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How to Fly with A Gun – Without Getting Arrested

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I recently returned from a trip out of town where I traveled with my concealed carry firearm. Sometimes I leave the gun at home when I fly but if my destination state honors my concealed carry permit and a few other factors line up, I will always fly with a gun. Now most of you know that I am not technically flying with any kind of firearm on my person. My weapons are locked as safely as I can manage in my suitcase in the bottom of the plane but for those who don’t know or are considering flying with a gun I figured I would share a short description of my recent experiences and give my tips on how to fly with a gun so you can decide if this is something you want to do.

Before You Fly

I have flown with firearms a few times and in each case I haven’t had any problems but each time I travel for business it is a decision process I have to go through in deciding if I am going to carry. As I said above, if I am flying into a place like Chicago, taking a firearm is simply out of the question. I can only realistically carry to states who honor my concealed carry permit so that does limit some locations. In addition to these states, I never carry internationally. There could very well be places and policies that would allow me to transport a personal defense firearm overseas but to be perfectly honest I am not going to take the risk in breaking another country’s laws if I can avoid it. It is one thing to travel with a rifle for a hunting excursion, but something else entirely to take a pistol. Can you imagine being thrown in a Singapore or worse, Middle Eastern countries jail? No thank you!

Back here in the good old U.S of A if I am flying almost anywhere except the most liberal enclaves out there, I will consider carrying my firearm. When would I not carry even in a state where my permit was allowed? This comes down to what I am doing usually. If I am on vacation I will always carry if the state allows it.

If I am traveling on business which is most often the case I take a few extra things into consideration. What is the dress code I will most likely be wearing? What am I going to be doing? Am I in closed-door meetings or am I giving presentations to large rooms of people? Where are the rules of the hotel I am going to be staying in and who will I be traveling with? Does the hotel have an in-room safe? Do I trust that safe and what if anything would happen if my employer found out I was carrying a firearm?

Sometimes I don’t worry as much but other occasions I will leave my firearm at home. Recently I flew to Vegas for a conference and read a lot of different opinions about having your firearm with you on the casino floor. If you haven’t been to one of the big conferences in Vegas, you can’t really get away from the casino floor. In my case I had to walk through it every day to get anywhere I was going. There were also the rules about drinking with a concealed firearm and many reports of hotel safes being broken into so in that case I opted out of carrying for that trip. Of course in the back of my mind I was wishing I had brought it once I got to the hotel and scoped everything out.

To fly with a gun you will need to check your baggage and ensure your firearm meets regulations of both your airline and TSA.

To fly with a gun you will need to check your baggage and ensure your firearm meets regulations of both your airline and TSA.

Know the Law

Assuming everything is copacetic about your destination, now you need to make sure you go through this process the right way to avoid any issues with airport security. The TSA’s website gives you pretty clear guidelines to follow if you are planning to fly with your firearm.

Travelers may only transport UNLOADED firearms in a locked, hard-sided container as checked baggage. The container must be completely secured from being accessed. All firearms, ammunition and firearm parts, including firearm frames, receivers, clips and magazines are prohibited in carry-on baggage.

The process is that you must lock that firearm up in a hard sided case and check your luggage. You can’t lock the case and carry your suitcase onto the plane. That is a sure-fire way to spend a little time with TSA. Each airline has different rules for flying and how much ammo you can bring also so I would check with your airlines policies personally before flying to be sure you are fully compliant with their rules. This is not the time to stand on principle if you want to avoid jail.

How to Fly with a gun

Before you leave for the airport you need to unload your firearm completely. I chose to remove all of the ammo from my magazines and leave the magazine out of the weapon. I didn’t lock the slide back, but I did clean it before I packed it away. Being my daily concealed carry, it was good and dusty. I have carried my weapon on my way to the airport before with the intention of getting to the airport parking deck and securing it in the case, but this is not a good practice.

One time I left the car and headed to the terminal before I realized I still had a weapon on me (pocket carry). Once I realized that I quickly turned around, but it is that type of mistake that can get you a lot of attention. It is the same thing with my EDC knife. I forgot that I was carrying it in a side pocket one day and had to pull that out going through security. Fortunately, they were completely cool with the knife, but I couldn’t get on board obviously. Luckily I always try to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare just because of things like this so I was able to take my trusty knife back to the car. I had checked another one.

