The Rogers Report: Randi Rogers shares her tips for flying with shooting equipment.
Airport travel can be a daunting task these days, especially if you are traveling to a shooting competition. Not only do you have all of the normal headaches, but also you get the added challenge of bringing along your equipment. I have been very lucky to travel to many different states and have picked up some tips and tricks for flying with firearms along the way.
Before traveling, I always recommend that you read over the rules, directions and laws provided by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), your airline and the state(s) you might be visiting.
Some helpful links to firearms-specific rules I have found are located at these websites:
I have used 3 different methods for checking my firearms while traveling.
1. A small, hard-sided lockable case, or a case with padlocks or combination locks, that goes inside a regular soft-sided piece of luggage.
This I have found is absolutely perfect to fit a 1 or 2 handguns. Or, I might choose to use 2 lockable cases, especially if I am trying to check 3 guns for a steel challenge event.
Tip: Make sure that when the case is locked, you cannot open the case at all; if one side opens just a bit, it might not pass an airline ticket agent’s inspection.
2. A large, hard-sided lockable suitcase or lockable equipment case that an entire range bag will fit inside. I have used this type of packing method before; however, it has been my experience that sometimes this can be confusing to airline attendants who don’t check firearms very often. If the handguns are in a sleeve or padded pouch, I’ve had attendants question if I needed a small, hard-sided case just for the pistols, as well as the hard-sided suitcase for the other guns — I don’t know why, all I can say is, it happens.
So, to alleviate the confusion, when using the hard-sided suitcase option, I also put my handguns in a small, hard-sided pistol box. It makes for less argument at the counter, plus I know my equipment won’t get banged around during the luggage handling.
3. A large, hard-sided case with foam lining for checking long guns, like a Pelican or Americase. This is the kind of case I use when traveling to 3-Gun matches or Cowboy Action events, where I carry multiple pieces of long gun equipment. I usually disguise this case with musical instrument stickers, bands or other items. I doubt it really fools anyone, but it makes me feel better.
Whenever I am checking firearms, I always, always give myself a minimum of 2 hours at the airport before my departure time. I have found this to be one of the most important steps, because almost everywhere I have traveled, there is some type of additional step to check the firearm.
Each airport has a slightly different procedure, but generally this is what I have come to expect:
1) Check in at an airport kiosk to pay for baggage and print boarding pass.
2) Approach counter to check bags. As soon as I get there, I tell the attendant that I have firearms and/or ammunition to declare.
3) The attendant will give me a declaration slip (usually orange in color,) to fill out and place in my bag(s).
5) Some attendants vary on where they want declaration to go — inside the hard-sided bag, inside the lockable case or taped to the outside of the lockable case. It should never attach to an outside handle.
6) After the bags have been tagged, they must be inspected by TSA. This is usually the largest area of deviation from airport to airport. Some airports have a TSA location right at the counter, some will ask you to walk over to a TSA office and some will ask you to wait as your luggage is x-rayed and an “all clear” is then relayed to you. While they are all different, they all take some time. So, giving yourself extra time before your departure is key!
The last piece of advice I would give anyone checking firearms is to stay calm and be flexible. Regardless of what the websites contain, each airport is different and one thing I am absolutely sure of is that arguing will get you nowhere. Don’t give up your security, but don’t argue small points.
I usually do not fly with my ammunition. Most airlines only allow you to check 11 pounds, which is only about 350 rounds of 147 grain 9mm. I almost always ship my ammunition to the hotel where I am staying or to a location provided by the match.
When shipping to a hotel you want to make sure that you include this information: Guest: Your Name and the dates of your stay on the package.
If you do fly with ammunition, always pack ammo in a separate bag from your firearm. Again, check with the airline’s regulations.
Always fly with your ammo in the original manufacturer’s box and it is always a good idea to tape the boxes shut.
Your firearm and ammunition are important, but as we all know, you need other stuff to compete: holsters, magazine pouches, eye protection, tools, spare parts, cleaning equipment, etc.
First, remember, your magazines, tools and parts all need to go in your checked luggage. For this reason, if I know I am bringing a lot of gear, I really love having a suitcase that is big enough to just put my range bag in and forget it. However, sometimes this doesn’t work with weight so I have learned to be flexible.
A few pieces of my equipment always go with me in my carry-on luggage — ear and eye protection, belt, holsters and magazine pouches. As strange as it sounds, it is sometimes easier to borrow a gun or magazine than it is to find a holster. For that reason, I always carry those items with me. Additionally, while most holsters are sturdy enough to handle anything, I always feel better taking the “fragile” items with me. Also, pack your magazines in your checked baggage. Some airlines do not allow you to carry them onboard.
It’s a good idea to print the rules and regulations of the airline you’re flying, in case you meet an attendant who needs to be politely educated.
For more information about flying with guns, check out my teammate’s, Julie Golob’s, tips.