Airplane Mode: How To Fly With A Firearm

Sometimes it’s just too far to drive, or your schedule simply won’t allow the extra time for a road trip. So, you take to the air to get to the hunt or the competition. Yes, you can fly with your firearms, they just have to be in your checked baggage and you have to ensure you’re meeting all the applicable requirements.

We can group these requirements into three general categories: TSA, airline, and destination requirements. The one top level requirement that applies to all three areas is that you have to comply with the laws concerning possession of firearms of where you are going. This means local, state, federal and international laws.

Reinforced corners and multiple locks add to the security of this firearm case.

TSA

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA ) issues the overarching requirements from the government that airlines and individuals must meet. Meeting the TSA requirements usually, doesn’t present any real challenges.

The short version is that they require firearms to be declared at check in, unloaded, and transported in a locked hard sided container as a piece of checked baggage. The passenger retains the key or combination for the firearms case.

Full-sized bolt guns will typically require large cases. Fliers should make sure they use models that have wheels for ease of transport.

Both TSA and the airlines specify that the locked case must be of sufficient strength and design to ensure the firearm’s security and prevent access once locked. Some cases provided with your firearm when you purchase it, may not be sufficient to meet these requirements. Don’t risk it; buy a durable travel gun case to protect your investment while it’s being transported!

Speaking of cases, the big, black, super-duper, army weapon system Pelican case may seem like the best approach for protecting your gun during your travels, and it will surely do a fine job of that, but it also presents some concerns. There are other companies like Flambeau Outdoors, Plano and Americase that offer affordable and durable options. Weight is one of many considerations when selecting the ideal case to transport your firearm. If you’ll be hauling long guns or multiple firearms in a case, consider selecting a case with wheels. As checked baggage, your gun case will be evaluated by the airlines to see if it is oversized or overweight and additional charges may be incurred. Also when you get to your destination, unless you are renting a pickup truck, the larger the case the more difficult it is to manage with your other luggage and fit in rental vehicles.

Ammunition and all other firearms parts (magazines, clips, bolts, etc) also must be in checked baggage. The only firearm related item that TSA specifies you can have in carry-on baggage is your rifle scope. Ammunition must be packed in boxes or packaging specifically designed for ammunition and magazines must also be securely boxed. Ammunition and mags/ clips can be transported in the same hard sided case as your firearm, but keep an eye on your airline weight limits.

The smallest case that will get the job done is typically the right one for the job. Shorter cases can be used if it is possible to break down firearms. Notice reinforced locking points and multiple latch points to secure closure.

Airlines

This is where the differences start to appear. All airlines must meet the TSA requirements, but there are additional requirements that vary by airline company policies. A smile and having all your paperwork in order will make it all come together at the ticket counter.

The first and most important tip is to ensure you are booking on the same carrier all the way through on a trip. So that when you check your bags/ gun it is booked all the way to your destination on a single carrier, you only jump through hoops once.

For international travel, it is frequent for airlines to require travelers to claim and re-check the firearms at stops if there is a carrier change. In addition to the added time and effort, the new carrier may also impose their charges on your baggage as well. For example, Finnair charges a 25 euro fee for weapons handling, each way. Some carriers specifically limit how many firearms you may have per case, though TSA and some (Alaska ) do not, be sure to check with your carrier.

Magazines should be secured as well in the gun case or checked baggage. Full hinge and metal mating surfaces add rigidity to plastic case.

Many airlines require prior approval (phone calls) for firearms travel, mainly international, but it doesn’t hurt to make the call even on domestic flights to ensure there are no issues and that you have all the required paper work. Due to current world affairs, some international cities and countries do not allowing firearms to be transferred through their airports, even though you don’t even take possession of them.

If you are carrying a handgun(s), they also have to be in a locked hard-sided case. This can either be a stand-alone case, which can be inside a piece of luggage, or a locking hard sided suitcase can serve this purpose.

Ammunition in your checked baggage is limited to 5 kg or 11 lbs (ammunition and packaging). Most airlines dictate that it has to be in original packaging or sturdy fiber, plastic, wood, or metal packaging that allows for holding individual rounds – no bulk packaged or loose rounds. Taping those boxes closed is a good safeguard to ensure you don’t end up with a bunch of loose rounds rolling around due to rough baggage handling. Cases such as those made by Plano are convenient for the range and for transport through the skies.

