Flying With Firearms

A guest post written by Sellmark marketing intern Nate van Noort.

Flying with firearms seems like it would be complicated and nerve-racking for any passenger or airline but truth is that if you follow the fairly simple rules, chances are you’ll never have a problem. All airlines are required to follow TSA rules and regulations, though it is important to know your airline’s rules on flying with firearms because some have additional rules.

Image courtesy of Revolverguy.com. Guns must be declared and ocked in an approved case if you will be flying with them.
Image courtesy of Revolverguy.com. Guns must be locked in an approved case.

Packing to Keep Your Gun Safe and Legal

In a world where pocket knives, snow globes, and even gel insoles can’t be stored in carry-on bags, it should come as no surprise that you can’t take a gun in your carry on. They must be unloaded and stored in a locked hard-sided container that can’t be easily opened. Cases with two or more locking points are recommended. This case can then be placed inside your checked baggage or, as a checked bag itself. Multiple guns can be placed in the same hard-sided case. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t use a regular TSA lock used for regular baggage, which is actually illegal to use for firearm storage because they can be opened by anyone that has a TSA master key. You should have the key on your person and not in your checked baggage. Otherwise, what’s the point of the lock? You should invest in a really good protective case for both your peace of mind and for the TSA’s. After all, your case is the primary protector from the less than careful baggage handlers. In addition to being sturdy and durable, many gun owners also like to travel with gun cases that don’t obviously look like a gun case. In that situation look for a hard-style case used to transport golf clubs and other equipment, just cut foam inserts to keep everything protected and in place during transport.

Picking Up Your Gun from Baggage Claim

Once you land, large gun cases that are checked as an individual piece of luggage rather than stored in a checked bag may have to be picked up with large or unusual items, like skis, instead of with other checked baggage. Usually, they’ll just come down the carousel with everything else though. Ammunition also has to be checked and must be stored in containers specifically designed for carrying small amounts of ammunition. Shotgun shells and ammunition .75 caliber or less can be stored in the same hard case as a firearm. Loaded or empty magazines and clips must be stored the same way as guns, but firearm parts like bolts and firing pins can just be stored in checked bags. Even though TSA says boxes made of cardboard, like the box the ammo comes in, are alright for storage, you may want to go with a more solid container to avoid the risk of your ammunition being scattered in your bag.

Breeze Through Declaring Your Firearm

Guns cannot be stored in your carry on. They must be checked with baggage.
Guns cannot be stored in your carry on. They must be checked with baggage.

When checking your baggage, you need to declare any guns or ammo to the airline. You must do this every time you travel, so don’t forget to declare your guns and ammo again if you switch airlines during the same trip. What does it mean to declare your gun, though? Declaring a firearm is not a big deal and it won’t get you funny looks or suspicious treatment. Just go to the ticketing desk inside the airport (you can’t declare a gun curbside) and tell them you need to declare a firearm. They’ll give you a card to fill out with your primary contact info, verifying that you’ve properly stored your gun. The agent will check that the case is locked. After a few questions to make sure any accessories or ammunition are stored properly, you’re usually good to go, but the agent may want to look inside the case. TSA and airline agents also shouldn’t handle your firearms. If they feel it needs an inspection, they are supposed to call over a law enforcement officer. Once you’ve finished declaring your firearm, stick around the desk for 20 or so minutes in case they need to call you back for an inspection. Declaring is usually a quick and easy process, but you want to allow yourself at least an extra hour in the case of one of the rare occasion where it does take longer.

Other People’s Rules

The TSA isn’t the only person who makes rules about flying with a firearm, and you need to know which ones will affect you. Most airlines have rules for flying with guns on top of the TSA’s, and exactly what these rules are varies from airline to airline, so you’ll need to check what your airline of choice requires. For example, Delta requires that guns be stored in a manufacturer’s case and puts a weight limit of 11 pounds of ammunition, among other limitations. You’ll also need to know the laws for wherever you’re flying to. Airport staff is only checking to make sure you’re following the airline and the TSA’s rules, so even if your gun is legally checked, you may be in violation of local laws once you reach your destination. For international travel, booking a direct flight as much as possible minimizes the countries you pass through, and cuts down significantly on the number of customs requirements that you have to deal with.

Using this guide, you should be able to fly with your gun with relative ease, but when in doubt, contact your airline or the TSA directly.
Flying with firearms is relatively easy and painless if you follow this guide.

Final Thoughts on Flying with a Firearm

To sum up:

  • Guns and ammunition both need to be in checked baggage.
  • Store your gun unloaded in a hard case with a non-TSA approved lock.
  • Using a solid container to store your ammunition is safer and easier.
  • Be sure to declare your firearm.
  • Know your airline’s rules.
  • Know the laws of wherever you’re going.

Using this guide, you should be able to fly with your gun with relative ease, but when in doubt, contact your airline or the TSA directly. For international travel, refer questions to the local consulate or embassy of the country or countries you’re visiting.

Have you flown with your firearm? Leave your tips in the comment section.

About the Author

Aspiring pilot Nate van Noort is currently a senior at the University of Texas at Arlington majoring in Marketing with a minor in Finance. His family are big pheasant hunters, sharing hunting land in the Texas Panhandle near the city of Perryton. Nate enjoys sporting clays and shooting his Glock. When he’s not studying, working or out at the lease, he’s playing disc golf, reading or wakeboarding.