Traveling and Flying with Firearms
Surprisingly easy and straightforward
but only if you know and plan for the issues involved
You'll need to lock
your pistol(s) into a hard sided and lockable secure case
when transporting them by air.
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Most people instinctively
perceive the process of traveling with their weapons as being
fraught with difficulties and complications.
Happily, that is not the case.
If you're driving yourself, basically all you need to do is to
keep your weapons unloaded and locked in a case in the trunk of
the vehicle and that should meet most states' requirements.
And if traveling by air, a similar sort of rule applies - check
them as luggage, declare them at the airport, and pack them in
Read on for more details below.
But two cautionary notes. First, I'm not an attorney and
haven't reviewed the legislation in all 50 states for what you
can and can't do. Secondly, the information below may
change between when I write it and when you read it, so use this
as a guide, but when you know the exact parameters of what you
want to do, check and confirm with the airlines and state
agencies if you have any concerns.
Firearms in Your Car
If you're traveling with
firearms in your car, you should already know the requirements
of your local state.
But other states may have
different requirements, and you should consider checking out
what they are before embarking on a multi-state road trip.
You should search for their Attorney General's website and can
probably find information on the state's firearms requirements
However, as a general rule,
if you are just necessarily passing through a state en route to
another state, rather than stopping there as a destination,
there are some federal restrictions on how onerous the state you
are traveling through can be, and you might find you have more
rights as someone passing through than local people do (seems
strange, but true).
As a general rule, if you
keep your weapons unloaded in a hard sided locked suitcase in
the car's trunk, and if you keep magazines and ammunition in a
different container, then the chances are you'll be in full
compliance with all states requirements.
If you have a concealed
weapons permit which is recognized by the state you are
traveling through, then you may be able to have loaded weapons
in the passenger compartment too.
Federal Law Overrules State
Title 18, Part 1, Chapter
44, paragraph 926A is the applicable law which gives you rights
of transportation of firearms that in some states (such as New
York) overrule and increase the rights you'd have under state
Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule
or regulation of a State or any political subdivision
thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this
chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm
shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful
purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and
carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully
possess and carry such firearm if, during such
transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the
firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily
accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger
compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in
the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from
the driver’s compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be
contained in a locked container other than the glove
compartment or console.
Flying with Firearms
When flying with firearms,
you need to satisfy two sets of requirements. The first
are those imposed on you by the airline you have chosen to fly,
and the second are those imposed on you by the TSA.
Let's talk about the TSA
The TSA actually have simple
and easy to comply with requirements. They are listed on
this page of their website.
Some of their
comments/requirements deserve interpretation and
As far as most airlines are
concerned, you can travel with
more than one firearm - but at least one airline (Spirit) limits
you to only one. In all cases, the most restrictive policy
applies - the airlines don't have to be as 'generous' as the TSA
Choosing a case for your
These days it seems
advisable to place your weapon(s) in hard sided cases that have
at least two padlocks (rather than just one) on them. Note
the TSA's comment about 'cases that can be pulled open with little
effort' - while the concept of 'little effort' is a bit
nebulous, the underlying issue is clear. If you have a
case that you can open the snaps on, slide the padlock to one
side, and then pry the other side open, reach in, and pull the
weapon out, it won't be accepted. You don't need a 100%
'Fort Knox' secure container, but it must be reasonably secure.
I've had this confirmed by a
TSA officer. I asked him about this issue while he was
inspecting my own (double locked) pistol case. He barely
glanced at it after noticing the two padlocks, and when I asked
if it was now official policy that cases should have two locks,
he said it wasn't, but if there were only one lock, he'd try
twisting and bending the case to see if he could pry a pistol
out of it. I'm sure none of us want the TSA twisting and
prying at our gun cases, whether they should be success or
Third, we have heard of some
TSA officers rejecting the officially approved TSA padlocks as
being too flimsy. A TSA approved padlock is designed to lock a suitcase, but some TSA officers consider them
insufficient to lock a firearms case.
slightly bigger/better locks for your gun cases, just in case.
The TSA do not require you to use the TSA approved locks that
they can themselves unlock.
We recommend combination
locks rather than padlocks. That way if the TSA need to
open the case and you are not present, when they page you in
another part of the airport, you can simply tell them the
combination rather than have to go somewhere - perhaps on the
other side of security - to give them a key,
and then wait until you can retrieve it again.
A word of warning. If
your padlocks are oversized with large hasps, this will give
more slack for the carry case to be partially opened. I
discovered, to my horror, that after locking both sides of my
officially approved custom designed carry case, I could then
easily pry the front of the case open, reach inside, and pull
out the pistol inside.
You should consider getting
the smallest size padlock possible so there is less space in the
hasp/loop for this to occur, and/or packing the spare space with
Note the TSA allows you to
travel with loaded magazines, but requires them to have their
open ends covered by something (such as a pouch or belt holder)
so the bullets can't be knocked out. Not all airlines
allow you to travel with loaded magazines however (are bullets more dangerous in a metal magazine than in a cardboard packet?).
