Update on recent experience flying with handgun

Balrog

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Nov 28, 2008
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I had asked some questions about legally flying with a handgun and thought I would update on the experience. It went very smoothly.

I packed my handgun per TSA and airline specifications, ie, unloaded, in a locked hard side case. I had 2 empty magazines and a 25 round box of ammo in the same case. The case was locked with small padlocks. I placed the gun case inside my suitcase.

When I arrived at the airport I was flying out of, I went to the airline's ticket counter and declared the firearm. They had my fill out a firearm declaration card with my name, address, and phone number on it. They asked me to take out the locked case, and taped this card to the case. I was not asked to open the case. I then put the case back inside the suitcase. The airline gate agent then took the suitcase and placed it on the conveyor belt, and I was done. When I arrived at my destination, the suitcase containing the handgun case came out on the baggage claim luggage carousel like all the other bags. I picked it up, and left. TSA was never involved in the flight out.

When flying back, I repeated the process, but it was a little different. I declared the firearm to the ticket agent and filled out the declaration card at the ticket counter which was taped to gun case just like the first time, Gun case then went back in the suitcase. But this time, the ticket agent directed my to a nearby TSA guy. He took the suitcase, asked me if gun was unloaded, I said yes, and he put it on the conveyor belt. He didnt ask to see the handgun case or the handgun. When I arrived, the suitcase came out on the usual luggage carousel, and I picked it up and left.

Overall there were no issues, and it didnt really cause more than about a 5-10 min delay getting checking in.

It seems a little odd that there was variation in the process from one airport to the other, but whatever. All went well.
 
Sounds just like most of the times I have flown with a firearm. I always get to baggage claim very early. And stand right where the bags come in. That way I will see every bag that comes into the claim area at the earliest time. The only instance where this strategy didn't work out, all the bags left and I never saw mine. I asked the nearest claim agent. Mine was moved to a locked office because of the firearm inside. My bag got diverted to a secure area before ever hitting the claim carousel. It was unnerving at first but much more secure.
 
What was your locked case made out of - metal or plastic?

Mine is plastic and easily x-rayed.
 
My one experience was quite different, especially at the destination end. When I declared the pistol at the ticket counter, the agent asked me to open the suitcase and the locked hard case. I did, and she put a pre-printed sheet of paper in with the gun and bid me secure it. The suitcase then went onto the conveyor. I don't remember what the paper said; I suppose it could demonstrate to some authority somewhere that the gun had been properly declared.

The flight was uneventful. Then the fun began. Suitcases banged down onto the carousel. More suitcases, but not mine. Well, that's not unusual, my baggage is always among the last to show... isn't that how it works for you? Eventually, the flow dribbled to nothing. You can imagine my thoughts as I wandered over to the airline's ohsh*t counter.

I waited my turn, filled out the claim form, and almost casually, as an aside, the agent there wondered if there was a gun involved. Indeed, I said (well I didn't exactly say, "indeed"). Turns out my suitcase was the very first off the plane and was shunted aside to the lost luggage corral for special handling. And there it was.

I really appreciate the care and attention my shipment received, I just wish the agent at Boston had told me how my luggage would be handled at Charlotte; it would have saved a lot of time and more than a little anxiety.
 
I was flying quite a bit last year, from Texas to Indiana, to visit my ill mother. Checking in was pretty easy... just unlock the case, declare the firearm is unloaded (no one has asked me to demonstrate,) and they had me fill out the information card that goes in the case with the checked tag. Lock it up, and off it went...

Picking up was a little different. In both cases (pun intended... ;) ) I had to go hunt down the 'oversize and parcel' desk to recover my firearm... they never even make it to the belt, which is fine with me.

Not unlike when you first start carrying concealed, feeling a little bit conspicuous, walking through the parking garage with an obvious 'gun case' made me feel like a hit man on a job...
 
