Tips For Flying With Guns

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 9 months ago

Officials at Blue Grass Airport say they are dealing with higher numbers of weapons found in luggage. TSA officials came to talk to talk about the right ways to travel the US skies.

As a nation last year a record 200,030 guns were discovered at checkpoints. Nine of those were found at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington.

A TSA spokesman says that people travelling with a firearm need to put it in a hard case unloaded. Any ammo needs to be in its own container inside that hard case.

The case must be locked and left at the ticket counter. Never bring it through TSA checkpoint.

If you are planning on flying with a weapon and you have questions you can ask a ticket counter agent or TSA agent in the airport.

This sounds like good advice, and after reading the TSA rules for flying with guns and ammunition, I too thought that they wanted ammunition in the same locked box with the firearm.

My wife and I took a recent trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and boarded the aircraft in Charlotte and Jackson with a firearm and ammunition.  The firearm needs to be in a locked case such as a Nanovault (which worked well for my purposes).  I have read other web sites that recommended against use of a TSA approved lock on the basis that anyone could get into it and that’s what they want to protect against.

That’s bad advice, don’t follow it.  Nanovaults have TSA locks.  Your local gun shop can also sell you TSA approved locks (as well as other hard cases).  You announce at luggage check-in that you want to check a firearm, and the airline employee will ask you to certify by signature that the firearm is unloaded.  More than likely, they won’t even ask to look at or examine the gun.  You sign, you re-lock your box, and you’re on your way.

Except I had ammunition in the Nanovault and American Airlines requested that I remove it and place it in the luggage away from the firearm.  You see, even now, flying with firearms isn’t as straight forward as you might think, and airline employees apparently have a different understanding of the rules than do I.


  1. On March 19, 2015 at 7:15 am, Have Blue said:

    I’ve travelled with them several times per year. The basic rules are consistent. Declare it at the ticket counter, unloaded and in a locked hard sided case. My ammunition has always been in the same hard case as the firearm. I’ve never used a TSA approved lock and never would. My advice is to keep a smile on your face, be flexible and try not to assume what they want next. Outside of Texas, they usually don’t want any of the other passengers to see it so they don’t ask to see it either. I did have one gate agent ask me to show clear. However, when I showed them the empty chamber and mag well, they admitted to not knowing what to look for.

    Ammunition transportation is where the consistency breaks down. The surest way to avoid hassle is to leave it in its original cardboard box where each round has its own cozy hole. I have been challenged when the ammunition was packed in one of those all-plastic ammo boxes that reloaders use, but they always ended up allowing that. If I’m really tight on space, no one has ever given the slightest care if an empty magazine was inserted in a pistol. Until recently, I have been successful at transporting ammunition in magazines while the magazines where physically separated from the firearm. That might sound strange to the uninitiated but if magazines aren’t a safe place to transport ammunition , someone needs to tell our police and military that they should be careful that no one bumps into them too hard. I mean one slip on the stairs could be the end of us all. :) Of course, loose rounds of any sort, including “bulk packs”, are *NOT* likely make it.

    Worst case scenario for ammunition that is improperly packaged is that the ticket agent will dispose of it for you. This assumes that the problem is identified at the ticket counter.

    Lastly, I make sure that I stay with my case throughout the process. It doesn’t leave my sight until it’s locked up and on a conveyor belt.


  2. On March 19, 2015 at 8:41 am, Herschel Smith said:

    “I’ve never used a TSA approved lock and never would.” I understand. Suit yourself. But be aware that if the TSA wants to inspect your luggage (firearm) “behind the wall,” they’ll destroy the lock to get to it. That’s not so much a problem for the lock (they’re cheap), but it makes your firearm less secure because it’s now unlocked. Everyone makes their own choices.

    As for ammunition being where the consistency breaks down, yes.