With your weapon unloaded and in a hard sided case you will need to lock it securely. I used the case that came with my weapon and it has two places for locks. If your case has two places, make sure you use two locks. Make sure your ammo is loaded in the original boxes or a hard box that keeps the rounds secure. I never travel with more than a box anyway unless I am going to training so the original 50 round box works just fine. Leave this separate from your weapon.

I’ve got a gun!

When I first flew with a firearm I was a little nervous but I have learned over the years that most of the agents at the counter have probably done this hundreds of times already. Act calm because as long as you follow the rules there should not be any issues at all. After arriving at the airport I walk immediately to the check-in counter and when I get to meet the agent I calmly say “I need to check a firearm”. The agents I have encountered rarely skip a beat. They usually say, “OK. I just need to see the case”, so be prepared to open your luggage. This might mean adjusting where you pack the firearm so that it is easier to get to. Trust me; they will open your luggage anyway so it’s best not to pack this under all your neatly folded underwear.

The airlines will likely give you a tag to put in your suitcase on top of your locked firearm case.

The airlines will likely give you a tag to put in your suitcase on top of your locked firearm case.

The Agent is not going to want you to open your case. Do not have your weapon in any other condition than safely locked away. They only want to verify with you verbally that it is unloaded and to visually see that it is in a hard sided, locked case. The only time I ever had an issue was when I only locked one side of my case. Seeing this the agent started calling people over and seemed to fret a little bit. She started saying that she didn’t think that would work and I casually said, “I can lock both sides” and all was good again. They will then give you a neon orange card and ask you to sign it and lay it on the case, close up your bag and that is about as complicated as it gets. Before loading your suitcase, it will be checked again so locking it with a TSA approved lock will make things easier. The standard lock you get when you purchase your firearm brand new is TSA approved and they have the keys. If they don’t have the keys to your lock, you might get paged to open it up. I know some people will say they would rather use a non-TSA approved lock so that nobody can get into but really, if they want to steal your firearm the locks won’t stop them.

Usually after the visual inspection you give your luggage to the agent like normal. One time they walked me to a room for a visual inspection right with the TSA agent. I think different airlines and airports have their own procedures, but the net result is the same. Just remember that this is normal and if you are following the procedures legally, you have nothing to worry about. I have never had anyone act other than completely normal with me during these procedures.

When you get to your destination you will have the security of your firearm should you need it for anything. I often think of being trapped away from home due to some crisis and how I would so much rather have even my little .380 as opposed to nothing if I was forced to make it home. When the new G43 is available in my city, I am up-sizing and that will be my weapon of choice for daily carry most likely when I can’t wear clothes that effectively cover the bulk of the G30S. When that happens I will still be flying with my gun when it makes sense and I can legally do that.

How about you? Do you fly with your gun and have you had any bad experiences you can share?

36 Comments

  1. David Benjamin Donoho

    April 17, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    I have only flown with a gun one time and that was to good old AZ. I have travelled all over the U.S. and the vast majority of the time for one reason or another I have opted to leave my firearm at home. I feel so much better being able to exercise my right to protect myself and I hate when I have to travel some place where that right has been stripped from me.

  2. BobW

    April 17, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    I honestly had no idea how the process worked. I assumed it took an act of congress to travel with a pistol these days.

    Thanks for the info, Pat.

    • Pat Henry

      April 18, 2015 at 10:37 am

      Glad you liked it, thanks Bob!

  3. Mike Lashewitz

    April 18, 2015 at 9:59 am

    This may seem a stupid question, but why did you bold a line and then print the same line un-bolded underneath it?
    I have seen this done before and sometimes the same line appears three times in the blog.
    There is NO WAY I would go to CHI town without a CCW.

    • Pat Henry

      April 18, 2015 at 10:37 am

      Not sure what you mean Mike, but it may be a formatting issue I missed. Can you give me more details please?

      • Mike Lashewitz

        April 18, 2015 at 12:44 pm

        Sorry Pat,
        As it turns out the line I was referring to was a picture that did not load this morning when I read the blog.
        “To fly with a gun you will need to check your baggage and ensure your firearm meets regulations of both your airline and TSA.”
        When the picture does not load the words are apparently bolded and repeated.
        Internet fail.

    • Illini Warrior

      April 19, 2015 at 7:00 pm

      Even tho Illinois doesn’t currently formally recognize other state’s CCW – the coppers around the state are used to it …. you’ll get a mixed bag of action

      In Chicago and Crook County – I’ll guarantee you that you’ll get run up hard & heavy duty …. just a few hours of jail will be a lifetime experience for you – certain aspects of the city & county LEOs work the job just for that privilege ….

