The first article in this series should ensure that you are best prepared for flying with firearms. Once you get to the airport, people are bound to notice that you are carrying what looks like a firearms case. If you’re following this next bit of urban camouflage advice, you shouldn’t even look like a gun owner with that case.
Part Two: During travel and after arrival
During travel when flying with firearms
If someone who is not a TSA agent or airline personnel begins to show too much interest in your business as you’re waiting to check that gun case, you can simply deflect those questions with identifying yourself as anything but a ‘scary gun owner’. The situation will always dictate, and if you do happen to meet a fellow gun enthusiast, you can use that as an opportunity to show them why you’re flying with firearms.
At the curb
As you unload your gear from the cab or ride you took to the airport, your Situational Awareness should be in a sharp condition yellow. The relaxed alert is meant to enable you to be comfortable in your surroundings but aware of any potential threat or undue attention. Swiveling your head, acknowledging people entering your public and personal space, and simply putting good energy out will display to other people that you are aware of your surroundings and generally discourage opportunistic criminals from stealing your gun case if you’re not paying attention. Make yourself a hard target when flying with firearms.
Also, do not attempt to check your firearms case at the curbside bag check. Nearly every time, airlines will not allow you to take this shortcut and you are just wasting time and attracting unnecessary attention to yourself by attempting to do so.
At the airline’s baggage counter
With good situational awareness, you should be briskly walking to your airline’s bag check counter. Most of the time, you will have to go to the full-service counter in order to process your firearms case, so again, don’t waste your time trying to print out boarding passes or baggage tags at the quick access kiosks or partial service counters.
Once you’re at the full-service counter, begin the check-in process in accordance with the airline’s policy. You are required to let the attendant know you are flying with firearms at this point. Aside from the regular check-in process, a few things will be different for responsible gun owners who are flying with firearms.
You will have to sign a card stating that your firearms are unloaded and being legally transported in accordance with TSA standards. You’ll have to open the case to briefly show the attendant what is in the case and to drop the card in there as well. This is basically an affidavit stating that you are acting in accordance with local and federal guidelines while transporting those firearms.
A personal note here: I’m not being paid to endorse any airline in particular, but Southwest’s free baggage fees apply to gun cases too, as long as they are not so large, heavy, or bulky that they would be classified as oversized baggage. I’ve flown every time with a full-size rifle case with several airlines and have never had it classified as oversized baggage. If you don’t normally check bags to avoid those fees, Southwest Airlines is probably going to be one of the more accommodating airlines that will just treat your gun case as another piece of checked baggage.
- Holds up to two rifles or shotguns or a single rifle/shotgun with plenty of room for magazines and accessories
- Premium black textured ABS laminate panels
- Features customizable "DIY" foam made up of 1/2" squares so you can make the perfect shape for any gun or a million other uses
Handing off your case for additional screening
Once you’ve completed the check-in process at the counter, your gun case will be taken to a secured area for additional TSA screening. More likely than not, you will be brought into that secure area to witness the agents screening your gun case. I’ve had my gun case go through this additional screening a number of ways, and it all depends on the local airport policy more so than the airlines’.
About 70% of the time, I’m escorted back to the secure area to witness the screening. All they’re doing is swabbing it for explosives residue and scanning it through a powerful x-ray scanner. 20% of the time, I don’t go to a secured area and they do the same process on a separate carousel close to the ticketing area but separate from the standard baggage conveyer belt.
Rarely, they just take the bag and have you wait at the ticket counter until it has passed inspection. This recently happened to me in Cincinnati and I just had to stand at the ticket counter for about 5 minutes while the TSA agents did their job. Altogether, this entire process isn’t taking any more than an additional 5 to 10 minutes of your time if you are transporting your firearms in accordance with TSA regulations and this simple guide.
During flight/ extended layovers or flight delays
When you’re boarding, attempt to get a seat as close to the front as possible. You want to be one of the first passengers off the plane when you land, and we’ll address why in the deplaning/ baggage claim section of this story later.
Any responsible gun owner should be aware of where their firearms are at all times, and that does not change when flying with firearms. Unfortunately, people are unpredictable. Opportunistic travelers and airport employees have been known to steal baggage.