Some airlines allow ammunition to be transported in loaded magazines (Southwest) and some do not (American), you have to verify with each carrier if you choose to exercise that option, but either way magazines/ clips should be boxed or retained in cutouts in your case to ensure compliance.

Full length hinge and multiple locks (combo and key) provide extra security with this Americase. This cases size allows carrying almost like a brief case.

Destination

TSA and all the airlines reiterate, “When traveling, comply with the laws concerning possession of firearms as they vary by local, state and international governments”. With so many different laws by state and city, you have to make sure you and your firearm/magazines/ammo are legal where you are going. The internet, your outfitter, guide, or tournament director have the information you need, a few minutes online or on the phone can yield the answers.

List all the valuable items you’re taking on this form to ensure you don’t have to pay duty when returning.

International travel is a bit more challenging. If you are taking guns out of the country you definitely need a Customs and Border Protection Form 4457. This form, obtained at your local customs office, proves you had the guns already in the USA so that you are able to bring them back in without issue on return.

You will definitely need a passport and a temporary import permit for your firearms for the country you will be visiting. The permit gets your firearm in and allows you to take it back out of the country. These typically take 2-6 weeks to process depending on the country, so plan accordingly. When you land, you will have to declare your firearms and ammunition on the customs declaration form.

Summary

Don’t be afraid to join the thousands that fly with firearms to hunt, compete, and protect themselves. The airlines and customs officials want you to succeed and get on your way. Do your homework, get your paperwork in order, declare your unloaded firearms, use a quality lockable hard-sided case, pack your ammunition/ magazines properly and most importantly enjoy your trip.

For more information about Plano cases, click http://www.planomolding.com/hunting/series/tactical-series.

For more information about Flambeau cases, click https://www.flambeauoutdoors.com/Hunting/Weapon-and-gear-storage.

For more information about TSA guidelines, click https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition.

To purchase a firearm case on GunsAmerica, click https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.htm?Keyword=gun%20case&ltid-all=1&cid=816&ns=0&numberperpage=50&.

{ 29 comments… add one }
  • Cayman August 8, 2017, 6:56 am

    Just took a trip from Minneapolis to Denver and back. I brought my Glock 19 carry and my S&W .44 Competitor for hiking. I was flying United and had no issue getting both pistols to Denver. On the return flight I declared the guns and they were taken to a separate screening area then the TSA agent that was escorting me carted my bag outside the terminal and shoved it down shoot #38 out on the sidewalk. When I arrived back in Minneapolis my wife and children’s bags were there but not mine containing the two guns and two boxes of ammunition. United didn’t know exactly where the bag was other than it was in Denver. So, two guns in the airport with ammunition in an unknown location. Who needs terrorists when you have incompetence.

  • George Thomas August 7, 2017, 9:09 pm

    Each airline has their own policy. This is Alaska Airlines.

    Ammunition

    On Alaska Airlines flights 001-999 and flights 2000-2999, up to 50 lbs.(domestic) and 11 lbs. (international – where permitted) may be checked. Customers checking in or connecting to Alaska Airlines flights 3450-3499 are limited to 11 lbs. of ammunition. Ammunition must be securely packed in the original manufacturer’s package or in a container designed for ammunition and of sufficient strength to protect it from accidental crushing or discharge (i.e. wood, fiber, plastic, or metal). The projectile must be no larger than 11/16″ in diameter, the size of a dime. Ammunition may be checked with or separately from the firearm. Spent ammunition shells will be accepted in checked baggage provided they meet the same acceptance procedures as live ammunition (e.g. packed in a crush-proof case)

    • Jeff C August 9, 2017, 9:54 am

      yep, Alaska seems to be one of the most accommodating airlines and policy goes in the most detail, the last frontier state seems to have taken greater effort for it’s hunter and frontiersmen!

  • George Thomas August 7, 2017, 8:45 pm

    11 lbs is for international, in the us it is 50Lbs in your baggage, Each airline has their own policy. This is Alaska Airlines.

