Account of Flying with Firearms

Echo
A buddy learns that you can't transport an empty mag through passenger screening, but all turns out just fine.
SFO --> LAS
2016-08-02


LAS --> SFO
2016-08-06


Luggage & Gear
This trip to Las Vegas for "Black Hat, hedonistic debauchery, and the DEF CON 24 Shoot" is told in Echo's own words...

 

Outbound Travel
At SFO JetBlue happens to use the international terminal for domestic hops. Kiosks were bugged/not responding so I went directly to the check in desk. Jetblue charges $20 if you buy a checked bag online or at a kiosk but slaps an extra $5 fee if you do so at the desk, but I was only charged the $20 since the kiosks were borked. Staff member was nice enough, had to go looking for declaration forms and couldn’t discern whether I needed a single form for the case or one per firearm. We ended up filling out a total of 3 declarations and then I found out JetBlue has a policy (at least at SFO) of not opening firearm containers in front of other customers.

We walked over to TSA’s special baggage area just down the hall where I was instructed to place my case on a conveyer belt that led inside the booth. TSA agent then grabbed the case and brought it back over to me on his side of the rope. He showed no interest in examining or otherwise inspecting the case, nor did JetBlue’s staff express an interest in confirming compliance with their ridiculous policies. TSA agent had me take off one of my 321s and hold open the side of the case so he could shove the declarations inside. Apparently once the case was re-locked that was good enough, and the bag was sent on it’s way. At LAS the Pelican was brought out by JetBlue staff and delivered to me directly in the same condition in which it was checked. Overall simple, easy, no issues.

Homebound Travel
Coming back to LAS for my return to SFO was simple enough. Same process as before at the counter, kiosks actually in working order this time around. Only issue was the JetBlue staff tried to wrap the declaration form (just one this time) around the handle of the case. I politely informed her of TSA’s policy’s and she got in unwrapped and I shoved it inside the case. We took a short minute-long walk to a secured set of double doors where it disappeared from sight, I was informed everything was fine shortly after. Here’s where I have a problem. I had a feeling my backpack was goanna get pulled for additional inspection at SFO because of some disassembled magazine parts (bodies were in the Pelican) as extra CYA protection as I was in no mood to discuss what is and what isn’t covered under FOPA’s safe travel provision, since current SF law makes it a crime to even transport standard capacity mags. However that didn’t end up happening, but the bag did get pulled at LAS because I had a fully assembled Hexmag in the side pocket I assumed wouldn’t be an issue. Turns out FAA has policy’s on “gun parts” in carry-ons and objects that legally speaking are paperweights, this was news to me.

I want to say TSA at LAS where extremely professional and very helpful in dealing with the situation. Legally speaking it wouldn’t exactly be kosher to just dump the mag in the trash, and the suggestion that I might be able to drop it in the USO donation box while funny wasn’t going to fly considering it’s an unsecured box and there’s possible ITAR issues if anything goes international along with legal concerns I couldn’t think of at the time. So that left me with 3 options, either come back through screening and “abandon” it in a bowl, (apparently they couldn’t take it directly), attempt to mail it to myself (which was more than the cost of the mag itself), or see if I can get my case back, shove it in, then re check it.

I preferred option 3 since I wasn’t really cool with throwing out property that I can’t legally speaking acquire again while living in Cali. A TSA staffer walked me through back to check-in and told me to go through TSA’s priority employee line on my way back through. The gentleman himself was a “gun guy” in his words and a former correctional officer, was very helpful and professional throughout the entire process. Luckily JetBlue was able to pull my Pelican and send it down to bag claim. I repacked with my other box and spring secured and re-checked the bag then got the 2nd all clear from TSA special screening I was all good. As Promised I was able to walk directly through TSA’s priority employee line and after undressing part way I was able to reconnect with the rest of my party and made my flight no problem. Upon arrival at SFO’s International Terminal my Pelican 1700 gracefully careened down the carrousel looking exactly the same as when it was checked in.

 

Final Details & Thoughts
While JetBlue’s staff seem to be acutely aware of their ammo policy, none of them were too familiar with the process in general, however this didn’t create any issues. I assumed at some point TSA would ask for the bag to be open for manual inspection, especially at SFO however they merely sent it on its way without any further delay.

 

Air Travel Ratings
If you don't have the time or the desire to read the full text of someone's account of air travel, you can simply refer to the rating shown at the conclusion of each portion of that person's journey. The following criteria are used in assigning these ratings...


Four Stars
  

wheels up - luggage screened directly in front of you; you were certain the firearms cleared
wheels down - luggage arrived promptly and undisturbed


Three Stars
  
wheels up - luggage screened relatively near you you; you were fairly sure the firearms cleared
wheels down - luggage arrived with little delay but possibly bearing zip ties or other nonsense

Two Stars
  
wheels up - luggage screened somewhere totally removed from you; only indirect assurances that your firearms cleared
wheels down - luggage was very slow to arrive and/or you had some difficult interactions with airline staff

One Star
  
wheels up - luggage screened somewhere totally removed from you; no one could assure you that your firearms cleared
wheels down - luggage was misrouted or mishandled and had to be delivered to you later

Zero Stars
  
This is a special category for irreparable damage to luggage, locks, or your firearms... or outright theft or loss of them.
half-star results are possible... naturally, they involve partial or mitigated problems that somehow fall in-between the above categories