One of our most asked questions is, “Can you fly with guns?” The answer – yes, you can! As a competitive shooter, I often fly with guns, ammo, and all the gear required for matches. Whether you’re traveling for sport, hunting, or vacation, knowing how to fly with firearms is a must.
Before we walk through the preparations and regulations you need to know; it’s important to understand that every time you fly, the process will be slightly different – even if you fly through the same airport with the same airline every time. The information is a general look at what to expect and how to prep.
How to Pack Your Guns to Fly
Here’s where the prep work starts! All firearms, ammo, and magazines must be checked, so let’s break down the procedure.
Firearms must be unloaded and transported in a hard-sided, lockable case. When packing, consider using chamber flags, which visually indicate an unloaded chamber. Opt for locks with a key or combination code that only you have access to and secure locks to every lockable hole on the case. If your gun case has four holes, you’ll need four locks. Do not use TSA locks! By doing so, you grant access to any TSA associate who has the master key without your knowledge or permission. I prefer combination locks so I can easily give my combo to TSA should they want to inspect my guns after I have cleared security and arrived at my gate. (There are stories of people dashing through airports to deliver their key to TSA; best to avoid that hassle if possible.) I change my combination as soon as I reunite with my guns, though.
Ammo must remain separate from all guns and magazines and stored in a factory box or ammo case. It’s a good idea to check with your airline before flying to see what containers they prefer for ammo storage. Ammo can fly in its own designated case or inside a locked suitcase. The Transportation Safety Administration does limit the amount of ammo you can fly with, capping it at 11-pounds per person.
Magazines must be unloaded and transported in a locked suitcase or other lockable container or bag. Sometimes, I even disassemble my magazines as an extra step of precaution.
Arriving at the Airport with Guns
When working out your travel schedule, add an extra pre-flight hour to your itinerary to ensure you have plenty of time should you run into any holdups at the airline counter. After arriving at the airport, head straight to customer service and notify them you are checking in a firearm. Remember, the process will be different every time. Sometimes they want to look at the firearms; sometimes, they don’t. There are even times when TSA will appear and ask you to go to a separate room for inspection. Be prepared for anything the airline representative or TSA agent might request.
After each request, repeat it back to them before completing the action to verify you understand what’s being asked and are doing the right thing. For example, if they ask to see the guns, repeat back, “You want me to show you my firearms, is it ok to open the case?” Extra vigilance is needed to make sure both you and the associate are on the same page.
Sometimes the associate will ask you to show that the firearm is unloaded. Before grabbing the gun, ask the associate where the designated safe direction is so you know where to safety point the gun and show clear. I also like to state that my checked bag has ammunition in it, but I’ve never been asked to show ammo or magazines.
Ultimately, follow instructions, be nice, and go with the flow.
Once the airline and/or TSA is satisfied with the firearms, they will hand you a tag to sign verifying everything is unloaded. This tag will be placed in the case. The bags are then whisked away, and you’re free to go to complete the rest of your journey.
Arriving at Your Destination: Where Do I Pick Up My Guns?
If you travel with a heavy case, it will appear in the oversized baggage claim. The representative will ask for your ID and checked bag stub. Once you provide the documentation, the bags are good to claim. If your handgun case is stowed in a locked suitcase, the suitcase might arrive on the regular baggage carousel; but that’s not a guarantee. Sometimes, even suitcases end up in oversized baggage due to the firearm inside, so be prepared to check with the airline upon arrival to locate your bag.
Other Tips for Flying with Firearms
You might want to consider traveling with a hard copy of the TSA and airline’s firearms guidelines. (You can easily print these off the web.) Some employees don’t understand the regulations, and a printed version of the policies can often clear up misunderstandings. If the employee struggles or hassles you over your firearms, nicely ask to speak to a supervisor. A good attitude will usually make the agent feel more comfortable and ease the process along.
Hit the Skies
Being able to fly to competitions, hunts, or vacations with your firearms is a great alternative to driving. Before hitting the skies, do your research, pack appropriately, and be flexible and kind at the airport. Remember, it’s up to you to understand TSA and airline regulations!