Suppose you have ever traveled by car with your guns. In that case, you’ll know how potentially nerve-wracking that can be, especially traveling through states that are notoriously strict regarding the storage and transport of guns and ammo.
Flying with firearms might seem even more daunting, but with proper preparation, solid packing ideas, and using the right cases to transport your firearms and ammo safely, flying with firearms could be easier than driving plus, a state trooper at 30,000 feet won’t stop you.
Now, let’s look at the various elements involved, from packing and storing, the proper cases and locks, as well as what you can expect at the airport during the process of both checking in and collecting your guns when departing and arriving.
Be Thorough In Your Preparations
The key to easily traveling with firearms is to do some due diligence and pre-trip preparation before even thinking about your trip. Part of that preparation involves knowing the laws of the state or country you are traveling to.
The first rule of ANY travel is to get to the airport early and give yourself a time window should your inspection take longer than expected. Better to go and browse or have a coffee than stress about missing your flight due to inspection delays.
Be Familiar With The Regulations Of Your Destination
For example, when traveling with firearms in the USA, you can store your guns and ammo in the same case, provided you have appropriate storage boxes for the ammo, but you may find that traveling overseas, your country of destination may require guns and ammo to be packed separately.
You certainly don’t want to run foul of customs officials when you land and all because you didn’t know the regulations regarding firearm control on entry and exit into your port of destination.
Whether flying interstate or to another country, make an effort to establish and clearly understand the transport and storage regulations and carry laws (if applicable). That way, you don’t have any unexpected delays with security or run-ins with local law enforcement, especially if you are traveling abroad.
Nothing could ruin your trip faster than getting arrested and having your guns confiscated because you didn’t take the time to learn the rules!
Use The Right Gun & Ammo Flight Cases
There is something almost sexy about a well-designed gun flight case. The precisely cut foam and the little spaces for the magazines and ammo boxes, as well as the cut-out for the guns themselves, make it that much more special.
Investing in decent cases will make a world of difference as they are specially designed to carry and protect guns, ammo, and components. They also stop them from moving around or coming loose during transport.
Best of all, these flight cases comply with the Transport Security Administrations (TSA) regulations on the proper storage of guns and ammo when flying in the USA, and many international destinations also recommend the use of these cases.
TSA Requirements For Transporting Guns And Ammo
Because the TSA has particular requirements for gun owners when traveling, all guns must be stored in a hard-sided locked container. In addition, all firearms MUST be unloaded, and magazines or clips may not be stored loaded unless they completely enclose the bullets.
In 2020, the TSA recorded a record number of illegal guns seized at airports, more than double the number seized in 2019, and of that, 83% of all illegal guns seized were loaded!
In most cases, you may store your magazines and ammo with your gun, and here customizing your carry case could be advisable if it doesn’t have separate cut-outs for the ammo.
It is preferable to have your ammo in the hard plastic cases it came in or in the original box. This will prevent the rounds from floating around inside the case during handling – we all know how gentle and careful the airport handlers are!
Where possible, place your rounds inside a solid plastic container designed for that caliber, so they are solidly secured.
It is essential to know both the TSA and destination rules, as you may find that storing your magazines and ammo in the same case as your gun is acceptable for the state you are in but may not be legal in the state you are traveling to.
Individual Airline Rules For Flying With Firearms
Aside from the TSA rules, you should always check with your carrier to apply additional rules over and above the TSA regulations. To find these, you can simply go to the airline’s website and search for ‘guns’ or ‘firearms,’ but we’ve made it easier – just click on your carrier link below for the relevant page.
- American Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
- Allegiant Air
- Canada Air
- Delta Airlines
- JetBlue Airways
- Southwest Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- United Airlines
This is an integral part of your pre-flight preparations; make sure you know and comply with any other rules in place with the carrier.
Guns Must Be Checked In
TSA regulations state that all guns must be checked in when flying and MAY not be carried on a plane, and this applies to ammo and any gun components such as triggers, bolts, barrels, and firing pins.
The only component you can legally carry onto a plane is a riflescope; anything else MUST be locked in its own case or the firearm case and be checked in.
Replicas and toy guns may NOT be stored in carry-on luggage and can only be transported as checked-in luggage.
In the example above of illegal firearms seized in 2020, many of them were legal guns, but the owners didn’t declare them and opted to push their luck by having their guns tucked away in carry-on luggage – NOT A GOOD IDEA.
Not only did they miss their flights, but they now have to deal with legal repercussions around failure to abide by TSA regulations – instead, just do it right the first time.
Disguise Your Guns By Using Different Cases
For some gun owners, using cases that look like gun cases doesn’t work for them, so they utilize other secure hard cases like those used for transporting golf clubs or musical instruments instead.
The same rules would apply in terms of safety, cut-outs, and packing your guns and ammo, but visually these cases would not have any obvious link to firearms and add that extra peace of mind to the journey.