      • Mike Lashewitz

        April 20, 2015 at 8:51 pm

        I did 22 in the military. I consider it an abduction. a few hours in the pokey is meaningless. The US Constitution actually covers victimless crimes.

  4. caedus

    April 18, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Is this in a checked bag, or carry on? Are you also allowed to carry ammo, or do you have to find a place and buy it/leave it at each destination?

    • NRP

      April 18, 2015 at 10:25 am

      It MUST be checked, all firearms, firearm parts and the Ammo.
      Last time I checked Ammo is classified as a hazardous material and you could not have it on a plane. That may have changed.

    • Pat Henry

      April 18, 2015 at 10:40 am

      Yes, NRP is exactly right and I’m sorry if I didn’t make this point clearly enough in the post. Anything firearm related must be in your checked luggage. I always take some ammo with me, but if I have a need for a significant amount I would either have it shipped to my destination (useful in training situations where there is a requirement for hundreds or thousands of rounds) or purchase it when I get to where I am going. That adds its own set of issues.

      • caedus

        April 20, 2015 at 9:50 am

        Is there any insurance paperwork you have to fill out, with all the of the “loses” by TSA on firearms?

        • Pat Henry

          April 20, 2015 at 11:05 am

          I personally have never been asked to fill out any additional paperwork other than the “Unloaded Firearms” tag they lay on your case inside your bag. It might be a good idea to take out extra insurance with the airlines if you are worried that your firearm could be stolen or lost (it does happen) but it isn’t mandatory to the best of my knowledge.

          Pat

      • Muhammad Abbass

        April 21, 2015 at 8:52 am

        Pat you answered all these questions very clearly in your post. There are many people online who only read the headlines you have to realise and then for some weird reason ask questions anyway.

    • Muhammad Abbass

      April 21, 2015 at 8:51 am

      Why ask questions which are clearly answered in the article?

      • $4907161

        April 28, 2015 at 3:19 pm

        Why dont you try not to be a dick and let him answer?

  5. LWJ

    April 18, 2015 at 10:14 am

    Never flown with a firearm. I just bought a Glock 19 to use out in North Carolina for our family trips. I think it would be easier to have a mini arsenal in place then deal with the TSA folks.

    • Pat Henry

      April 18, 2015 at 10:41 am

      As long as you follow the rules it is a relatively painless process. I just get to the airport about 15 minutes ahead of time and like I said, have never had any issues.

      • LWJ

        April 18, 2015 at 11:37 am

        Have you ever done this at DIA by chance?

        • Pat Henry

          April 18, 2015 at 4:15 pm

          No, I haven’t ever checked into Denver but connected plenty of times. The policies for travel should be the same regardless of the airport, but local laws could very well be different.

  6. NRP

    April 18, 2015 at 10:21 am

    My two cents,
    I worked for the Airlines for over 5 years.
    One point is “lost Luggage”, most of the major Airlines have literally warehouses full of “lost luggage”, they do actions after 3 years of pallets full stacked 4 feet high. The buyers can not open the luggage so they just bid on the pallets cheep, very cheep. I have actually purchased a couple of those “pallets”, you would be amazed what is in some of that stuff. 95% of the “lost luggage” have had the claim tags torn off and most the “name tags” damaged so there was no way to contact the owner.
    Second point, when you “check” your bag it is coded with a firearm inside, everyone that handles that bag knows that’s inside the bag. As does TSA. Now I don’t know about you but there is no way in hell I trust any baggage handlers or TSA employees with my firearms. They WILL steal your luggage and everything inside in a heartbeat.
    Never Never put anything inside your checked luggage that you would not literally toss in the trash. Nothing is safe inside a bag you have no control over 100% of the time. Do NOT put money, jewelry, knives, firearms, NOTHING of value inside your luggage. Unless you really don’t want it. Yes, you may fly a couple of times, ok. but why take that chance
    If you must have your firearm at your distention, ship it vid FedEx Certified and insured it. Make sure it MUST have your signature (only your signature) or someone you totally trust to receive it.
    Just my opinion for what it’s worth. What is your firearm worth in the hands of a Baggage Handler or crooked and underpaid TSA agent?
    NRP

    • Pat Henry

      April 18, 2015 at 10:44 am

      I don’t know if that is technically possible using FedEx without breaking their rules is it? I don’t think you can ship a firearm to anyone who isn’t licensed. Maybe your plan is to ship it to someone with an FFL and pick it up?

