The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Air Travel With Guns

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Guidelines For a Hassle-Free Flight
Illustrations by Ced Nocon

Flying with guns is easier and more hassle free than most people suspect, so please take a moment to review this safety card before we take off. This cabin crew regularly flies with guns in their luggage when traveling around the country. In the past year we’ve flown with guns to California, Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. On each of these trips, the process was similar and went off without a hitch. All it takes is following a few TSA and airline rules. Please comply with all lighted signs and crew member instructions and everything will go just fine.

Unload It
Before packing your firearms, you must unload all ammunition. Loaded guns, like smoking, are not allowed on any flight. Tampering with or destroying the bathroom smoke detector might result in a fine, but schlepping a loaded gat onto an aircraft is a sure-fire way to make a new cell mate. Make sure to chamber check each firearm and to remove ammo from any caddies or sidesaddles that you may have.


Store It
When traveling with guns by airplane, it’s necessary to store all firearms in a hard-sided container. A rigid plastic or metal container is typical. Hard cases can range from something small, like a briefcase, to something large, like a golf bag container. Popular brands include Pelican, Storm, and Starlight — which we’ve found to work well.

These cases are usually sold with foam padding on the inside but can be ordered without, saving a few bucks. Instead of using this foam, a double gun bag usually fits inside and can serve as padding during transit and as a carry bag once you’ve arrived at your destination. If a more discreet look is preferred, hard cases for musical instruments or other everyday equipment also works. To complete the disguise, consider including a pair of small black glasses and a fixed speed bike. When purchasing a container, be sure to consider the weight, as most airlines will tack on an extra fee if the luggage is more than 50 pounds.

Lock it up
Any hard-sided containers used for storing firearms during a flight must be capable of being locked. This means that the container “completely secures the firearm from being accessed” — no one should be able pull the container open without having to undo the locks, including the stalwart defenders of liberty at the TSA. TSA locks are acceptable, but padlocks and combination locks are also OK and preferable.


Box Your Ammo
Ammunition may be transported in regular luggage. It does not need to be in a hard-sided container, and may be placed in your normal checked bags without a lock. But, ammo can’t be kept loose or stuffed in your dirty socks and underwear. It must be stored in boxes made of fiber (cardboard), wood, or metal, or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition. The factory box is acceptable, as well as plastic boxes used for reloading. Airlines usually restrict travelers to no more than 11 pounds of ammo per person. Gunpowder, percussion caps, and flares are not allowed, even in checked luggage.

Magazines and accessories can be placed alongside your unloaded firearms in the hard-sided container or securely boxed in your regular checked luggage, according to the TSA. Some airlines allow ammo to be stored inside magazines during transport, as long as the exposed portion is covered or if they are in magazine pouches. These airline-specific rules should be checked before you pack your gear. Shipping magazines and accessories to the destination is also an option. On the other hand, actual paper magazines like the one you’re reading right now and accessories such as bookmarks and post-it notes are perfectly acceptable to carry on, so be sure to bring your favorite copy of RECOIL to read in-flight.

If you don’t want to transport your ammo in your luggage, a good option is to ship it to your destination in advance. Occasionally we ship ammo via UPS to where we’re staying at our destination. Shipping though UPS is easy enough, but you must go to a UPS customer center and not just any local shop. Before going, make sure to place “ORM-D, Cartridges, Small Arms” labels on each side of your package. And remember, lift with your legs, not with your back! If the type of ammo that you need is readily available for purchase at your destination, then the most economical solution may be to buy it there…if it’s not sold out.


Check it in
Once at the airport, bring your guns (locked in your hard-sided container) with the rest of your luggage to the ticket counter. People flying with guns must check in with an actual airline agent, so bypass the express and curbside check-in lanes. During the check-in process, you must tell the agent you are checking in firearms. The agent will then provide a firearm declaration card. By signing the card, the gun owner is declaring that the firearm is unloaded. The card may also have places for the date and flight number, among other things. Once the card is filled out, you will be asked to place the card into the hard container with the firearms. The airline agent may ask to see that the guns are unloaded, although not all airlines do this in practice. If you find the agent particularly charming or fetching, feel free to flirt, but making jokes about your guns is generally not a good idea.

Once you are finished at the ticket counter and your luggage is tagged, your hard case with firearms is brought to the TSA for screening. Sometimes the TSA simply passes the hard case through a scanning machine and does not require anything else. Other times the TSA will ask for your padlock key or combination to open the case. Regardless, the firearm owner is typically asked to be available during the screening process — and then told to go on his way when it is completed. The next time the guns are seen is when the bags are picked up at the destination.


Don’t Carry it
It is very important that no firearm parts or ammo are in your carry-on bags. Firearms are not allowed in carry-ons and neither are many firearm-related items, such as magazines and ammunition. Mistakenly leaving those “toys” you picked up in Las Vegas in your carry-on bags might result in some embarrassment at airport security, but making a mistake with firearm-related items could be a very, very bad day indeed. So, always double check your carry-on bags for loose rounds and other items before going through security. Note that having some extra room in your carry-on bags is helpful if your other bags turn out to be overweight at check-in.


Pick it up
When arriving at a destination, luggage with firearms is picked up either in the baggage carousel with all other luggage or at the oversize baggage area, assuming that they haven’t been mistakenly rerouted to Des Moines. Airline agents may ask for ID when picking up your firearm-containing luggage to make sure the guns are given to the right person. Other times, the luggage comes out on the conveyor belt with all the other bags with no one to check who it belongs to. You may take your guns like any other luggage and then be on your way.


Airline Rules
Although the major airlines follow similar procedures for flying with firearms, it is a good idea to research their specific rules online before flying with them. The rules for storing and checking firearms, ammo, magazines, and accessories are largely similar, while the greatest differences involve where the airlines will allow guns to be taken abroad.

Comply with Local Laws
Last but not least, before traveling within your destination state, it is important to research any applicable local laws to comply with them while traveling with guns. The rules in the majority of states are relatively straightforward. Beware of locations like New York City or Washington D.C., where more oppressive firearms laws are in effect. Travel safe, and on behalf of RECOIL Airways, we thank you for considering us for your next flight.

More 411
For complete information about TSA requirements while traveling with firearms, go to


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