Account of Flying with Firearms

Here's an email that I received from a friend, in his own words.


From his email to me...
I’ve flown in-and out of Las Vegas several times, usually overloaded or the DC shoot, and have always had a way-too-easy experience with TSA flying out. Usually I have no inspection of my hardware, no unlocking, no waiting for the agent – just declare, the airline (always Virgin America) makes me unlatch a corner and slides the declaration in, and throw the cases on the belt (as a side benefit, never an overage charge for my case).

Friday was different. I had packed three laptops, a single Glock 19, and miles of power adapters and cables into a Pelican rifle case. I did the same routine at the counter, they dropped the case on the conveyor, and I did the TSA screening shuffle (wearing my DC 19 Opt-Out shirt, BTW), and about two minutes after I sat down at my gate I was paged. I was confident I knew what it was about, and went to the Virgin America employee, and she advised me that TSA needed to inspect my case and asked for my keys. I said no, explained why, and she escorted me to an agent. On the way I told her about other experiences and that this should be easy: I expected they’d escort me to their screening room, open the case, do the manual inspection, then send me on my way.

When we got to the agent the Virgin America employee explained I was paged, they asked for the keys, and I declined. I then was passed to a supervisor (in the same stupid glass booth), and did the same. He started being an ass, I defused the situation saying I was being cooperative, but had to follow their rules. I let him know how I’d been able to handle similar situations before, and he said it was a secure area and I was not going to be escorted down. The Virgin America employee handled it well and suggested they release the case to them, send it back to check-in for me to meet it, and I said I’d have no problem opening it for the TSA there. We all agreed (the TSA begrudgingly), and I had to leave the departures area, go back up to ticketing, and wait for my case. When it finally came, Virgin America escorted me to the TSA door, an agent popped out and she explained the situation to the TSA – he said ok, took the case, popped out a minute later, and said all was good. I hadn’t even had to open it. I then went through passenger screening again, opting out, and making more friends with the TSA.

My lessons are:

1) Always fly with your sheets printed out. This is the FIRST time I neglected to fly without them, and I usually have a copy in each case, along with one in my carry-on. I also realized that having the sheet locked in my case doesn’t help much when I’m trying to use it as evidence of why I don’t need to hand over keys to unlock it.

2) Virgin America rocks – they are always helpful, even if they don’t know squat about firearms. Nobody has ever had an issue, question, or problem once I’ve declared.

3) By much luck I was two hours early for my flight; I’m not sure how adamant I’d be if they started stretching things out to make me miss my flight.

4) People in power are assholes when you challenge them, and the act of saying “no” to them is a big challenge. I spent a lot of effort making sure he knew I wanted to help, and was working towards a common agreement, but that handing my keys over would not be part of that.

5) Your website loads quickly over mobile, and the PDF was easy to find in the middle of the article – Thanks!

6) The PDF doesn’t have a ton of strength around the not-handing-over-keys part, but I was able to latch onto the part about locks that no other person has the key to.

Thanks for your work on this in the past – I’ve used your guidance on almost every flight that I’ve made in the past several years.


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

check-in - no hassle, no delay
screening - in full view, lock and unlock yourself
luggage - all on time and intact

Three Stars
check-in - some delay or mild hassle
screening - somewhat obscured, locking and unlocking yourself or it's done directly in front of you
luggage - all on time and intact

Two Stars
check-in - major delay or major hassle
screening - in a room or area that you could not enter and could barely observe
luggage - luggage opened non-destructively

One Star
check-in - flight missed or passenger delayed from flying, properly packed items denied as luggage
screening - luggage unlocked and opened totally in another area fully removed from you
luggage - destructive entry into luggage and/or tampering with firearms

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