Account of Flying with Firearms

Deviant Ollam & Lady Merlin
To Denver and back... on the last flights we will EVER take with Delta
PHL --> DTW --> DEN
2014-01-23


DEN --> ATL/MSP --> PHL
2014-01-27


Background Info
I take no responsibility for our flying on Delta on this trip. A friend of ours flew us out to stay at his place in Colorado because he had miles on this carrier. I knew it was possibly going to be problematic, but we were not fully prepared for just HOW much it was going to be an ordeal. This story of flying with firearms can serve as a full rundown of what happened.

 

Outbound Travel
As a United 1K premiere flier, I applied for a status match with Sky Team, given that our flights on Delta were coming up in early 2014. After weeks of no news, I eventually started pinging Delta to ask what was happening. Only then did someone in their Medallion program respond, saying they wanted to literally see my Mileage Plus membership card. I emailed a photograph, along with a huffy note, explaining that we were flying in mere days.

No status match came through in time for our outbound flight, sadly, and Lady Merlin and i faced $85 in baggage fees. The trip was off to a great start. Gail from Delta at PHL checked us in efficiently and quickly, as I was parted with my money.

In Denver we picked up our prearranged rental car which, ironically, was a Honda Fit. It was ironically named, because our Pelican cases wouldn't fit into this subcompact vehicle. I upgraded us to a midsize sedan (also not free, since this was not a Hertz rental, heh.) After a dinner with some 303 folk, we were off to Aspen for the X-Games and seeing our friends.

 

Homebound Travel
Our departure from the great state of Colorado was an ordeal to end all ordeals.

A snowstorm was on the way. Traffic was miserable. We returned our rental car and rode the world's slowest bus to the terminal. The check-in area was mobbed and the non-priority-optimized kiosk system that Delta uses was causing terrible back-ups. By the time we had eventually reached the front of the queue, it was about 50 minutes until our scheduled flight. Fortunately, however, our phones alerted us to the fact that it was slightly delayed.

Unfortunately, Caroline from Delta and the other check-in staff didn't have any record of the flight being delayed and we were told that we wouldn't be able to check in... not with my firearms, at least. Because there was no way to guarantee that our bags would make the flight in time, we were told that we couldn't get boarding passes. (Most airlines don't allow a "voluntary separation" of passengers from their luggage if firearms are involved.) Lady Merlin had to be at work the following day, and even though it was only the afternoon, virtually no other flights later in the day would help us. There were full flights that could get us home later, but we had no means of forcing ourselves onto them... even with my new SkyTeam status (which finally came through while we were out in Colorado.)

Yet again, this was an example of why flying United would have been so desirable. Being a 1K flier, we would have had the ability to pick any flight whatsoever and simply say, "Put us on that flight," and it would be done. Delta doesn't appear to have that option, however. So we were, for the moment, fucked.

For those who don't know, one of the most amazing benefits of being a 1K flier with United is the "bump other people" superpower. I can walk into any airport serviced by Untied Airlines, pick out any flight on the board (even a completely full one), and tell the desk staff, "I have to be on the 15:27 flight to ORD. I'm sorry, but you'll have to kick someone off." Like an A-Bomb, this is a rarely employed tactic... and you have to be sure it's what you really want to do... but having it in your arsenal is UNBELIEVABLY useful for occasions such as this.

In the end, with an aim of getting her home, I asked if Lady Merlin could fly on our predetermined, booked itinerary even if her luggage didn't make it with her. I would take a later flight and check all the firearms. This is what we did... splitting our PNRs in the process, so that my newfound Delta status didn't apply to her at all. Hooray, more bag fees and shitty boarding position.

As Lady Merlin ran to her gate, Caroline checked me in and a fellow named Santiago wheeled my firearm-bearing cases to a TSA screening room which was some distance away. While I was not able to enter the room, i could observe the screening easily and didn't mind them asking for my Abloy key...

...with screening complete, I proceeded through passenger screening (suddenly feeling my TSA Shoulder Syndrome flare up) and called Lady Merlin. She was still in the terminal somehow... our originally-scheduled flight was even further delayed. I most likely could have joined her on that flight anyway. I was able to see her off while she boarded... and then speak with her via text as her aircraft sat on the tarmac for about another 45 minutes. De-icing, taxiing, etc etc... the delays kept mounting.

A short while later, boarded my plane to Atlanta. It was known that there was basically no way I could connect in Atlanta to get home that night, so I prepared for another connection the following morning. Lady Merlin wound up still being in the air when the original connection from MSP to PHL departed. She would not make it home that night, either.

We would be spending the night alone, each of us not yet in our home town, without each other. :-(

Upon landing in Minneapolis, Lady Merlin was confronted with rude and unhelpful Delta employees, who refused to pull her luggage and give it to her. Lovely... who would need a coat when it's -11 degrees (-54 with wind chill) out? Delta also refused to give her any vouchers for food, hotel, etc. She arranged a ride herself to a local airport hotel and paid for a room on her own card.

I had landed in Atlanta and also needed to find myself a hotel. Frustrated with the whole process (my long flight didn't involve a seat upgrade, despite my Delta status match.) Without even bothering to make arrangements via phone, I just walked to the free hotel shuttles and was conveyed to a Holiday Inn. I took whatever room they could offer me and embarked upon an epic quest for food that evening which was recorded on Twitter.

Dissatisfied in most every way, and sad to be separated from my girlfriend who still hadn't made it home, I went to bed and looked forward to being home the following day.

In the morning, I rode to ATL and checked-in rather easily. My one small gun-bearing Pelican case was screened in a small TSA room far away from check-in. I didn't have to open it, rather they just did a chemical swab test. Seemingly moments before another snowstorm rolled through the south (it would utterly paralyze Atlanta's air and even auto traffic later that day and the following day, too) we pushed back from the gate and got airborne. I read on the flight home and was blissfully happy to be back in Philadelphia after what seemed like ages of unsatisfying and costly travel.

Not even setting foot in United terminals on this trip meant that I hadn't even had any way to visit lounges for free food... it was all airport purchased fare. Between meals, car costs, baggage fees, hotels, etc... i'd estimate that traveling with Delta & National as opposed to United & Hertz for this trip cost us at least $600 more than our preferred carriers would have. Ah well, we're still glad to have visited our friends out in Colorado and it was so generous of our buddy to arrange the tickets.

Still, as the old saying goes... "Ain't nothing quite so expensive as something that's free."

 

Final Details & Thoughts
Never again on Delta. Never. Again. Traveling with status is a wonderful thing, on my own carrier. Traveling like a regular peon... was utterly unbearable.

 

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