FYI and probably well known by now, the airlines abandoned the positive claim process many years ago. Southwest was the last holdout to keep it, I believe. Air carriers just didn’t want to spend the money to keep claim agents employed. Long story short, anyone can grab your luggage and walk away with it, and there’s nothing to stop them. Add in the ever increasing homeless population loitering in airports, you get the picture.
 
The last time I flew with Delta my checked bag containing a firearm was not on the carousel, but was in the Delta baggage office. In both cases there were giant zip ties placed around the bag. Since my multitool was inside my checked bag, removing the zip ties proved to be an interesting challenge.
 
It seems a little odd that there was variation in the process from one airport to the other, but whatever. All went well.


Done it a lot and it varies wildly by airport. Never any major hassle though
 
First time I flew out of Newark (EWR) the ticket counter lady had me open my locked pistol case with four pistols inside - at the ticket counter in Newark, NJ. I mean there were tons of people on line behind, and in the lines beside. I said, now, here? She affirmed and so I turned the case to open in her direction and opened it, so as not to scare the soccer moms. No reaction except ok, please close/lock. Apart from them first bringing me the wrong declaration form (for law enforcement to be allowed to carry on-board) it went with no problems and may have actually sped me to the gate with a TSA guy just for me who took me and my bags directly to the gate. First time it was surreal, after that it was kind of nothing/routine. Completely ordinary at the other end in Florida at the baggage claim, and upon return to Newark as well.
 
It kinda seems that on the gun forums, there's a lot of folks not used to flying with firearms who start threads asking questions about the process (no disrespect intended to the OP) when both TSA's and each individual airlines' websites are pretty clear about the how to's. (Although we do know that information about flying into certain NY airports is always good to discuss lest someone run afoul of these jurisdictions' draconian laws, DC strangely is not a problem, at least in my experience.)

Maybe we could have a sticky with folks providing up-dated information on what to expect at various airports, since so many airlines and airports have somewhat differing procedures.

Example: If one flies out of SeaTac (Seattle-Tacoma), no matter the airline, you will generally have to open your suitcase at the airline counter when checking your bag; some airlines will require you to open the gun case to put the orange card in the gun case, others will just look at the gun case and tape the orange card on the gun case.

You will then have your bag tagged, but will be sent directly to the TSA "oversize baggage" room, where you will wait for a TSA guy who will have you open your suitcase *again* and take your gun case out of the bag, have you unlock it *maybe for the second time* and then will run a sniffer strip inside and around throughout your suitcase, almost invariably messing up your neatly folded shirts and tighty-whities. The TSA guy will then tell you you're cleared (except for the one time I had a pair of boots in my suitcase not cleaned after a range session, full of residue from lots of pyrotechnics and explosives, note to all EOD guys out there), have you re-lock your gun case and suitcase and send you away to go enjoy the long line for the TSA security checkpoint (I highly recommend TSA pre-check if the government already has your fingerprints, saves you from the rest of the unpleasant intrusiveness.}

At SeaTac, I make it a point to get there three hours before my flight departure time, as I once had to wait over an hour behind all the folks taking their skis and golf clubs to the TSA oversize bag office and it took 45 minutes to get through the TSA line, got to my gate after the final boarding call with only seconds to spare (hence why I went to TSA Pre-check).

Delta and Alaska will ensure that you have to pick up your suitcase not off the carousel at baggage claim but the oversize (and lost) luggage office, you will have to show your ID.

At Detroit Metro, the counter clerk will want to see your gun, and will have you tape the orange tag on your case. The counter will accept your bag, no trip to see the nosy TSA guy with the sniffer. Although a Delta counter clerk once loudly asked me (with 50 nearby people in line within hearing distance), "SIr! Just how many firearms are you checking through again?" so I was heavily scrutinized as I walked away by several of the soccer moms in line.

At Tucson Int'l, the counter clerk will want to see your gun (depending on the airline) or at least look at the case, then give you the orange tag, but have you wait in a seat near the counter for 10 minutes, presumably because TSA will take a peek in your suitcase, then the counter clerk tells you to go to your gate (via the security screening line). I will say that I enjoy flying in and out of Tucson as it's a friendly airport, efficient and quite compact (car rentals there are always a breeze). I just returned to the crappy weather again from Tucson last night, great trip.