This begs us to revisit the importance of disguising the outside of your gun case to look like anything but a gun case. Which do you think is more likely to get broken into or stolen? A motivated coyote brown pelican case with Magpul, Marine Corps, and other paraphernalia hanging off your Mollie pack that identifies you as a proud gun owner or the subdued black case with a marriage equality sticker and “Got Huevos” sticker from my local Colombian breakfast joint on it?
Like I’ve said before, perception is the reality, and you are in control of that perception. There are plenty of other opportunities to advertise yourself as the alpha male with your tattoos, bumper stickers, and Facebook posts; just don’t complicate your travels by letting that ego spill over to traveling with your firearms.
- Shark Mouth Nose Art Design
- Capable of Transporting 2 Rifles
- Hook-&-Loop Carry Handle
During extended layovers, you may have the opportunity to claim your checked baggage and re-check it the next morning. If you have a firearm case, this is where you are going to have to make a choice. You can let the TSA and airport employees do their job and securely store the baggage with everyone else’s gear and not complicate things by taking possession of your firearms in this scenario.
Otherwise, you are within your rights to claim that firearms case but will have to go through this process all over again the next morning. If you’re going through this scenario in an airport like Chicago or New York, you’re more likely to get arrested for illegal possession due to local firearms possession and transportation laws.
Anywhere else it very well may not happen, but due to this precedent being set, it is inadvisable to take possession of your firearms during a delayed or extended layover. States like Illinois have very specific laws about transportation of firearms and you are subject to local laws even if you are ‘just passing through’.
This is probably the former Military Police Officer in me coming out again, but ignorance of the law is never an excuse. Especially as a firearms owner or Permit to Carry holder, know that you have entered a legal agreement that you will comply with all local statutes in the states that you travel to and through.
Especially if you plan on carrying in the state you are traveling to, it is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with that state’s use of reasonable force and use of deadly force laws. Just because you have reciprocity doesn’t mean that your home state’s laws hold any water in those states that you have reciprocity with.
Once you land, you will have to collect your bags and gun case. Be sure to remove your headphones or whatever distraction you’ve been using during the flight to positively hear what baggage claim carousel that your flight’s bags are being delivered to.
This is one of the most vulnerable stages of traveling that your gun case will go through. The gun cases usually come through the oversize baggage area, and there should be an attendant on the public-access side, picking up the gun cases and oversize baggage.
Unfortunately, I have witnessed some overworked and/ or inattentive attendants struggling to manage the volume of bags coming through during this stage. This is exactly why you want to be sitting as close to the front of the airplane as possible so you are one of the first passengers in the baggage claim area.
If not at the oversize baggage claim area, more responsible airlines will be holding your gun case behind their customer service desk. If you don’t see your case at the oversize baggage claim area, chances are your gun case is at your airline’s respective customer service area.
- Holds up to four 1911-size pistols with room for magazines
- Premium black textured ABS laminate panels
- Features customizable "DIY" foam made up of ½" squares so you can make the perfect shape for any gun or a million other uses.
You will have to show a photo ID to claim your gun case and avoid spending any additional time in the airport after you have possession of your gun case. I’ve even been questioned by the attendants if that is indeed a gun case, and I am under no obligation to tell them what’s in the case. I usually just politely reply that I am there to collect my property and calmly thank them for doing their job.
Ground transportation from the airport
If not driving yourself, be sure to protect your information by utilizing that urban camouflage technique and applying good situational awareness. If the cab driver is asking too many questions, just tell them you are a musician and that is your trusty keyboard. Again, the situation will always dictate your interactions. If you can tell that they are gun-friendly, use this as an opportunity to show them just how easy it is to fly with firearms by holding yourself to a higher standard.
Military Arms Channel shows a video about flying with firearms:
I know that just like guns, even flying isn’t for everyone. The third part of this series will delve into driving and crossing state lines with your firearms. Even if you don’t fly, I hope the first two parts of this story has taught you some new situational awareness techniques and contributes to your development as a responsible and competent member of the gun owners community.
What are some of the challenges that you have come across while flying with firearms? Share with the readers in the comments!