    Ammunition

    On Alaska Airlines flights 001-999 and flights 2000-2999, up to 50 lbs.(domestic) and 11 lbs. (international – where permitted) may be checked. Customers checking in or connecting to Alaska Airlines flights 3450-3499 are limited to 11 lbs. of ammunition. Ammunition must be securely packed in the original manufacturer’s package or in a container designed for ammunition and of sufficient strength to protect it from accidental crushing or discharge (i.e. wood, fiber, plastic, or metal). The projectile must be no larger than 11/16″ in diameter, the size of a dime. Ammunition may be checked with or separately from the firearm. Spent ammunition shells will be accepted in checked baggage provided they meet the same acceptance procedures as live ammunition (e.g. packed in a crush-proof case)

  • Robert Grimaldi August 7, 2017, 8:29 pm

    I have flown from Tennessee to Florida and back twice without any problems whatsoever. Have a carry permit, and took my Glock with me. I brought one full box of 357 Sig ammo, one magazine which was placed all in my Glock hard case from it’s purchase. I disassembled the slide, and barrel from the lower. And I used the cable lock to secure the carry handle by wrapping it then locking it. Placed my case in my one checked bag after it was declared and checked. They placed a card inside that it was checked and declared and no problems arose. Haven’t figured out how to get it into Californica, except to drive and carry it on my person, as I am not a Cali residents, and my 13 round magazine is probably illegal there anyhow! But, that’s besides the point!!!

  • LJ August 7, 2017, 8:09 pm

    As a 30+ year airline employee that has flown may times with firearms let me make a suggestion to anyone interested in my opinion.

    Invest in a high quality medal gun case with hasp type locking, especially if you’re traveling with your shiny new Holland and Holland mega-blaster. If the Samsonite apes can figure out a way to destroy that plastic hard-sided case they will! Trust me!

    Moral of the story – don’t put a $2000 or $3000 hunting rifle or shotgun in a $100 gun case and then get pissed off when it arrives with a big ‘ol tire track right up the middle of it …

    • Bill Haas August 8, 2017, 10:49 am

      WHAT? BULL CRAP!! I understand what you are saying…accidents happen…but I would be very pissed if my new $2000 – $3000 firearm was in a case that I dutifully made certain to meet regulations, dutifully checked-in properly, and entrusted to the business that took my money to safely transport it to my destination with me, if it ended up with a big ol tire track down the middle of it no matter what I paid for the case. Sounds like a new firearm, case, and contents to me if that happened.

      • lj August 17, 2017, 11:43 am

        Bill – accidents happen, especially when there’s 1000’s of tons of freight and luggage being handled any given day at a large airport. Most of the baggage transport carts are open on the sides and things fall off all the time, and sometimes they get ran over. As for being ‘dutifully checked’ and your perceived expectation for proper handling … well …

  • Campbell King August 7, 2017, 1:45 pm

    Made 6 trips to Alaska and two to Africa..One through Frankfort and one through Jo Burg…So far no problems..SKB golf case holds 3 long rifles plus boots and a a few other items so it is one bag,,good locks n wheels n you can’t beat their service..Last trip wheel got cracked n they gave another immediately..About $100 for case…Just get form from customs ahead of time n list guns, binos n camers,,ets…

  • Mike August 7, 2017, 10:43 am

    Glad to have read this,,,I am a commercial pilot.
    But it seems a lot less hassle to just ship your firearm?

  • Kyle August 7, 2017, 10:27 am

    This made my head hurt, the comments didnt help.

    Not worth it. Ill drive

    • Kilkenny August 8, 2017, 11:00 pm

      Flying with weapons is easy, though airport procedures and airlines vary. Southwest is the best for airline travel. You may get some newbie or foreigner like I did in Ft. Lauderdale from Virgin Islands who stared bug eyed at me when I stated “I’m transporting a firearm and ammo.” Kept staring like he dumped his drawers and had to repeat, with a smile. Otherwise it’s not a big deal. They have rules, policy clearly stated on their website so the employees have to abide. Have a secure locked case (Glock makes one like their regular cases but with lock/key) lock or dissemble the gun inside, ammo in boxes. Have TSA locks for your luggage.

      Airports — stay out of NYC. Transit police will arrest you, this is bolshevik nonsense and such unConstitutional infringement needs to stop. Otherwise can fly anywhere USA easy. Smaller airports, it’s usually easier, counter clerk may ask to see the case, you write down gun declaration form, it’s small and simple, they usually tape it on your gun case or want it inside. Some bigger airports will take your luggage and send it thru separate x-ray and separate conveyor to go to plane. In bigger cities like Chiraq you fill out form, put inside or tape to case, then walk down to TSA counter where an additional 8-15 minutes is spent while they may open case or swab luggage and then they take luggage from there. It’s easy.