  3. On March 19, 2015 at 11:11 am, Backwoods Engineer said:

    Herschel, it would be a violation of federal law if the TSA opened a declared and pre-inspected firearm case. I know, most low-IQ TSA drones probably don’t know and don’t give a rat’s rear-end about federal law, but I actually discussed this with a TSA firearm inspector, and he agreed that was the law.

  4. On March 19, 2015 at 12:08 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Cite link please.

  5. On March 19, 2015 at 11:09 am, Backwoods Engineer said:

    “That’s bad advice, don’t follow it.” Nope, it’s not. Federal law actually prohibits any lock being used that anyone other than YOU has access to. Yes, I fly with my pistols several times a year, and have had no problems at all from TSA, using a Master padlock on a Pelican pistol case.

  6. On March 19, 2015 at 12:08 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Most (if not all) airlines current require TSA approved locks to be used on hard cases in order to transport a firearm. Not recommend — REQUIRE.

  7. On March 19, 2015 at 12:43 pm, Jack said:

    Unfortunately, I find myself in the unenviable position of having to correct Herschel on a point of fact. To whit:

    49 CFR 1540.111(c) A passenger may not transport or offer for transport in checked baggage or in baggage carried in an inaccessible cargo hold under § 1562.23 of this chapter:
    (1) Any loaded firearm(s).
    (2) Any unloaded firearm(s) unless—
    (i) The passenger declares to the aircraft operator, either orally or in writing, before checking the baggage, that the passenger has a firearm in his or her bag and that it is unloaded;
    (ii) The firearm is unloaded;
    (iii) The firearm is carried in a hard-sided container; and
    (iv) The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the passenger retains the key or combination.

    Not the bolded section. TSA locks do not meet that requirement!

    This turns out to be an ongoing issue at SAN (San Diego Airport), where TSA refuses to provide a location for inspection/locking of weapons, and has called passengers back from the gate or airplane and insisted on having key/combo access to already checked weapons. For a long drawn out discussion, see

    See this from SWA ( “Only the Customer checking the luggage should retain the key or combination to the lock. No exceptions will be made.”

    Most other airlines are the same. They specifically do NOT require TSA locks, and insist that the customer is the only one who has access post inspection.

    As far as ammunition, most airlines limit the weight (SWA – 11 pounds including container), and require a container suitable for ammunition. The ammunition may be — but is not required to be — packed in the same container as the firearm.

  8. On March 19, 2015 at 12:56 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Well, let me be clear here. I don’t really care what the rules are as long as I can transport a weapon. Furthermore, I don’t want to be “right.” In fact, I’m not certain that anything I think on this is “right.” What I know is that there is inconsistency in the application of the regulations.

    Just before I flew I checked AA rules as well as other airlines. They specifically required TSA approved locks. Furthermore, they saw my ammunition inside the Nanovault and demanded that I remove it and throw it into the luggage.

    So my problem here isn’t that I want to be right. The problem is that I want (a) the rules to be clear, (b) to know the rules, and I want (c) others to know them and consistently apply them. Frankly, I’m not certain any of the three obtain.

    Posts like this one go a long way, but unfortunately they only highlight the fact that there is inconsistency and ignorance within the airline industry – and perhaps the regulations themselves.

  9. On March 19, 2015 at 1:46 pm, Anderson said:

    I travel for a living and frequently pack a sidearm. In ATL (busiest airport in the world) the firearm is declared, form signed then I take the bag to a TSA intake point where they confirm the declaration and proceed to swab the bag and contents for all the horrible things they swab for. The gun case is never opened. Then after my things have been sufficiently disrupted, the bag is closed and sent on its way. In other places, I wait while the un opened bag with declaration is placed by a TSA rep in their super galactic atomic scanner. Once cleared, the bag and I are sent on our respective ways. Other places the airline rep simply throws the bag with declaration on the belt and off to the plane.

    Once, at MSP, upon asking the airline rep for a firearms declaration, she went pale, stepped back clutching her chest looking furtively about. Thinking she mistook what I said for “hey there, I have a case full of live Ebola, would you like to see?” I repeated my request. Recovering somewhat, she marched me and the evil containing bag up to a different area where some semblance of competence could be found. All the while haughtily lecturing me about the myriad regulations governing my outrageous and socially unacceptable request (all completely inaccurate of course).