Make Sure You Have A Good Lock
While the TSA does provide locks, there is an inherent (and illegal) issue with using one of theirs to secure your case. Under regulation 1540.11 of TSA 49 CFR, only the passenger may have access to the locked case, and no other person may hold the key or combination to the lock that secures firearms during transportation.
Considering how much your guns, ammo, magazines, and accessories would have cost, not to mention the flight case itself, investing in a high-quality lock for your gun cases makes absolute sense.
It is also mandated that you keep the key on your person and not store it in your carry-on bags, as this would be illegal. Again, the purpose here is to ensure that only the legal owner has access.
The Code Of Federal Regulations makes it illegal for a TSA agent to request the keys or combination to the lock, and this is also why using TSA locks is illegal. As TSA agents have a master key that can open any lock, and this would be a breach of those sections of the legislation.
Many reputable lock manufacturers such as Master Lock make good-quality solid locks at affordable prices.
As part of your due diligence, you may also want to consider having hard-printed copies of the relevant regulations and rules just in case.
How Much Ammo You Can Legally Transport When Flying
Another part of your pre-flight preparation is knowing how much ammo you can bring with you. FAA regulations state that a passenger may travel with a maximum of 11 lbs of ammo, but you should also check with the airline you are using to confirm whether their limits are different.
Small caliber ammo like shotgun shells and ammo less than 0.75 in caliber can usually be stored in the same check-in case as your guns, but again make sure of this by checking with both the airline and destination before you leave.
Know Your Luggage Weight Limits
Checking with the airline before you fly regarding weight limitations on checked luggage can save you some money. You don’t need to end up forking out more because you failed to confirm weight limits.
Unlike clothing, guns and ammo are heavy, and you can quickly eat up your weight limits if you aren’t careful. Using a simple handheld scale to pre-weigh your gun cases to ensure you aren’t met with unexpected costs at the counter is a small price to pay for a hassle-free travel experience.
What To Do At The Airport
Now that we have covered pre-flight preparations, let’s move to what you can expect at the airport and how to go about flying with your firearms and have a great time doing it!
Declare Your Firearms At The Check-In
When traveling with your guns, the first rule is always –“Declare your firearms at the counter!” When in doubt, read rule 1 again. Flying with guns in the US is very common, so it’s highly unlikely you will get an odd reaction from the counter staff when you declare you have guns.
They will provide you with a card that requires your contact info to verify that your firearms are correctly secured and stored and that the case is locked. The agent may wish to inspect the case, and once that is done, you can then lock it and place the card inside the case as required by law.
This card must be placed in the case(s) and not held on your person, and then those cases must be locked and the key retained by you if you are not using a combination lock.
DO NOT use the sidewalk check-in; you must declare your guns at the counter so both TSA agents and the airline can follow the proper process to get the TSA form and tag for your bag.
Point of order: According to Federal law (18 USC, Section 922 e), no agent or official may place a label on your gun case stating or in any way notifying that there are firearms in that case.
Not declaring firearms at an airport is only asking for trouble, especially now in the times we live; TSA and Airport Security officials will take a very dim view of this action.
Under TSA regulations, no official or agent may handle your guns at any time for any reason.
Are There Any Guns You Don’t Have To Declare?
Air guns or air rifles do not require declaration but should still be transported in proper gun cases for the same reasons you don’t want them damaged during handling and actual flight.
We all know how luggage is loaded onto planes, so use good cases to protect your airguns. They will also have to go in as checked baggage and won’t be allowed in a carry-on bag, and the air tanks could be inspected before processing.
Time Saving Inspection Tips
Here is a simple tip to speed up the inspection. Use gun locks or chamber flags to clearly and visually demonstrate that your firearms are unloaded so that should you have to re-open cases (as sometimes may be the case) should agents request a second inspection, it will be fast and easy.
TSA Inspection Process
Once you have the form and your cases are locked, they will go to the TSA for inspection. Remember that no TSA agent may ask you for the key or combination, so you will have to open it yourself if they want to see the inside.
You may hand the key to the TSA inspector, but only if they hand it back immediately as they would have no right to withhold the key once the case has been opened – instead, insist on doing it yourself.
Because airports are used to dealing with people flying with firearms, they will often have a specific spot that gives you visual access to the inspection. During the examination, the case will be swabbed and scanned, and if all is well, you will be advised that you are ok to proceed.
Useful Tips For Post-Inspection
Once the inspection is done, you might consider waiting around that area for about 20 minutes, as you may get called back for a second inspection before you head through security.
Listen to the airport announcements as should a second or even third inspection be required; they may announce this over the airport PA system.
If nothing is forthcoming, proceed through security into the passengers-only area, but still, keep an ear out for your name being called, as this may happen once you have cleared security.
Picking Up Your Firearm Cases On Arrival
If your gun cases are more typical in size, you may find them floating down the carousel inconspicuously with all the rest of the baggage, and you can simply pick them up and go.
If your cases were larger, you might find that they have been held with oversize or unusual baggage, and you may have to go collect them once you have claimed your normal luggage.
Following the steps above will certainly make your life a lot simpler and easier when flying with firearms domestically in the US, but what steps can you take for a smooth international flight?