  • Sgt. Pop August 7, 2017, 10:19 am

    I have traveled from the Gulf Coast to Alaska through Canada, 14 trips now, always have both sides paperwork with my passport and one set with the hard case locked firearm. When flying to and from Alaska (1999-2007) always had the Fed. regs and the carrier in my pocket with my ticket. I have had to use them twice (Pensacola) to show them I could use the hard plastic ammo cases and it didn’t have to be in “original” packaging. In all these driving trips, only had my firearm actually checked twice, once on the U.S. side and this year entering Canada. Flying, I usually found a way to put a gun/cable lock on it also, always well accepted.

  • joe August 7, 2017, 10:15 am

    I tried this once, back in about 1981. Went to the luggage carrousel only to find some a$$hole making off with my gun case. I caught him just in time. Nowadays, I fly with whatever I want, loaded, unloaded, in my lap in my holster, in my back in the seat next to me….It’s nice being a pilot! And, oh, by the way, I’ll bet you’ll never guess how many times I’ve been pulled over while flying?!

    • Doctor Moebius August 7, 2017, 7:14 pm

      I flew with my firearm from NY to CA. At JFK, they told me to put the shells in with the gun in the locked case; on the way back, they had me put shells into a separate plastic ammo box. Minor hassles – had my gun no problem.

  • George August 7, 2017, 9:49 am

    Several observations. First, Spirit’s website also incudes language that contradicts the one firearm per case language. We shipped multiple firearms per case to Oklahoma for a pig hunt. Had the pertinent section photoopied in the event we encounter an ill-informed employee. Second, with reference to being required to surrender your key or combination: that is an illegal request. It’s in their regs. Third, study and know the pertinent regulations governing transport of arms. It is useful to photocopy pertinent sections and keep them on your person to present in situations of dispute. Without becoming belligerent, it is sometimes useful to indicate that an illegal act has been requested and/or is anticipated. In that case request a supervisor, reiterate the law, and if necessary request that they call “upstairs.” In the even your efforts are futile, video the encounter if possibe, but byu all means get names from name tags and proceed with legal action. Yes, at some points initiating legal action is an integral part of protecting our constitutional rights. I know it’s inconvenient, but the presumption that defense of our rights should not involve incconvenience is a legacy of our entitlementand participation trophy culture.

  • Cyrus August 7, 2017, 9:47 am

    I remember the days where I would just stick my 45 between all my clothes and check it in and nobody cared and nobody was the wiser . . . the times have certainly changed.

  • Catfish August 7, 2017, 9:24 am

    I flew into Montreal Canada about 10 yrs ago. Their customs agents freaked out that I had ammunition in with my rifle. Within seconds about a dozen agents were their guns at the ready. My rifle had the bolt out, wrapped in bubble wrap, trigger lock installed, etc. But they told me my mistake was the ammo with the rifle. As far as locks, it doesn’t matter if they are on your gear or not, some TSA agents could care less. Denver (Stapleton) airport cut up the best locks money could buy a couple of years ago on my duffel bags. They said it was their right. I guess that they didn’t know how to work the nice xray machine that they were standing beside. Most of all, don’t argue with anyone over what may have transpired. I firmly believe that they can make things worse in a big hurry. GOOD LUCK.

  • Ken August 7, 2017, 8:36 am

    I recent;y traveled Spirit airlines. Their rules state only one firearm per case, I had 3 long guns and a pistol. Had to come up with 4 separate cases with locks. Did not want to have to pay for 4 pieces of luggage so I taped all 4 cases and put them in a duffel bag, went as 1 piece of luggage as it still met the dimensional and weight criteria.