I will note that at these three airports (the ones I fly through the most), there have been at least one instance at all three of them where my checked suitcase came out on the regular carousel, good thing I always go there first, in each case when the airline was notified, they blamed the departure airport for not putting the "special" sticker on the suitcase. So always check the carousel first, just in case.
 
I was flying quite a bit last year, from Texas to Indiana, to visit my ill mother. Checking in was pretty easy... just unlock the case, declare the firearm is unloaded (no one has asked me to demonstrate,) and they had me fill out the information card that goes in the case with the checked tag. Lock it up, and off it went...

Picking up was a little different. In both cases (pun intended... ;) ) I had to go hunt down the 'oversize and parcel' desk to recover my firearm... they never even make it to the belt, which is fine with me.

Not unlike when you first start carrying concealed, feeling a little bit conspicuous, walking through the parking garage with an obvious 'gun case' made me feel like a hit man on a job...
Your gun case was separate from your checked luggage? Was it a long gun?
 
Maybe we could have a sticky with folks providing up-dated information on what to expect at various airports, since so many airlines and airports have somewhat differing procedures.
The challenge then would be wading through the info provided and attempting to decipher what is consistently true and what is anecdotal. The exact procedure can vary somewhat not only from airline to airline and airport to airport but also between check-in counter personnel and between TSA agents. I'm sitting in Dallas-Ft. Worth airport on a 3 hour layover as I type this. The procedure at my departure airport was similar, but not exactly the same as it was all of the other times I've flown out of there. Two different ticket agents were there, one of whom was a trainee and knew (or claimed to know) something about guns. She asked me to open the case and show her that the gun was unloaded (something that they've had me do at the counter a few times). The trainer then stepped in and said no, don't do that because "I wouldn't know what I'm looking at anyway". So I just signed the little card stating that the gun was unloaded, that card got taped to the gun case inside my suitcase, and away I went. We'll see how it goes at my destination. Usually, but not always, at my destination airport, they pull bags with guns to the side and have them waiting at customer service.

It's important to know the rules while also understanding that there's a good chance that you'll be dealing with folks who don't know them and who couldn't tell a Glock from a Webley. Politeness, patience and a smile help things go smoothly and in dozens of times flying with guns I've never had a major issue or delay.
 
The challenge then would be wading through the info provided and attempting to decipher what is consistently true and what is anecdotal. The exact procedure can vary somewhat not only from airline to airline and airport to airport but also between check-in counter personnel and between TSA agents.
Well, this is absolutely true, and I noted this. But I don't agree that reading through accounts of someone's experience with one airline at one particular airport would necessarily be too much of a challenge or a chore.

Much of what we read, and much of what we accept, on the internet forums is anecdotal.

But it might help some of those who are new to flying with firearms get a picture of what others have experienced. I have found that some airlines (Delta and Alaska) are remarkably consistent with their procedures, and as painful as the experience flying out of Sea-Tac can be, the airport and its airlines, are typically quite consistent with the process there.

But I think that there are some airports with fairly well-established procedures where one can discern some consistent truths from purely anecdotal accounts. People can be people and have a bad day; I've encountered grouchy airline counter staff, but most are pleasant, while some are very blase about checking firearms, some didn't pay attention to their training, and some are brand new and nervous.

Nevertheless, I fly a lot, always have, and now that I'm retired (again) I'm flying somewhere once a month at least and my take on flying with firearms is that too many just way overthink the idea and don't understand that not only is flying with firearms commonplace, but it's quite easy to do and remain legal; it just adds another step or two in your check-in process at the airline desk or when picking up your bag(s).

I have flown through airports where the process varied considerably from airline to airline (one might have you put the orange card inside the gun case, another might tape it to the outside of the gun case, and one might even just have you place the card inside your suitcase on top of the gun case); one airline might have you open the gun case to show the firearm is unloaded, another might be good simply with your signature certifying the gun is unloaded. People just need to understand this, be flexible and not be taken by surprise that a system that's highly regulated can demonstrate differing interpretations.

