Believe it or not, it is actually easy to travel by plane with your firearm. The key is doing it legally and in a way that won’t make you miss your plane or worse, get you arrested. There are some easy steps you can take to ensure you’re legal, and we’ll go over those in a minute. But first...
One thing we cannot stress enough is that you should never attempt to go through security with your firearm, ammo, or any gun-related parts like magazines in your carry-on luggage. While some parts may be fine, you never know what can jam you up, wreaking havoc on your travel plans.
Also always make sure you can have your firearms legally where you’re traveling to. More on this at the bottom of this article.
The first step is to read through the TSA’s guidelines.
The TSA has put forth certain rules that must be followed in order to fly with your gun. The biggest takeaway is that the gun must be unloaded in a locked, hard-sided case that only you have the key to.
The second step, and some may disagree with this, is to check your chosen airline’s rules. They may have some out of the ordinary rules that the TSA doesn’t outline, and since they own the planes, it’s their prerogative to regulate it.
Step three, before you ever leave the house, you should take care of the following:
- Ensure your firearm is completely unloaded.
- Ammo should be in a factory box, or a container specifically designed to hold ammunition.
- Place everything to include the gun, magazines/speedloaders, and ammo into the hard-sided case, double check it’s unloaded one more time, and lock the case. Keep the key in an easy to find spot, in case you need to open it for TSA.
More info on the case: You have to put your gun in the proper container and into your checked luggage, or as checked luggage if it’s too big to fit in your suitcase. The case should be sturdy enough that it’s not easy for someone to pry it open to steal the contents. And, it needs to be locked securely.
At the Airport:
You’ll go up to the counter at your airliner, and tell them you need to check your bag and declare your firearm. You cannot use one of those increasingly popular kiosks many airliners use to self-check these days. You must go to a person.
Once you get to the person, you don’t want to say something like “I’ve got a gun!” That can be taken the wrong way, and just cause drama to your travel plans.
Tell him or her that you’d like to declare your firearm. They see this quite often and is not out of the ordinary for them in most states. Though I have gotten dirty looks in the past.
You’ll give your ID, they’ll verify you are who you are, and they’ll ask you to pull out the case for them to ensure it’s in a case. What happens next varies from one airport/airline to the next. You’ll have to fill out a card with your information on it that gets taped to your case.
They’ll either run it through security for you, or you’ll need to bring it yourself. I’ve done both. If they run it through for you, they tell you to wait for 10-15 minutes in a spot off to the side. If nobody from TSA comes out in that time period, you may go on your way.
If they ask you to bring it to the security station, they may ask you to open your suitcase to show everything to the TSA person on duty. They won’t usually ask you to open the hard-sided case, but this has happened to me once.
While it’s not ideal to administratively handle a firearm, when in the TSA’s home environment they’re king and can mess up a day really quick.
Once you’re given the go ahead, you can go through the rest of the security checkpoints and your travel plans as normal. Again, make sure you’ve got no weapons or ammo in your carry on luggage. Knives can also be transported in your checked luggage, but should never be brought through security.
A bonus tip that many other articles don’t mention, is that it's rarely a good idea to fly into a state where your firearm is considered illegal. This may seem obvious, but it goes further than your travel plans and where you’re going.
For example, I was recently booking flights for a trip I’ve got coming up, and purposefully declined an itinerary with a layover in Baltimore. This may sound paranoid, but I’ve actually heard from a couple of people who got stuck in a bad city and had to leave the airport with their luggage and now illegal firearms.
This can jam you up in court if you get caught, so try to avoid layovers in bad cities/states whenever possible.
There you have it, those are the steps to fly legally with your firearm. Make sure that when you get to your destination, you’ve got a proper concealed carry holster to hide it on your body.