Inform. Influence. Inspire

Retro WON: Julie G.: Flying with firearms

The idea of airline travel with a firearm and ammunition puts some people in a cold sweat. Those nightmare tales of people missing flights due to difficult airline and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents, and the cases where competition shooters have been detained by police, are enough to make anyone prefer piling the car with all their guns and gear to make a road trip to their destination instead. As someone who travels with firearms 12 to 15 times a year, I can say that I am fortunate not to have too many tales of woe.

The key to successful airline travel with guns is all in the preparation. Researching what is acceptable for TSA and your airline is the first step. If you are traveling to a new destination, contact your fellow shooters or hunters to see if they have checked in at the airports you are flying from. Some airports, including Hartsfield International in Atlanta, have a specific TSA drop-off for those traveling with firearms. At other airports, be prepared to lose sight and control of your luggage. I have watched my luggage disappear with the instructions, “Wait over there for 15 minutes. If we don’t call you, then you are all set to go through security to your gate.”

Not exactly much of a confirmation, is it? I have even been at airports where they have taken my keys and combination behind a screen or into another room to go through my bags. In those cases I have been left wondering what was done, and whether I will be able to find somewhere to test and re-zero my firearm in case it was dropped or handled poorly.

Expect inconsistency, especially with the placement of your firearms declaration form, an orange tag that basically states that you are traveling with unloaded firearms. You must ask for this form. You will need to both sign and date it, but make sure that the agent initials it as well. Some agents have directed me to place my form anywhere inside my luggage. Others want it inside my gun case, on top of my firearm. Don’t sweat it. Just follow directions.

Julie Golob. Photo by Yamil R. Sued.

Here are some tips I have found to be helpful when traveling with firearms:

1. Bring paperwork with you indicating that you are legal to possess a firearm, both where you are coming from and where you are going. If competing or attending a class, bring a copy of the match entry form or confirmation letter.

 

2. Print out airline and TSA regulations to reference, just in case. Visit your airline’s website for their rules. TSA information can be found here.

 

3. Invest in appropriate luggage that will protect your firearms. Long gun cases should be strong and lockable. For traveling with handguns, I use a lightweight, hard-sided, lockable suitcase that I put my hard-sided, lockable gun case in. It may seem like overkill, but this way I am always covered.

 

4. Airlines have specific rules pertaining to ammunition and how it is packed. Either follow these rules or, if possible, consider shipping your ammo to your destination. This can also help you avoid paying additional baggage and weight fees.

 

5. Pack your bags wisely, and plan for them to be searched. If you’re traveling with ammunition, it will need to be in proper packaging, but also place it in another box or bag that is easily accessible. Your ammo is likely to set off warnings and cause a search by TSA. Utilize compartments, and bags within your bag, to organize your gear so that in the event that TSA goes through it, they can put it back easily. Easy = faster!

 

6. Give yourself PLENTY of time to check in and go through TSA. The minimum I suggest is 1½ hours, though I usually plan two hours to be safe.

 

7. Be up front about declaring firearms to airline and TSA agents. The language I prefer to use is, “How are you? I am going to ______. I also need an unloaded firearms declaration form.”

 

8. Smile! Be as helpful and friendly as possible throughout the entire process. Even if you come across an agent who seems to have a significant disdain for you and your firearm, be courteous. A negative attitude won’t help the situation.

 

This retro WON first appeared June 2, 2011.

 

  • About Julie Golob

    Julie Golob is one of the most accomplished professional shooters in the world and captain of Team Smith & Wesson. She has won more than 120 championship titles in international, national and regional marksmanship competitions in seven different shooting disciplines. Learn more about the champion, author, veteran, hunter and outdoor television personality at JulieGolob.com.

