Traveling with Firearms on Airplanes

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Duration:   10  mins

Rob Pincus reviews the procedures for checking a firearm in with your luggage at the airport and how to go about traveling with firearms. These procedures are not consistent from airport to airport and have changed with time – check the latest regulations online with TSA and your airline before flying. Three key points are that you must follow all steps to be legal, conform to airline regulations, and secure your checked firearm. Rob passes along some valuable tips for making this process easier, based on his years of flying with checked firearms. Feel better about traveling with firearms with these helpful tips.

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24 Responses to “Traveling with Firearms on Airplanes”

  1. Aldo

    You didn’t cover the fact that you must be the only person with a key to the firearm and also the bag you put it in. TSA is lock cut happy in many airports so get ready for the low IQ to cause problems.

    • ALAN

      Rob indicated he leaves the case unlocked when he places the firearm inside it at home, the night before. This could run afoul of handgun transport rules in some jurisdictions which require the case to be locked. It only takes a second to unlock a case, and a locked case is never a problem for local laws. Give yourself the extra margin and lock the case unless instructed otherwise.

  2. Geoff B

    Back in the mid-90s, my wife flew from NC to TX with a firearm in checked luggage. She made it to TX with no issues…but the firearm never arrived. This was the period when the locked firearm case was not allowed to be inside another piece of luggage, and the airline clearly marked the case on the outside as containing firearms. So, this served as a great advertisement for any unscrupulous baggage handler. I still receive an annual phone call from the RDU police asking if I have located the firearm, and the agent and I get a good laugh about that silly question every time. I was reimbursed by the airline for my loss, but that did not assuage my concern over one of my firearms in the hands of a criminal.

  3. Herbert Strandberg

    Good video, but here is a suggestion for one additional thing to do. There have been several instances where the baggage handlers stole the gun case with gun from the luggage. “Hey Bud, there is a gun showing on the xray.for this next bag”. He opens the TSA lock, grabs the case with gun and locks it back up.

    So,get a strong steel cable. Pass it through the gun case handle and then, if necessary out the luggage bag through a small hole, and around the luggage handle or part of the bag’s frame, then back to the lock. This is certainly slow down or prevent the baggage inspections from successfully taking the gun.

    • Customer Service

      Hi Frank. Using a chamber flag really isn’t necessary to meet the travel requirements but they aren’t a bad thing if you are able to use one in the case. The rule is the firearm must be unloaded and using a flag will definitely help in providing a quick visual reference that you did unload the gun.
      Deryck Personal Defense Network

  4. David Smith

    I’m a reloader. I have no “commercial” ammo boxes. What do I do now, go out and buy a box?

  5. James

    Because there are baggage handlers who have been caught and prosecuted for taking things out of checked suitcases, I also put a cable lock through the handle of the locked gun case and lock it through the metal frame inside of my suitcase. That way someone can’t just open my suitcase and grab my gun case, which they surely know contains a firearm. Also, don’t use a backpack or any other case that you have taken to the range, as an airline carry on bag; it can come up positive on the explosive wipes testing.

  6. Wade

    Great Video with all good advice. I have also learned that when I approach the ticket counter I clearly state “I have a firearm to check in my checked baggage. It is unloaded and in a locked hard sided cased designed for firearms and I have the ammunition in a the factory box stored separately” I times out of ten they look at me and say “Its clear you have done this before” It makes them more comfortable. I also highly agree that each airport is different and can even be different on any given day!

  7. Mark

    Great video as always! I learnt a lot, still looks like a pain to travel with a firearm!

  8. Gary Jensen

    Rob – Excellent Video! Just yesterday a co-worker asked me about this, and I’ll be pointing him to your video.

    A few other hints that I’ve picked up over the years:
    1) At the counter I always say the same thing. “I need to declare and check an unloaded handgun”
    2) In addition to leaving the slide locked open, I put a cable-lock on the handgun. Makes it more obvious.
    3) I always carry a copy of the TSA and airline regulations (off of their websites). That way I can say, “Can you show me where it says that? I don’t want to make this mistake again.”

    An example of carrying the regulations – I was flying with enough ammo to shoot a couple of USPSA matches. I had 10 pounds of ammo. The gate agent told me that I had too much ammo, I could only have 5 pounds. I used the line above, and he pointed out where the regs said 5 kg of ammo. Whoops. No harm – no foul!