Flying With Firearms Internationally
As mentioned earlier in this discussion, traveling abroad with firearms can also be relatively stress-free, provided you have done some initial due diligence. Knowing the law regarding travel and possession of firearms in a non-US destination is critical as you do NOT want to run foul of the law outside the US, especially when it comes to guns.
You can take some steps to make this process that much simpler, and one of those is to book direct flights wherever possible. In most cases, if you are traveling overseas with your guns, it is more likely that you are attending an event or competition.
It’s highly unlikely that you’d be going on holiday to the South Of France, packing an arsenal in case the next World War breaks out in your holiday town!
Being able to fly directly to your destination only brings two sets of customs into play: the US and your arrival point. The fewer interventions from customs you have along the way, the better.
Another tip is to get your booking agent (if you are using one) to do the legwork for you and provide you with all the info concerning packing, storing, and transporting guns and ammo to that specific country – let them work for their commission!
Don’t Forget Your US Customs Form 4457!
Which form, you might ask? Well, this handy little bit of paper is something you will need before you fly internationally with your guns, and a US Customs Offical must sign it before you leave.
No, this is like a ‘don’t-pay-import-duties-on-your-guns’ card and will ensure that you don’t have to cough up dollars on your return for guns you have already bought and paid for.
If you have foreign-made guns or other foreign items you took with you, this little document will allow you to bring them back in ‘free’ so to speak, and is NOT something you want to forget if you are going abroad.
Now that we have all the administrative red tape out of the way, let’s look at some of the products we’ve mentioned, like gun cases, locks, and other options that can make your trip that much easier when flying with firearms.
Best Cases For Flying With Firearms
Traveling with firearms is stressful enough considering all the admin that needs to be taken care of. Still, if you invest in quality cases, solid secure locks, and unloaded chamber indicators, that can ease a great deal of the stress around this.
Let’s start by looking at the cases that offer the best protection and security for your guns in transit. The consensus is that Pelican cases are some of the best available, and here are three that will cover pistols, rifles, and a vaulted design.
Of course, these are not the only protective cases available, and you should shop around and check out some other brands such as D-Tap and Negrini, amongst others.
All of the cases are compatible with TSA-approved locks and other non-TSA locks and are incredibly robust and solid with the foam inserts to secure the firearm in the case.
All prices and links are from the Pelican website.
Pelican 1170 Protector Case
The Pelican 1170 Protector Case is suited for a single pistol and is a waterproof and crushproof case that will protect your gun in transit. If you are going to be storing your firearm for some time, the foam on these cases is rust-resistant, so no worries on that front.
They are available in various colors and offer a host of additional accessories.
Pelican V600 Vault Case
This is a bigger version of the 1170, with five layers of foam and suitable for transporting multiple guns, magazines, parts, and accessories. In addition, the Vault 600 has four locks for easy access in a high-tech polymer case and is also compatible with TSA locks and non-TSA locks.
Like the 1170 and all of their cases, the Vault 600 has a variety of accessories and color options.
Pelican V730 Vault Tactical Rifle Case
For safe and secure transport of long guns, only one case is available for properly moving rifles. It has six lock latches and is crushproof, dustproof, and resistant to weather; a V730 Vault is an excellent option for tactical weapons and accessories.
It is available in black and tan, and it also has ergonomic handles that allow it to stand in tough conditions.
Considering the quality of these cases, they are not expensive and provided you get a decent lock to secure them; your guns will be as safe as they possibly can be.
Best Locks For Flying With Firearms
Now that you have case options, we need to look at the best locks to secure them. Remember that you can only use a lock to which you have access – this is the law.
ABUS is a well-known and well-respected manufacturer of padlocks, and we will look at a few of those to start with.
ABUS 640TI/40 Titalium Aluminum Padlock
This is a 3-pack of locks and is available on Amazon. This lock is well suited to the Pelican 1170 case and has a ¼” shackle, and the keys are a similar cut and offer a very tight and snug fit.
ABUS Plus 88 Series Brass Padlock
This has a 5/16” diameter shackle and a seven-disc cylinder, making it quite difficult to pick. The ABUS PLUS 88 is more expensive than the 640TI, but if you want to KNOW that nothing is getting into your gun case, then this is the lock for you.
American Lock A110 5 Pack
Another highly recommended lock for securing gun cases when flying, the A110, is available from the American Locks website and comes in a 5-pack. A shorter 1” shackle in the ¼” diameter makes it much more compact when locked in.
Hexagonal Shackles Vs. Round Shackles
From a strength perspective, using a hexagonal shackle is more secure and resistant to interference and always looks for brass, stainless steel, or titanium when considering your locks.
For a seamless experience when flying with firearms, follow the process of preparing properly for your trip, getting your documentation in order, and knowing the regulations that apply to your destination well in advance.
Always obey the laws and regulations that govern the safe and legal transportation of guns both in the US and outside the borders. Not doing so is far more unpleasant than the time invested in doing it correctly.