We should point out that
generally an airline will not look inside your firearms case, so
if you, ahem, forget that you have rounds in a magazine, the key
thing is to comply with the TSA requirement, because they may
indeed inspect the contents of your case carefully.
The TSA spell out that they will accept ammunition
packaged in cardboard boxes, whereas airlines sometimes refer to
'crush-proof containers' which may or may not extend to
cardboard boxes - if you can point out to the airline that the
TSA requirement is for a cardboard box, that might help
if you are having a problem.
We are not certain how the
TSA would respond to ammunition in a bulk box (such as, for
example, a 100 round box of Winchester ammo that simply has the
100 rounds all lying loose in the box). Although it seems
like a solid secure 'brick' of ammo from the outside, if they
were to open the cardboard box they'd probably be horrified to
see 100 rounds lying loose and unprotected.
Furthermore, if you have
half a box of ammo loose, it will rattle and shake and
definitely not be accepted.
We accordingly recommend
against this type of ammo package.
We always travel with a
couple of 50 round re-usable plastic ammo boxes with individual
cells for each round so if you end up with a partial box of
unfired loose ammo (from eg a bulk 100 round box) you can carry
them home in the plastic ammo containers.
Check in Procedure
At some airports, you'll
hand-carry your suitcase with the firearms to a special TSA
inspection point and wait while the TSA officer inspects things
more or less in your presence. At other airports, your
suitcase just seems to go into the standard baggage handling
procedure, and generally you wait somewhere close to the checkin
counter for 10 - 15 minutes; then if no-one has called you over,
you can continue going through security and waiting for your
In such a case, where you've
heard nothing either positive or negative, it is
probably a good idea to get to your boarding area and wait
around there just in case the TSA are slow processing bags and
'make a reasonable attempt to contact you' but unsuccessfully.
So you should allow 20 minutes for the extra time it takes for this process
and arrive that much earlier at the airport.
We suggest you print out a
copy of the TSA regulations and carry them with you in case of
any issues arising, either with the airline or the TSA. If
you have a problem with an airline being more restrictive than
the TSA, you just know the airline will try and blame the TSA
for what they are doing, so you can show them the TSA
regulations and ask they call a TSA supervisor to get a ruling
on if the TSA will allow you to transport whatever it is you
have or not.
Once upon a time, many years
ago, airlines would add special tags to the outside of bags that
contained firearms. In theory this meant the bags were
tracked more carefully, and were therefore less likely to go
missing; and for a while there was an urban legend that if you
wanted to be sure your bag would be well cared for and not lost
or stolen, the best thing to do was to travel with a firearm.
Well, like most urban
legends, that turned out not to be true, and possibly the real
incidence of lost/stolen bags was even greater for bags with
firearm tags on them, because the airlines have now changed
their procedures and they generally prefer firearms to be in
unmarked normal bags that don't hint at their contents.
This is of course not really
possible with long guns (rifles and shotguns) but for pistols,
the best procedure is to have your locked pistol case inside a
Here are some general
considerations for transporting firearms by an airline.
First, you generally need to
be at least 18 to do this, except in the case of Hawaiian
Airlines which claims that an unspecified law makes it illegal
for firearms to be transported by people under the age of 21.
Let's all roll our eyes at
how Hawaiian Airlines alone has uniquely interpreted the law to
forbid people under the age of 21 to transport firearms.
But this is a good warning and example of how airlines will come
up with all manner of strange interpretations of simple things,
and then hide behind a generic claim of 'it is against the law'
without ever citing the exact law.
For this reason, you need to
be very wary of all aspects of interacting with the airlines
when traveling with firearms, for fear of encountering a rabid
anti-gunner at the front counter who will arbitrarily make
things difficult for you.
If you are traveling
internationally, expect an entire new layer of complexity and
uncertainty. Some airlines will require you to obtain some
type of vaguely unspecified official approval from the
government of the country you are traveling to authorizing you
to bring weapons into their country.
Some airlines limit the
number of firearms you can take with you (notably Spirit who
only allows one per passenger), and all airlines limit the
weight of ammunition you can carry - typically 5 kg/ 11 lbs,
with Alaska Airlines winning a gold star for allowing up to 50
lbs of ammunition domestically, and Virgin America earning a
'brown' star for only allowing 10 lbs.
By way of indication, a box
of 50 rounds of 9mm ammunition weighs about 1 lb 6 oz. In
other words, you can carry 9 3/4 boxes of 9mm ammunition in an
11 lb allowance, ie just under 500 rounds. Of course,
larger size rounds are heavier and so you can bring fewer.
Talking about larger size
rounds, some airlines limit the maximum caliber of ammunition
you can travel with. Is one round of .50 caliber ammunition
more dangerous than 11 lbs of .22 ammunition? Some airlines think so.
