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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 https://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<id-all=1&cid=816&ns=0&numberperpage=50&.