It’s that time of the year when millions of people subject themselves to the domestic feel-good airline security theater and the gauntlet known as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Inevitably, a certain percentage of travelers will decide to bring their firearm with them, although some will do it unintentionally or illegally as over 3,391 firearms in checked bags were caught by TSA in 2016. So, it behooves you to avoid these pitfalls and understand the rules and regulations governing the TSA and various airlines. SOFREP has touched on this topic before, but I want to share a couple of points and experiences that will make the trip hopefully uneventful.
Know and comply with the rules governing firearms at your final destination. Even the ones at any layovers. This should be obvious, but make sure that scary looking black rifle or conceal carry license/permit is accepted at the state and localities you wish to travel to. If you end up on a layover that requires you to spend the night due to unforeseen circumstances, make sure you check the firearm laws there before claiming your luggage for the night. If possible, I always try to fly direct and avoid losing luggage at any layovers. Specific National Firearm Act (NFA) items, such as short-barreled rifles/shotguns, suppressors/mufflers/silencers, or fully automatic firearms may also face additional restrictions.
Always check for updated TSA and applicable airline rules and regulations. These rarely change, but you never know. And prior to boarding a flight is not the time to learn them. Every airline allows firearms and ammunition in their checked baggage, but different transport and weight limitations may apply. Rules are universal, but the interpretation isn’t, so don’t be surprised if the airline employee or TSA agent are unsure about the rules themselves. Most airlines don’t require their employees to look at the firearm themselves, (most wouldn’t know what to look for anyway) but I’ve seen this happen before. More than not, I have printed out the TSA and airline company rules and brought it with me to the airport to clarify and head off any potential problems. Even a simple thing like storing ammo will differ from airline to airline. Some will allow ammunition kept in the magazine (separate from the firearm) while others will frown on that if they catch it. Therefore, I recommend empty magazines/clips and leaving the ammunition in the boxed case it came in. Or get yourself a plastic case that holds the rounds individually. This goes for rifle, handgun, or shotgun ammunition. Keeping everything tidy goes a long way to avoiding hassles.
Not all airports are equal. I’ve traveled through my fair share of different airports with my declared firearms, but I find the experiences inconsistent at times. All airports operate in compliance with TSA regulations, but how they handle it will be different. Some airports will check and swab your luggage for explosive residue in front of you. Others will do it behind the secured area and ask you to wait nearby until they say you are good to go. I don’t like the latter, but you generally have no choice on how the airport dictates that. The Phoenix airport, for example, is consistent and always checks the firearm case in front of me in an area off to the side. Philadelphia seems to go one way or the other, based on what airline you are using or what level of construction the airport is under. Dallas-Fort Worth doesn’t have room in the ticketing area to do inspections and will always do it behind closed doors until they give you the go ahead.