Some airlines require the
ammunition to be packed separately, others allow it in the same
suitcase as the firearms.
Are you getting confused
yet? Every airline is a little different, and their
various rules are generally so poorly written as to leave
considerable ambiguity and leeway by the check-in staff as to
how they are interpreted.
So be friendly, polite,
matter-of-fact and efficient. Better still, be prepared.
Get an airline to pre-authorize your travel.
We suggest you do not lock
your firearms into their carry box prior to arriving at the
airport, because you will have to open the box at the counter
and place a signed declaration on an airline form stating the
weapons are unloaded. Instead, lock it after you've put
the form inside the case.
We've also heard reports
that some airlines require the outer suitcase that you place the
weapons case inside to be padlocked. In such a case, you
must of course use a TSA approved padlock on the outside
Table of Airline Firearm
Policies and Links to Airline Website Explanations
Here's a table that gives
you a summary of each airline's firearms and ammunition
policies, and a link to the page on their website with their
official policy statement. Read on for how best to use
this information, and how best to ensure you travel with no
For what it is worth,
everyone I have spoken to who has traveled with firearms and
ammunition has reported that everything has gone smoothly for
them. So if you are well prepared and in general
compliance with the airline requirements, you should have no
How to use this table and how
to ensure no problems with an airline accepting your firearms
Check the summary
information for the airline you are considering flying, then
click the link to the exact page on their website that has their
current exact fully detailed rules/regulations/requirements.
If there is any doubt in
your mind, follow up with a call to the airline's reservation
office and ask careful clear questions, and be sure to get the
agent's name, location, and 'agent sign' (identifier) and keep a
note of that.
If you're not comfortable
with their answers, call back a second time and ask whoever
answers the phone the same questions.
If/when you have a booking,
if you have any concerns, call and get an agent to put an OSI
comment in your PNR record 'Authorized to check two firearms and
up to 500
rounds of 9mm ammunition weighing less than 11lbs for travel
from Los Angeles to Denver' (or whatever
else applies) and ask them to send you a copy of your record
printed out with the OSI comments shown. Keep that with
you when checking in.
If the link to the airline
website is broken in this table, go to the home page and look
for a search box, or failing that, a link to an FAQ section
which will probably have a search box on that page. Search
for the keyword 'firearms' (without the quotes of course) and
that should quickly get you to the information you need.
This table was last updated
on 10 September, 2010. Please
advise of any errors or
requirements. Adds some negative comments
about complying with local laws which may add
extra complications, even though you're probably
ga shotgun shells and .50 caliber rifle ammo.
ammunition to be packed in baggage separate from
Up to 11 lbs
of the firearm must be packed in the same
container as the firearm itself' - whatever that
must be no larger than 11/16th of an inch in
diameter' - about the size of a dime, and
exactly 0.6875". Note that a 12 gauge
shell is slightly larger - 0.729" bore diameter,
very slightly less for the shell.
Up to 50 lbs
domestically, 11 lbs internationally.
three rifles or five pistols.
Up to 11
containing up to five firearms.
Up to 11
No more than
four rifles, two shotguns and five pistols.
extra if you have more than two rifles in a
Up to 11
any firearms on any international flights.
ammunition clips (but note the TSA restriction
powder or percussion caps.
Up to 11
than two rifles OR two shotguns OR not more than
state and federal laws it is illegal for a
person under the age of 21 to carry firearms'.
Up to 11 lbs
for rifles or shotguns. Ambiguous wording
implies they won't accept ammunition for pistols
allow international carriage of firearms
(including to PR) unless pre-authorized by the
Sells pistol cases for $35 at checkin counters
(I wonder if all airports have a supply - would
hate to arrive at an airport to discover they'd
Defines 'one item of shooting equipment' as
being two rifles, two shotguns, or four pistols.
Unclear if you can take more than 'one item'.
Up to 11
'small arms ammunition' - does that mean shotgun
shells and rifle bullets are okay too?
Up to 11 lbs
multiple firearms (doesn't say how many).
allow 'loose loaded magazines'.
Doesn't allow gunpowder, primers or percussion
'small arms ammunition' - perhaps not
Up to 11 lbs gross weight of ammunition and
container maximum. Does this mean the
boxes the ammo is in, or does it also extend to
the case the boxes are in?
(search for keyword 'firearms')
checked firearm per passenger.
Not permitted to international destinations.
Up to 11 lbs
information with no apparent restrictions on
Up to 11 lbs
No limit to
the number of firearms transported, up to 50 lbs
International travel requires 'all required
Up to 11 lbs
information defines one item of shooting
equipment as being two rifles, two shotguns, or
four pistols, but doesn't then limit how many
'items' one can travel with.
Not allowed on flights to Mexico.
Must be kept
separate from the firearm - does that mean in
the same suitcase or a different one?
Up to 10 lbs per person.
Note : See also our
airline checked baggage allowances and fees for more
information on airline luggage policies in general.
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11 Sep 2010, last update
28 May 2011
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