in “manufactures original packing”. Their excuse was that a bullet might strike the primer of another cartridge. When I pointed out this was original packaging, they still said no.

  • azsdft

    Glad to see your experience went well! I have also flown with a pistol, checked in it’s own case with ammo, not in my luggage. Only problem I have had was that the case was damaged, and I didn’t see it until it was too late to do anything about it, and the gorilla in baggage behind the wall set it on the carousel, unattended, but fortunately I was able to see it as it came out to the public side. I’ll admit that the first time I flew with it I was nervous, but after that it was a breeze…….

  • pol

    nice

  • http://www.facebook.com/greg.nilges Greg Nilges

    Gabby, do you mind disclosing the airline(s) that you flew on with your firearm?

    Also, I am curious as to the ammo issue. Can someone clarify first hand regarding how/where the ammo is required to be? For example, I understand the firearm must be unloaded, but can a plastic box be inside the same locked gun case that is in the suitcase, or does the ammo have to be outside of the case that the gun is in and if so, does the ammo have to also be in its own seperate lock case?

    Thanks!

  • Phil

    As an instructor, I often fly to training with several firearms and ammunition. The firearms are all breech locked and then placed inside an additional hard case that also is locked. In most cases, I have been asked to expose the firearms within the case to prove they are non-functional and have no ammunition. At the Harligen, Texas airport, I was asked to remove the firearms from the hard case to the exam table. The surprise was that they quite literally tore my foam inserts away from the case shaking them violently. I asked why and was told, “if we find one cartridge or even a spent cartridge, you would be in trouble…”

    I always pack my ammunition only in original factory sealed boxes inside a separate locked hard case which is then stowed inside my checked luggage. Thus far, I have had no issues save the tearing up of my foam inserts for the firearm cases. Many of my students have repeated flown and adhere to the same methods of transporting without incident. The most important thing is to use YOUR locks, never TSA locks. Also, watch out for flimsy hinge points that can be easily sliced open. Get a good heavy duty case to protect your property.

    One last caution: Before you accept your luggage and firearms case, tell the airline agent that you want to examine if it has been compromised during its flight BEFORE you leave their presence. Hard to make a claim…after the fact.

  • Nathan

    Curious…. I wanna take a trip to Portland to shoot Long Range with some buddies. I wanna bring my Remington 700 with me and my ccw sidearm. I like using pelican cases for every firearm i own, should i change to something that is more secure for airline travel, and whats the deal, is it complicated and is there a fee involved with this??

  • http://www.facebook.com/robweiss1 Robert Weiss

    I recently flew from my regional airport in WA to Houston, TX on Alaska Airlines with my pistol in my checked luggage without any major problem, including one box of ammunition & 3 loaded magazines.

    The only amusing part was the TSA notice in my other checked bag indicating that both bags were subjected to a thorough search.

    In any case, I will be bringing my gun(s) with me on every trip that I can.