Flying with Firearms Part II

Note: This is the second part of a two-part series on flying with a firearm.

In Part I of Flying with Firearms, we discussed preparing for a domestic airline flight with a firearm in checked luggage.  I will now cover some of the things I learned when arriving at the airport.

First, you must go through the counter check-in procedure at your airline.  You may not declare the firearm at curbside check-in.  Once at the counter, tell the attendant that you are a police officer declaring an unloaded firearm to check in your luggage.

If you are traveling under your state’s CCF license or as a private citizen, I would tell them you are declaring a legal, unloaded firearm in your checked luggage.  By first stating you are law enforcement, or otherwise legally checking in, it seems to keep the drama to a minimum.

Flying with a gunThis is where things get interesting.  Some airlines will ask to see the unloaded weapon and inspect the packaging of the gun and ammunition, per Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations.  This is to be expected, in fact, appreciated.

At some airports and some airlines, I have found that they do not ask to see the condition of the gun or the ammo.  As a passenger, I find this disconcerting.  It seems each airport and carrier have different procedures, so go with the flow.

At all airlines you will be asked to sign a card declaring the unloaded firearm.  This card will be placed inside the bag, usually on top of the gun case.  This is all the paperwork you do.  You are now allowed to secure the bag.

Your firearm container must not be secured with a TSA, or airport universal, lock.  Your luggage, however, must have a TSA accessible lock or be unlocked.  Since you are not sending a gun through in unlocked bag, buy a TSA padlock for your luggage.

Most airports have a special airline attendant or TSA representative to walk you and your bag to TSA screening.  They will place your luggage in a screening machine while you are there.  Once it is examined, you are free to head to the airside.  Done!

In at least two cases, I was told the TSA luggage screening was on the other side of the airport and I would be contacted at the gate if there were a problem.  My bag was then either dropped on the conveyer with the rest of the luggage or carried away.

When you declare your firearm, other passengers in the vicinity of the counter may observe what is going on.  These are the same passengers who will disembark at your destination airport and head for baggage claim when you do.

When the airplane lands, I head for baggage claim with all possible haste.  I want to be there when the first piece of luggage slides on to the carousel and retrieve my bag before someone else does.

The reality is that my bag, whether it has a gun or not, is as likely to be lost by the airline as anyone else’s bag.  Because of this I would not travel with my platinum encrusted, finely engraved, super rare, and very expensive barbeque gun.  If I had one.

At Reagan International, my fellow officer’s suitcase did not appear on the carousel with the other passengers’ luggage from our flight.  He was…concerned.  After a half hour, we found it standing at attention with the other regularly misplaced bags.

You have attended your conference or enjoyed the wonders of the local theme park.  For your flight out, you are now headed back to a possibly unfamiliar airport, where firearms travel is concerned.  Prepare for all the steps above, but remember that things are different on someone else’s turf.

I discovered at J.F.K. in New York that Port Authority Police are called whenever someone declares a firearm at the counter.  If you are not traveling under LEOSA, or other NY recognized CCF situation, you are subject to arrest on the spot.

The Port Authority police officer that responded to my counter was very courteous once he had checked my credentials.  He even offered to jump us up in the TSA security line.

The steps to airline travel with a firearm are straightforward.  It is simple if you know and follow the regulations.  Some people print out the TSA regulations, and those for their specific air carrier, and take them to the airline check-in counter.

Remember to be courteous and patient, even if the situation becomes difficult.  Ask for a supervisor if needed.

At your trip destination, remember that you are responsible to abide by the local laws, aside from your rights granted by LEOSA or CCF reciprocity.

Safe travel.

Randall is a twenty-three year sworn police officer in a mid-sized Florida police department.  He has been an FTO, Detective, K9 Handler, and SWAT Team Leader.  He is currently a Midnight Shift Sergeant and SWAT Coordinator.

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Publisher at BlueSheepdog
Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing on sites like Human Events, The Firearm Blog and Police & Security News.

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  • Phil Herbert

    I am a retired LEO that carries concealed quite often. I have obtained a CCF permit from my home-state (VA) at the advice of both the NRA and FOP counsel.
    I found your article quite interesting and enlightening. I often carry when I’m in that car pick-up line at my son’s school, but never thought about traveling (flying) with a firearm in my checked luggage.
    I have been the victim of theft from a locked bag, a camera, while traveling through Detroit and would be sick if I lost a handgun, knowing where they end up. I have also been the victim of a burglary where my handgun was taken, so I speak from experience. The weapon was recovered in a drug raid at a home less than 10 miles from my home.
    Securing the lock box to the interior metal rails of your luggage is an excellent recommendation when securing the weapon. But as you said, there’s nothing to keep them from taking the entire bag and I agree with you “when the airplane lands, (I) head for baggage claim with all possible haste. (I want to) be there when the first piece of luggage slides on to the carousel and retrieve (my) bag before someone else does.”
    That said, I’m still a little freakish about taking that first step into flying with a checked bag and declared firearm.