  9. KenS

    Today was my 88th flight this year. I always check a firearm(s). They are placed in a cheap Plano plastic pistol case with two TSA combo locks. My suitcase (Victorinox) has a TSA integrated lock using the zipper pulls into the side of the suitcase. Up to 11lbs of ammo in the “original mfgs container.” I’ve flow Southwest Airlines 100% of the flights. There are lots of variations to handling in airports. This year, I’ve never had locks cut off nor have I had any issues. In previous years with key locks and non-TSA combos…nothing but cut off locks and hassles. If you have TSA locks inside and out = zero hassles.

    • Chris parks

      You are fortunate that you have not been challenged over your locks. They can’t be TSA locks when used to secure your firearm.

      From 49 CFR 1540.111:

      (c) In checked baggage…
      (2) Any unloaded firearm(s) unless— (i) The passenger declares to the air-
      craft operator, either orally or in writing, before checking the baggage, that the passenger has a firearm in his or her bag and that it is unloaded;
      (ii) The firearm is unloaded;
      (iii) The firearm is carried in a hard-sided container; and
      (iv) The container in which it is carried is locked, AND ONLY THE PASSENGER RETAINS THE KEY OR COMBINATION…

      Emphasis mine. TSA locks do not meet this definition.

  10. Matt Helm

    Here is one thing to think about, depending on your budget and number of bags:

    If you put you pistol case inside of your luggage, you can only track your main luggage and not the pistol case that is inside.

    If you put you pistol in a standalone case like a Pelican 1510, you’ll have lots of room and be able to track you pistol case to its destination.

  11. Keith Pallo

    Just watched the video on checking in the firearm at the airport. Great video! What do you think about shipping the firearm say by UPS to the location where you are staying and have it there when you arrive? Is that possible or a viable alternative? I have heard stories of firearms being stolen by luggage handlers, especially long guns.

  12. Geoff

    I have flown with my firearm out of the Denver airport (DIA) many times. After the the TSA screening, they have never given me my luggage back, they have always taken it to be loaded on the plane themselves. In addition the TSA rules state the the ammunition can be carried in the same lockable hard side case as the unloaded firearm. I completely understand the reasoning behind not doing that, however every airline I have flown has informed me at check in that they would prefer that my ammo be in the locked case with my firearm.

    • Matt Helm

      Geoff – I also have ALWAYS done the same thing. My ammo is in the same locked case.

      Totally agree.

  13. Gary Latson

    Rob, You left out one crucial point – Im sure you know, the case has to be locked with a TSA COMPLIANT LOCK, which is a lock that TSA has a master key to so they can inspect if they wish. These are commonly available, but sometimes hard to find one that fits the holes in some cases, so get one ahead of time!

    • Matt Helm

      Gary – I think you are misinformed on the lock. You are supposed to be the only one with the key. It is specifically not a TSA lock.

  14. James Ladd

    The Video never comes up – just get a blank screen where the video should be. What an I doing wrong? Help please.


    • Chris parks

      @Gary Latson

      The case containing the firearm may NOT be locked with a TSA-compliant lock. It must be locked in such a way that only you have access to the key or combo.

      If you place your locked case inside your luggage (I use that cable that the safe makers include to secure it to the pull handle channel) you MAY then also secure the luggage with a TSA-compliant lock (I do this too).

      I discovered if I do not put my computer in the same suitcase I have much fewer (actually none so far) instances of having to reopen the case for TSA bomb sniffing.

      NOTE: Rob says not to put ammo in the same case but TSA says you may. On about half the airlines you can also leave the mags loaded if you do it properly. No loose rounds though. Also it is silly for Rob to use that beat-up cardboard ammo packaging over and over. I use a plastic carrier I got from Bass Pro Shop. Some ticket agents have asked me if it is the original packaging. I reply no, but it IS properly packaged (as per their airline’s policy and TSA regs). Never been denied.

  15. scott harmon

    Nice summary. I put my cell phone number on the outside of the case. That way, if they do need access to the case, they can call me to unlock it. I also carry a second lock and multiple keys for each. If they cut the lock off for some reason, you’ll need to relock it. Airports differ, but DFW and Atlanta have you take your luggage to a TSA room where they screen your luggage for explosives. FYI, it is at gate 15 in each terminal at DFW so you’ll save time being dropped at that gate. You may want to print off it is 11 POUNDs and not 11 rounds. The supervisor cleared it up, but the counter clerk didn’t know.

    It varies by airport, but most have the declaration tag outside the locked case. I’ve been told the tag show up on X-Rays. If it is in the case and they need to see it, you’ll be called back.

    Finally, never use a range bag for an airplane carry bag… they are excellent traps for that one empty case you picked up. Most TSA will just confiscate it, but it can get you arrested in DC, Newark, or NY.

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