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Airline Travel With Firearms

We returned from a trip a couple of weeks ago now and I've been tied up since, but wanted to to take a look at airline travel with firearms. This was posted on a couple other forums and I'll also looking for experiences and advice from the bunch here on B&B. There are several members here who have much more experience than I do with airline travel with firearms. I know that my brother-in-law flew to Canada some years ago with his favorite hunting rifle to participate in a bear hunt so that's a destination outside the US. Our English friend once flew here on one occasion with an L42A1 so he could use it on a deer hunting trip to Lake Leon. Neither Bo nor Gary had any issues at that time.

Throughout the decade of the 1980s I brought along the old Smith & Wesson Model 10 Heavy Barrel with me on quite a few flights to all parts of the US. It always was declared and checked through in this same Gun Guard case, with the little fiddly keys, to be fetched off the baggage carousel at one's destination, complete with a large red "Firearms" tag, identifying contents to any observant person.

That was then. This is now. I hadn't flown with a handgun since the early 1990s so some research was in order. The old Gun Guard case was right out for a start, its fiddly locks and key not meeting TSA standards. Clearly, something else had to be found.

A small "TSA approved" case by Cedar Mill was ordered. Similar in design to a number of cases which may be found on Amazon, it may be locked and placed within one's suitcase. This is a much more discreet and handy manner in which to check a handgun for airline transportation than some larger case which must be checked separately and probably checked at additional cost. This case had a "Cedar Mill Fine Firearms" label prominently plastered on its exterior which I removed, preferring non-identifying discretion as much as possible.

This case is not the very sturdiest like the various Pelican models also sold for the purpose, but it is fine for placement within a protecting suitcase. It will accommodate two locks and two locks it wore as TSA apparently requires all of a case's provisions for locks to be utilized.

One must utilize TSA approved locks and these have the desired red TSA symbol on them. This model Sesame lock was obtained for the trip. These appear to be sturdy with a thicker shackle than most other TSA approved luggage padlocks. There's a down side to that though. The Sesame locks obtained would not fit the lock provisions on the suitcase in which the handgun was carried. More on that later. These locks are available in both chrome and pewter finish and one of each finish was obtained. As a small matter of additional bedevilment to any pilferers, I determined to set each lock to a different combination and wanted to recognize which lock went with which combination I selected. To make things easier for me and my powers of recall at 5:30 in the morning, possibly without adequate lighting, and perhaps without reading glasses, I selected easy-for-me-to-remember combinations having to do with calibers. I didn't select the obvious .357 or .223 but rather more obscure calibers that I have and know. These locks are easy to set, lock positively, and appear sturdier. I realize that any luggage lock is flimsy protection, but these appear better than some. A handy list of combinations was kept in my wallet, just in case.

The night before our departure it was discovered that the Sesame lock could not be used with the suitcase so a dash to the Irving WalMart, near DFW found these American Tourister locks. Inexpensive they were. One could buy two of them for less than the cost of one of the Sesame locks. The cheapness of construction showed, but the smaller diameter shackle fit the suitcase lock provision.

These locks are flimsy and don't feel like they lock positively. A determined effort likely could break one. We purchased an additional lock for Mrs BMc's suitcase, but it was defective as it came out of the packaging and would not lock after its combination was set.

I kept a handy paper with the combinations and which lock they opened in my wallet, just in case I had a brain fade.

Additional Thoughts


Of course neither firearms or ammunition may be transported in carry-on baggage. TSA states that: "Firearm magazines and ammunition clips, whether loaded or empty, must be securely boxed or included within a hard-sided case containing an unloaded firearm." American Airlines' rules additionally states that: "Ammunition must be in the original packaging from the manufacturer or in packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition (made of fiber, wood or metal), with a maximum of 11 pounds (5 kgs) per container or customer. Ammunition is not accepted in magazines or clips.

I take this to mean that factory boxes or MTM case guards would be suitable. For the revolver ammunition I was carrying, I determined that the old fashioned leather dump pouches I'd intended to take along for the purpose of transporting the ammunition within the suitcase would not work. In the event, I simply placed a box of 25 Underwood 158 grain +P .38 Special lead wadcutters without hollow points in the suitcase. Nothing was said. The choice of non-hollow point ammunition may have been frivolous, but I had visions of being diverted to jurisdictions having hollow point bans and being required to take possession of baggage on some extended and unplanned lay-over.

Going out, we had a connecting flight at Philidelphia with only 40 minutes between. I felt some apprehension over what could happen if delays caused a missed flight. The Pennsylvania firearms carry website did not give any comfort to a non-resident passenger passing through who potentially had to assume possession of his arms and ammunition due to unforeseen circumstances. Does anyone know what happens in the jurisdictions having excessively restrictive restrictions on firearms carry by non-residents? New Jersey comes to mind. There are no airport lockers at DFW since 9-11. It appears that some airports still have lockers. I'd really like to know the answer to this question.