  • Jeffrey L. Frischkorn August 7, 2017, 8:28 am

    Before retiring as a journalist I used to travel once or twice a year into Canada to hunt.. Note that even with airlines, there are employees who know nothing about their own employer\’s rules.. In one case the ticketing agent insisted that the firearm be rendered inoperable. I argued for half a minute and then decided to remove the bolt. That satisfied the attendant. Even on domestic flights when I arrived to my destination I would find the TSA form that noted my CHECKED baggage was separately inspected – twice, once at the ticketing area and the second time back in the bowels of the airport. The idea of a solid carrying case cannot be stressed enough. I once observed – while looking out the airplane\’s window and onto the tarmac – a baggage-loading escalator that the worker failed to slide all the way to an adjacent plane\’s belly. The handler would put the bags on the bottom of the machine which carried them to the top, but since it was not near the plane\’s cargo hold the baggage simply dribbled off and onto the concrete. Another time I noticed that my big bright orange gun case still a good ways from being included – it thus being destined for another flight to who-knows where. I alerted the flight attendant who quickly saw to it that the gun case would arrive with me.. That big Browning bright orange gun vault? It has seen such rough treatment that once some airline baggage handler broke the corner; I mean, you can drive a tank over that sucker and not do damage. Remember a couple other things: Ensure that your hunting knives either be included in the gun case or in your separate checked luggage. And that U.S. Customs\’ form? You bet it\’s vital! I\’ve even seen it accepted by other country customs officials as a \”gun registration\” form, even though it is not.. Likewise, that form goes beyond just being required for firearms. Anything expensive, electronic, or such should be included on the form. That form simply tells U.S. Customs that you didn\’t buy the item or items out of the country and are trying to bring it in without paying duty.. Keep the form always with your passport. Give consideration too of borrowing or renting a firearm at your final destination. I did the former once when I hunted axis deer and turkeys in Hawaii – about as anti-Second Amendment a state as you can get. I did not have to worry about government forms, sighting in, damaging a favorite firearm, lost or misplaced items or anything else. It\’s a option, is all that I am saying. Consider it..

  • WuzRgr August 7, 2017, 8:08 am

    While traveling from Vegas to Philly I followed all the TSA guidelines for early arrival, filled out the paperwork for everyone concerned, and secured my approved case in the manner prescribed by the TSA only to have had my lock cutoff and the contents of my case removed and replaced. All I got was a note stating the obvious incursion, with no explanation as to why this occurred. I’m just glad my pistol was still there. Just a heads up; if you really care about what is going in the belly of a commercial aircraft. IT may not be as safe as you would like it to be. IMHO. Thx

  • Pseudo August 7, 2017, 6:20 am

    What happens when you typically arrrive at some destinations and then have to face another mode of travel? New Jersey, New York, California, etc.

    I. Elite in some of these states the ammunition has to be stored in a separate locked container, do you pick up a rental car and what next?…

    • Kilkenny August 8, 2017, 10:46 pm

      Safe Passage Law, Fed Law, can carry your firearm in locked case anywhere.

    • Jeff C August 9, 2017, 9:49 am

      You have to be in compliance with laws where ever you go, I avoid places like CA and NJ like the plague. I’ve taken a gun to Russia and felt more confident as we went from planes, trains and auto’s than I would transporting through NJ these days, I guess that’s a sad state of affairs. Reality is just getting down in to the laws of each state and area you want to go and see what’s required. I’ve been to South Africa, and they were very gun welcoming and knowledgeable due to all the tourism / hunting. Also been to Greece, Hungary, Canada, Czech Republic; the key, even if flying domestic is knowledge and planning far enough in advance.

  • Lloyd Dumas August 7, 2017, 6:14 am

    Good to see someone she’d light on a dark subject, great job. I miss the good ol days when you just put it in a bag and go. Given what could happen and the extra precaution I feel safe and it is worth it.

  • JOSEPH C BURGE August 7, 2017, 5:57 am

    I would add a fourth “agency?” Local airport. I left NC for Florida, no problem, like butter. Leaving Florida for NC was a C.F.
    Suffice to say, after an hour and a half (and arguing over surrendering my keys without being present?) the idjuts in PBI are nazis.

  • RetNavet August 7, 2017, 5:01 am

    Excellent detail covering all aspects of travel with firearms

    • Jeff C August 9, 2017, 9:39 am

      Thanks, lots of great comments above bearing out that not all in the airlines industry are that familiar with their own policies or the TSA regs. That’s why its crucial to make sure you are familiar and best to have a copy, though since you can pull up on your phone these days its not as vital as it once was.

  • clayton martin August 3, 2017, 6:06 pm

    Nicely done Jeff! I get a fair amount of people that are amazed you can fly with a gun, and then they usually ask if it because I am retired military. Nothing of the sort. Turns out, anyone can fly with a weapon, you just have to follow the rules. The more people that exercise this right, the less likely it is to go away.

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