     

The Conversation

21 Comments
  • Flying with firearms, ammunition and tools says: May 12, 2014 at 7:00 am

    […] For more information about flying with guns, check out my teammate’s, Julie Golob’s, tips. […]

  • GGP 010 – Travel Tips | Gun Girl Radio says: March 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    […] Flying with Firearms Part 1 […]

  • My Rifle and I Flew the Friendly Skies | Heels and Handguns says: October 29, 2012 at 8:59 am

    […] By friendly, I do mean friendly. The day began as we pulled into the Louisville, KY parking garage and I took my rifle and suitcase out of the car. I was excited about this adventure, and ready for anything. I really didn’t know what to expect. Louisville is a nice, quiet airport in a very gun friendly region, so I figured this was a great place to travel with a firearm for the first time. I walked into the airport, stepped into the United line, and was quickly at the check-in screen. I had read the United policy, the TSA regulations, and several other expert recommendations, includeing Julie Golob’s tips. […]

  • Bonnie Ryder says: July 9, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Great article Julie. I’ve flown with firearms both pre and post 9/11. Only problem was my fault – right after 9/11 I packed my magazines in my carry on. When they were discovered I played the sweet, dumb blonde, “clips??? I’ve never heard them called that – I thought they were magazines” This got me a TSA escort back to check in where I was given a box (with bubble wrap even) addressed it and sent it off to my destination. Certainly better than having them confiscated which could have easily happened. Both guns and mags arrived safely. One thing is make sure your guns are insured! Bad things do happen to good guns.

  • Flying with Firearms Part 1 & 2 | JulieG says: July 6, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    […] my job as a competitive shooter but it can be intimidating even to those who do it frequently. In Part 1 on the WON there are some tips on how to fly with firearms domestically.  Part 2 has information on […]

  • Flying with Firearms – Champion Shooter Julie Golub’s Tips says: June 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    […] that end, Julie has written some traveling with firearms tips for Women’s Outdoor News I thought might interest some of you. In addition to her primary sponsor of Smith & Wesson, […]

  • ten96lt says: June 10, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    I read the forum and in one of the comments and noticed the first post was from a retired LEO who was trying to check his weapon at LGA and wanted to mention it here. A lot of current and former LEOs might not know this but there is a federal law that protects you if you want to carry a weapon around the country (with the exception of courthouses, schools, etc) The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act allows you to conceal carry your weapon in public regardless of local laws. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_Enforcement_Officers_Safety_Act
    So my suggestion if you’re a current or former cop, just be sure to mention this if they try to give you trouble.

  • tammy says: June 6, 2011 at 5:52 am

    Really great informative article, Julie! It would be a little worrisome if it were all too easy anyway.

  • Nick Fitzgerald says: June 5, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Great piece Julie. My personal preference is to just avoid flying whenever possible. In fact I haven’t flown, with or without firearms, for a long time. Still, it’s good to have the perspective of someone who’s been there, done that. Who knows, I may one day draw that sheep tag and have to fly somewhere with my rifle.

  • Julie G says: June 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks so much for all the kind comments and feedback everyone! Great to be a part of the WON!

  • Robbin Mosdossy says: June 4, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Hi Julie,

    Fabulous article! Very informative. I think I will attempt to travel with my firearm in the near future. It is a bit more complicated crossing an international border, but I will try when I have the time to deal with “trouble” should it arrive.

    Hope all is well with you and yours. Maybe our paths will cross again.

    Robbin

    • Barbara Baird says: June 4, 2011 at 10:40 am

      Julie’s tips combined with her positive attitude are important to note. Sometimes, TSA folks don’t know what to make of “shooters” and so, having a friendly, upbeat attitude — such as Julie’s is — only helps promote the sport/tradition of shooting, and it makes their job easier, we think!

  • Bill Bowers says: June 3, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Great article, Julie! Excellent information, masterfully presented. This is bound to help lots of shooters and hunters who need to travel with firearms.

  • Alex says: June 3, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Pertaining to item #4 in the list – double-check with your preferred shipper. There are very serious laws about shipping ammunition. The USPS virtually disallows it at all. Just be prudent is all.
    Great article!

    • Bruce says: June 4, 2011 at 11:00 am

      Actually, USPS is the *easy* way to ship ammo – all it takes is an “ORM-D” label on the side of the box. Ammo has to go ground (whether USPS, UPS, Fedex, whatever) but ammo is not considered “hazmat”, so it is a lot simpler to ship ammo than it is to ship primers or powder. Go figure.