Goes without saying; have it along. They're gonna ask at the airports and one could be asked for it at any time. No one on at DFW or Bangor airports asked to see my carry license however. Still, it was available if needed.

Carrying Reloads

With the revolver, I should have carried the more effective speed loader, but I wimped out and threw in a speed strip for use after we arrived for less bulk and more discretion. I didn't go to Maine to do battle but did wish to have a reload on hand. The automatic pistol devotee would carry magazines with suitable pouches.


Satisfy oneself. I carried both an IWB and a OWB holster along for use. One pair of trousers I wore didn't comfortably work with the IWB holster so the revolver was worn OWB beneath a covering jacket. I adopted this for most of the trip, only using the IWB holster on a single day.

My favorite gun belt was taken and worn the entire trip, providing perfect comfort satisfaction in toting a medium-framed 34 oz. revolver. One may as well be comfortable in his travels and I know of no better way to insure comfort than to wear an effective gun belt.

TSA Cards

Going out, the "Firearms Unloaded" card was simply placed loose in the suitcase by American Airlines personnel, on top of the handgun case which was packed with my clothes. The return trip found that American Airlines personnel had accessed the handgun case within the suitcase to tape the "Firearms Unloaded" card to the outside of the handgun case. Going out, a separate notice of baggage inspection, loose within my clothing, awaited me when I opened the suitcase at the airport upon arrival to our destination. It was noticed that this card was absent when we returned.

TSA and Airport Personnel Inspection

Nobody verified anything in my presence, going or coming. The ticketing agent lady at DFW had me open my suitcase to inspect the exterior of the handgun case and its locks, simply asking me if my firearm was loaded. I asked if she wished to verify it and she said no, it was not necessary. So, I closed the suitcase and she took it. In bygone times, 20 or more years ago, I always had to open the revolver myself for the benefit of the ticketing agent and verify that it was unloaded.

Upon arrival to our destination, I had to call at the window for a baggage agent to deliver the suitcase to me. Upon presenting identification, the suitcase was handed over. No muss. No fuss. Same song second verse when we returned to DFW.

When we departed from Bangor, airline personnel couldn't even be bothered to ask me to open my suitcase so they could examine the handgun case and its locks. They simply tagged the suitcase I offered them and away it went. Bangor airport is really nice by the way, very clean and uncrowded with friendly efficient staff. This large airport 'cattle car" experience is not like flying was in the olden days. Just another feature of "less is more" that Americans seem to increasingly tolerate. DFW (and San Diego, McCarran Las Vegas, and Ontario California) are not great. Philadelphia (and Chicago, JFK, Dulles) are positively wretched.

Goes without saying; inspect your firearm immediately upon taking possession of it and before you leave the airport.

Tie-Downs and Trigger Locks

I didn't know how an unsecured firearm would be received so carried tie-downs and a trigger lock (which didn't make it into the photo) just in case I needed to avoid some travel hurtle connected with the lack of such. In the event, no one cared that the gun was not rendered inoperable and these proved unnecessary.

Those of you who have traveled regularly in recent years, please add your thoughts. States have different regulations and airlines may have additional rules that go beyond TSA regs. Has anyone been dealt any grief over transporting firearms by air?

The old lucky Model 10 just after traversing the 7/8-mile long breakwater at the Rockland Maine lighthouse in a thin, but driving rain, taken through a wet camera lens. I can do any sort of handgun I like, but for me, when the going gets tough the old Model 10 gets going and it's still most frequently chosen when "special situations" are anticipated. Maine is a good state for the lawfully armed visitor. Its people appear to have a proper awareness of what American liberty means.
I always have my sidearm with me when I fly. I just pack it in my bag, on the top, in a locked hard case without ammo in the weapon. It takes a bit longer to screen, but ends up very easy. I always fly Delta, but im sure that things are very similar with other airlines.
Great information. I avoid flights these days, but the time may come when I don't have a choice.

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I'm a Lumberjack.
Very comprehensive essay.were you surprised that you were not required to show and verify that it was unloaded as in years past? Or was this based on you and you clearly had your ducks in a row.


"Can't Raise an Eyebrow"
I have chosen not to fly since shortly after 9-11, not wanting to subject myself to TSA shenanigans. I previously have flown "back in the day" with firearms. Thanks for the update. I may be forced someday to fly again, but if I can drive there in two days or less, I'll drive.
Great info !...Don't try flying to California like this unless you have a Calif. carry permit, or are law enforcement, your guns will be confiscated and you will be cited, a serious offense here...July 1st even possession of a clip or mag that is capable of holding more than 10 rounds will find you behind bars...
Thanks for posting. Several competitive shooters ship their firearms and ammo to an FFL near the match and back home to avoid the airport challenges. Still need to be very aware of local regulations.

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