My point is that a someone who's a novice to flying with firearms might just benefit from seeing some accounts of how the system works most of the time at particular airports or with particular airlines and the TSA. No one needs to take anything as gospel, just be ready to roll with whatever one's told to do, and the bottom line is, a cheerful attitude, a smile, simple courtesy and a little respect make things easier.
 
Since they are not supposed to put the GUN! card on the outside of your luggage, how do they know to divert it at the destination? Do they X-ray hold luggage? Have a computer flag on your name? (I haven't flown in 14 years and the only metal at the time was orthopedic internal repair parts.)
 
Well, this is absolutely true, and I noted this. But I don't agree that reading through accounts of someone's experience with one airline at one particular airport would necessarily be too much of a challenge or a chore.
Could be. There are literally (I use that word literally, not figuratively) hundreds of threads on this forum about flying with firearms. I wonder how much really useful information a person can glean from yet another thread on the topic added to the pile of hundreds that are already here.
 
Since they are not supposed to put the GUN! card on the outside of your luggage, how do they know to divert it at the destination? Do they X-ray hold luggage? Have a computer flag on your name? (I haven't flown in 14 years and the only metal at the time was orthopedic internal repair parts.)
Typically, for a handgun, the card is placed inside the suitcase taped to or near the pistol case. For a rifle, it's inside, but a rifle case is generally pretty easy to identify as such so....
 
I wonder how much really useful information a person can glean from yet another thread on the topic added to the pile of hundreds that are already here.
You have a point there. Every day, someone starts a thread with questions that would readily be answered if they bothered to do a search or looked at the myriad "stickies" that have been posted permanently since 2002.
 
My one experience was quite different, especially at the destination end. When I declared the pistol at the ticket counter, the agent asked me to open the suitcase and the locked hard case. I did, and she put a pre-printed sheet of paper in with the gun and bid me secure it. The suitcase then went onto the conveyor. I don't remember what the paper said; I suppose it could demonstrate to some authority somewhere that the gun had been properly declared.

The flight was uneventful. Then the fun began. Suitcases banged down onto the carousel. More suitcases, but not mine. Well, that's not unusual, my baggage is always among the last to show... isn't that how it works for you? Eventually, the flow dribbled to nothing. You can imagine my thoughts as I wandered over to the airline's ohsh*t counter.

I waited my turn, filled out the claim form, and almost casually, as an aside, the agent there wondered if there was a gun involved. Indeed, I said (well I didn't exactly say, "indeed"). Turns out my suitcase was the very first off the plane and was shunted aside to the lost luggage corral for special handling. And there it was.

I really appreciate the care and attention my shipment received, I just wish the agent at Boston had told me how my luggage would be handled at Charlotte; it would have saved a lot of time and more than a little anxiety.
Boston probably doesn't know what they're going to do in Charlotte.

I've flown guns in and out of probably 20 different airports. They all vary. I don't think it's even consistent in the same airport with the same airline.

The majority of them it just come out on the belt at baggage claim. A few it goes to the baggage claim office.

Sometimes they want to see the gun is unloaded. Most of the time they don't.

If you have a hardsided pistol case in your luggage, they'll usually have you lay the declaration card on top of the case or tape it on. Occasionally you'll have somebody who wants to put it inside the hard case.

In some airports the suitcase goes on the belt at departure, and you just go to the gate. Some want you to take it to oversize baggage. Some let you watch them inspect. Some have TSA escort you to oversize baggage. Some have you wait until it's through TSA then go to the gate.

I just show up early and follow instructions.
 
GET THERE EARLY AND BE FLEXIBLE
This is the best advice in this whole thread. Whether you are flying with a weapon or not. I see a dozen people a day who show up at the airport at the very last minute. Half of them need extra assistance. Like having weapons or oxygen generators or strollers etc. We deny boarding to half these people because they are too late. And this is just at jackson hole. At a hub......
 
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