  • Gerry M says: June 3, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Thanks Julie, this information will many of us that fly with firearms

    Gerry

  • Patrick Downs says: June 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    I am a Julie G fan. One omission here though: Be very careful when flying through JFK and LaGuardia. I have read horror stories (and there are many) about Port Authority cops and others… they apparently have been ordered to arrest anyone who is traveling with a checked firearm and who takes temporary possession of it while in transit through NY, if they do not have a NY State firearms license (which you cannot get as a non-resident, iirc). In other words, you’re flying through NYC, but lay over for a day or an hour and collect your bag (and firearm), and plan to leave the next day…there are variations on this theme. I have read first person account of people arrested for being illegally in possession of their own firearm (again, checked in their bag) by just taking possession of it at the baggage carousel. Be VERY careful in NYC and state. Here are a few links:

    http://www.new-york-lawyers.org/lawyer-attorney-1580414.html

    http://www.usacarry.com/forums/leo-encounters/6697-do-not-fly-out-ny-airports-2.html

    Here’s one man’s experience:

    “A few years back, I went to see my cousin’s wedding in New York, staying with family in Connecticut. I flew into HPN (White Plains). No problems on the way in, and no laws against the law-abiding (even those from other states) possessing a firearm in a locked case in CT. I went to the wedding in NY, leaving the firearm at my family’s home, then showed my M1911A1 to a friend while there in CT.

    On my return trip, I declared my firearm to the TSA Agent. The TSA Agent notified a LEO at the airport, who came over to question me.

    Now a little about my background: I was a Ground Security Coordinator for an airline a few years back. I am intimately familiar with the laws regarding TSA responsibilities and the transportation of firearms by air. The TSA, at the time, was not permitted to call a LEO when a firearm was being legally transported (that is, unloaded in a locked case in checked luggage). Nor was the TSA permitted to assist local law enforcement with the enforcement of local laws, but rather only Federal laws. In other words, the TSA Agent that started all of this broke the law.

    So anyway, the LEO arrives to question me, asks for identification. I know NY is very skittish about guns, so I don’t question anything, I simply comply. I informed the LEO that the firearm was mine, I had just arrived from CT and was returning to GA. The LEO asked me for my NY firearms permit. I told him I was a GA resident and didn’t have one (NY law would not permit me to obtain one, anyway, as you must be a resident of the State of New York to obtain an NY permit).

    A few more minutes of questioning, and I was escorted to a room where four LEOs inspected the firearm and the questioning officer asked more questions. A few minutes more, and I was informed that I was being arrested for having a firearm without a permit in the State of New York. Embarrassing as this was, at that exact moment my cell phone rang. It was my father, who had just dropped me off and was shocked to find out I was being arrested. Dad never did much with me and firearms; he allowed the Boy Scouts and Civil Air Patrol to introduce my brother and I, but he’ll be damned if anyone is going to take his 1911, his two rifles or his double-damascus.

    I was placed in handcuffs and driven to a nearby county police station. The officer was genuinely and profusely sorry. He kept stating he didn’t want to arrest me and believed every law-abiding citizen should be allowed to have a firearm, but that his senior officer had informed him that I should be arrested (it was the first month of the arresting officer’s tour at the airport). I was placed in the search cell, where they put you to search you when you arrive, but wasn’t searched. I waited there three hours until the Captain of the precinct came in to inform me that I was being officially “unarrested” (whatever that means), and that I would be permitted to continue my travels, even take my gun with me. Apparently, the DA in the county at the time was dealing with an Army Colonel who had been given the same treatment, and it was giving the County a Google Page Ranking “black eye.”

    I found out later that, having missed my flight, the County had purchased me another ticket (I found this out when I got my AAdvantage statement and had received frequent flier miles for my return trip–my original flight was an AAdvantage reward ticket!). I was released to my father, who drove me back to the airport. Before leaving, the Captain informed me that the next time I travel in NY, don’t bring my gun.”

  • Bob Gross says: June 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Great info Julie.. Love number 8.. So true.. I never understand people who are just grouchy during the whole check in process.. Life is to short..Best of success in all you matches this year..A little luck as well…

  • Anne Vinnola says: June 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Well done Julie! Great info!