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Transporting a firearm by air

Discussion in 'Firearms Talk' started by AirOpsMgr, Aug 12, 2017 at 11:05 PM.

  1. AirOpsMgr

    AirOpsMgr Director of Lavatory Services
    Administrator Trusted Trader Lifetime Supporter

    Mar 24, 2015
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    I'm cleaning up a previous thread by starting a new one dedicated to the transportation of a firearm and/or ammunition on an airline; feel free to add in your experiences or comments...

    I'll be mentioning a lot of Delta Airline procedures as that is what I've encountered lately, but please do your own research as each individual airline has their own specific requirements...

    Let's start with what happens when you check in:
    You'll need to show up to the airport a little earlier than normal, 15-25 mins should suffice, it really depends on how many people are in line at the counter.

    Note: if you normally check-in online or with an app, don't expect that service to be available if you have told the airline that you'll be checking a firearm. The online / app will direct you to see a counter rep for check-in.

    You'll go straight to the the airline's check-in counter (if on Delta, you go to the "special services" counter and tell them you need to declare a firearm).

    Next, you'll walk up to the counter, you'll tell them you are declaring a firearm, they'll typically ask you for ID to find your reservation and then ask if it's unloaded, they'll then ask you to sign an "unloaded firearm" declaration. You may be charged an additional fee depending upon the airline, your status, etc...

    They may ask you if you have ammunition and how much (they ask this because there are limitations on the total amount of ammo you can ship on a passenger airline) - usually nothing to worry about until you hit 11Lbs or 5Kgs of ammo weight including its case. There are other limitations when travelling internationally.

    They'll ask you to then open up your bag / case, show them the firearm, close / lock it up and then place the signed "unloaded firearm declaration" in or on top of the case (depending upon how you have it packaged).

    Example of my case that gets placed within my hard-sided checked bag:



    In Delta's case, they will affix your normal checked bag tag and then add another tag that reads "CAGPT - do not place on the baggage carousel belt"


    Next, you'll take your bag to the TSA screening area so they can inspect it. The TSA DOES NOT NEED ACCESS to your firearm case at this point, but if your locked firearms case is within a checked bag, that checked bag will need to be opened as they will perform an ETD swab of the contents.

    Note: DO NOT LOCK YOUR CHECKED BAG that contains a locked firearm case - Again, TSA must inspect the contents of your checked bag, but they do not inspect the contents of the firearm case!

    Once the ETD swab comes back clear, they will send it down the belt and you can head to your gate.

    Review time:

    A quick review to ensure clarity: You only open your firearm case once (to the ticket counter agent), after that, you lock your firearm case and it stays locked UNLESS, for some odd reason the TSA asks you to unlock it for them.

    If your locked firearm case is placed within another bag, you do not lock the outer bag UNTIL TSA has completed their ETD swab.

    Once the TSA ETD Swab is completed and your bag is clear, I'd suggest that you ensure the TSA agent locks your outer bag if applicable (they often won't unless you ask).

    So with all of that said, here's the official TSA video (but AGAIN, make sure to check your specific airline's policies and procedures).

    Some Dos and Dont's:

    We'll start with the important parts of the TSA regs for transporting firearms and ammunition.

    TSA site:

    One of the most misunderstood policies is that of locks. Do NOT use TSA approved travel locks (the type that have a TSA key-code to allow TSA access). Contrary to what the guy at Academy or Dick's tells you, you DO NOT USE "TSA Locks" on your firearm case - you use standard padlocks or combo locks that only you retain the keys or combos for.

    An excerpt from the TSA website that explains such is as follows:
    • Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel request the key to open the firearm container to ensure compliance with TSA regulations.
    Read your airline's specific instructions for firearms and ammunition packaging instructions - each may vary! They may require ammunition to be separated from the firearm, etc.

    Per a contact of mine that deals with TSA and CBP regs on a regular basis, he specifically suggests that you should NOT have ammo loaded in your mags in the same case as your firearm, even though the TSA website states otherwise ... so just take that for what it's worth...

    Ammo does need to be packaged / boxed (or loaded in mags, but as mentioned above, tread at your own risk here), it's best to use manufacturer packaging. To date, I've packed 2 20-round boxes of ammo inside my pistol case along with empty mags and a pistol with no issues.

    Per the TSA website:
    • "Ammunition is prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.
    • Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm. Read the requirements governing the transport of ammunition in checked baggage as defined by 49 CFR 175.10 (a)(8).
    • Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm."

    There is no specific requirement to cable-lock your firearm within the locked case (but I do just to be on the safe side).

    There is no specific requirement for the type / construction of the firearm case, other than it must be a "hard-sided case"; there is no such thing as "An approved TSA firearm case", per the TSA website: "Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container" - again, check your specific airline's requirements
    Note: The TSA video states to "use all available lock tabs" - but you will not find that stated anywhere else on the TSA site....while that should be common sense anyway, I figured I'd mention it anyway...

    Airline Policies:
    As mentioned earlier, I'll speak to Delta policies at this point; Delta will receive your bag with the firearm at their baggage service area at destination (If arriving in ATL, mine have gone to the "over-sized" belt and remained behind closed doors util requested). Per my research, as of APR 2017, and due to the Ft Lauderdale airport shooting, their policy now is to zip-tie the bag to prevent immediate access. You'll show up to the baggage services area, show ID and they'll release the bag to you.

    <I'll update this post if further information is provided>
    1776, _Jake_ and dial1911 like this.
  2. _Jake_

    _Jake_ Blade Addict
    Super Moderator Trusted Trader Site Supporter

    Aug 11, 2015
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    Excellent write-up. Thanks for posting this. I just made it a sticky so it doesn't get buried.
  3. AirOpsMgr

    AirOpsMgr Director of Lavatory Services
    Administrator Trusted Trader Lifetime Supporter

    Mar 24, 2015
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    Copy that; I hope to get further input from other travelers on here so we can update this regularly.

    Taking our 2nd amendment freedom with us when we travel shouldn't be cause for concern, however, being prepared and knowledgeable is key!
    _Jake_ likes this.