      I know lost luggage is always a possibility. I have had my own lost luggage in the past and fortunately there wasn’t any weapon in there to lose. It is a judgement call. I think your odds of needing a weapon are about the same as it getting lost.

      • Adam

        April 19, 2015 at 12:30 pm

        I was going to say just that. Good idea on the FedEx but the part the ATF defines as the gun has to go from and to a ffl holder.

        • Gus Mueller

          April 20, 2015 at 6:34 pm

          Not true. You can ship it to yourself in another state. If someone else signs for it he or she can’t open the package. Check the BATFE website if you don’t believe me, or even if you do.

  7. sg23t

    April 20, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    This article is wrong. TSA ARE NOT ENTITLED TO NOR SHOULD THEY HAVE ACCESS TO YOUR FIREARM CASE LOCK.

    • Pat Henry

      April 21, 2015 at 8:23 am

      TSA will open your case sg23t. You might have to stick around and unlock it for them or if they have a master key for your lock they will do it themselves. Like I said above, you can have your own super secret locks on there but you will have to open the case for the agents before you get on the plane.

    • NRP

      April 21, 2015 at 10:22 am

      I agree with Pat on this one. TSA WILL find a way to look inside your firearm case, they WILL either have you open it (to make sure it’s unloaded), They DO have master keys to open all TSA approved locks, OR they WILL cut your lock off if they deem it warranted. My biggest concern is when they pass your luggage trough their X-Ray they WILL see your “locked” case in there and the bag is marked with “Firearm’s Unloaded” tag. And if you think some slime-ball punk kid working for TSA will not steal your luggage for the gun inside, your living in a fantasy world. Hell even the “baggage handlers” WILL steal your firearm and sell it on the black market without even giving it a second thought.

  8. European American

    April 20, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    I refuse to go where someone is getting paid to grope and molest me or fry my nervous system. Why anyone is willing to put up with that sheet shows how weak, as a collective, this once great Republic has become.
    Besides, how many “terrorists” have they caught?

    • Pat Henry

      April 21, 2015 at 8:24 am

      I completely agree with you. For my part, I don’t go through the scanners as I believe it is the lesser of two evils. Sure I could stand on principle but I would be righteously out of work and that doesn’t do me or my family any good.

  9. Nikki Santoro

    April 21, 2015 at 6:40 am

    Don’t carry a gun on a plane. There are too many TSA agents who are not properly trained or just downright cretins. And they are going to freak out. And then airports well be shut down and everyone panicked with the news. And thus the terrurism bogeyman will still be alive in people’s heads.

    • Pat Henry

      April 21, 2015 at 8:24 am

      You are right Nikki. Don’t carry a gun on a plane… That is why I check it in my luggage.

      • Nikki Santoro

        April 21, 2015 at 10:15 am

        No you don’t. You work for an intelligence agency and are feeding everyone false information in order for some unsuspecting soul to carry a gun in luggage. And then it turns into a terrurism threat because some TSA cretin freaks out.

        • Pat Henry

          April 21, 2015 at 10:33 am

          I work for an intelligence agency? That’s a new one but sadly untrue. Are you from the US or another country? I am only talking about domestic travel in the US here.

          I am just a regular guy trying to tell people my honest opinion on legal practices in the US I have used myself. You can easily check your weapon in at the front counter in your luggage provided you follow all of the rules. I have never mentioned taking it on the plane with you. Did you read the article?

          Do you not believe this is legal? Just go out and google “fly with a gun” and you will find over 82 million articles. I am not feeding anyone false information, maybe you are?

          • NRP

            April 21, 2015 at 11:10 am

            Hey Pat, congratulations on your promotion…. HAHAHAHA
            I knew the NSA, DHS, TSA was looking for a few good men.
            KInda makes ya wonder where some people get their ideas??

            • Pat Henry

              April 21, 2015 at 3:10 pm

              I was surprised at that one, but I think Nikki might be from another country where that might be more common. Not sure about flying internationally with a firearm so that could really be impossible in some locations. it would make sense.

          • Nikki Santoro

            May 5, 2015 at 8:12 am

            All you alternative “news & info” are CIA, military intelligence, etc., etc. We are not that stupid. M’kay? And your goal, to cause chaos. But order out of chaos. The New World Order to be precise. A military dictatorship and hence why you know so much about guns.

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