    Bottom line, you never know WTF you will get. Interesting side note, while going through the process in a Montana airport, the TSA fellow and I had a great conversation comparing notes on our favorite weapons systems. Turns out we were both M&P fanboys.

  10. On March 19, 2015 at 2:01 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    You said:

    “I travel for a living and frequently pack a sidearm. In ATL (busiest airport in the world) the firearm is declared, form signed then I take the bag to a TSA intake point where they confirm the declaration and proceed to swab the bag and contents for all the horrible things they swab for. The gun case is never opened. Then after my things have been sufficiently disrupted, the bag is closed and sent on its way. In other places, I wait while the un opened bag with declaration is placed by a TSA rep in their super galactic atomic scanner. Once cleared, the bag and I are sent on our respective ways. Other places the airline rep simply throws the bag with declaration on the belt and off to the plane.”

    I think this is a big deal, and is the root cause of some of the problems we’re seeing here. Again, I never interacted with TSA, never had my firearm inspected (in my presence) and never did anything except declare and sign.

    And … maybe that’s why TSA wants access to the weapon behind the wall in some places. Or not. But either way, this entire process is inconsistent at the very best, and a complete cluster f*** at the worst. Then again, it IS the federal government. What should we expect?

  11. On March 19, 2015 at 4:10 pm, Jack said:

    TSA’s own website implies (but does not say it explicitly) they they don’t have access after locking the case. From

    * TSA must resolve all alarms in checked baggage. If a locked container containing a firearm alarms, TSA will contact the airline, who will make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner and advise the passenger to go to the screening location. If contact is not made, the container will not be placed on the aircraft.
    * If a locked container alarms during screening and is not marked as containing a declared firearm, TSA will cut the lock in order to resolve the alarm.
    * Travelers should remain in the area designated by the aircraft operator or TSA representative to take the key back after the container is cleared for transportation.

    [The problem with SAN is that TSA’s checks are behind the wall, and there is no designated passenger-accessible screening location. So TSA demands of the airline/passenger the key/combo, inducing the owner to commit a felony. Also, TSA has access to the firearm without the owner present to verify it’s locked and no longer accessible by TSA after TSA clears the alarm.]

    Unfortunately, while wanting to comply with TSA, you’re put in a felony catch-22.

    Another, related traveling hassle is local state laws. For instance, a number of people travelling through NY or NJ have been arrested for illegal possession when airline travel issues have left them stranded, and the airline returns their luggage.

    Also note that people have been tagged because ATF considers a receiver to be a firearm. Thus, a receiver has to be treated just like a fully functioning firearm (locked container, no carry-on, etc.), even though it’s just a milled piece of metal.

  12. On March 19, 2015 at 8:40 pm, Anderson said:

    You make a good point. When my travels have taken me, this winter, to the wilds of western Montana and north central Idaho I elected to pack a take-down rifle. I removed the receiver and locked it in the hard side case. The stock and barrel were wrapped in a towel safely stowed with socks and underwear. This is perfectly fine as (according to ATF) it is the receiver that constitutes the “firearm”. A humorous incident occurred when one airline rep wanted to see the inside of the locked case to assure herself the “firearm” was unloaded. Upon observing the rifle receiver she exclaimed “I never did see no gun like that before!” I just smiled and said “it’s a receiver”. Although not having a clue, as nothing resembling a bullet was evident she was satisfied I was no threat to the republic and we both went happily on about our business.

    If I thought it would make a difference I would carry the relevant regs, statutes etc. and try to educate, but I don’t, so I don’t.

    It is amazing how little of the America I grew up in still exists.

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You are currently reading "Tips For Flying With Guns", entry #13605 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Guns and was published March 18th, 2015 by Herschel Smith.

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