Account of Flying with Firearms

All Being
Frustrations in Oakland about whether or not the TSA can take your key to a back room and open luggage there.
OAK --> SEA --> CDV

CDV --> SEA --> OAK

All Being sent me this travel report, which is being posted here in his own words...


Luggage & Gear
Large metal mil surplus case. Case was two pieces with a plate securing the contents of half, like a lid within the case. Locked with two master locks. Two hand guns in a 5.11 soft case.


Outbound Travel
Getting our boarding passes was very uneventful. The ticketing person had me sign the declaration and put it inside the case. The lady really had zero cares about what I was flying with. She did ask if they were in a hard sided locked container. I said "This is my hard sided locked container." No big deal. Finished the boarding passes and put all of luggage on the belt and I figured that was it. Before I left the counter she asked for my key to the lock, in case they need to open it. I mentioned that the TSA rules state I am to be in control of the key at all times. She just smiled, asked to stick around for a couple minutes and moved on to the next person. Easy peasy, right? There were no marks or extra stickers except for the "heavy" stickers.

There was no secondary that was visible. After a few minutes of waiting, the ticket agent came to me asking for the key. I reminded her that TSA states, blah blah. She went through a locked door and got the TSA agent to come talk with. The TSA lady opened the door with a "your vacation is about to get off to a bad start" look. "I don't check it, it don't fly!" she said. I told her I had no problem with them checking it, but the rules states... She replied with "Who's rules?" I saw this was getting no where and quickly relented. She just wanted to check that there was a declaration in the case. I'm frustrated with myself for allowing this, I wasn't sure how much of a fight I was about to get into.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. I did loose my tobacco pipe lighter during screening. They notified me it was a torch. honestly didn't know. never got to use it. They were actually very apologetic about it.

When we arrived, all bags were secure. The other luggage was not "opened" or at least didn't have the TSA sheet in them. Except for the toddler's car seat.


Homebound Travel
Cordova is a very small airport. The TSA screeners were behind the ticketing counter. I did have a back and forth with the agent about the case. The TSA agent standing behind her, later found out he was a supervisor, said it is within standards. He asked for the key, and since he was nicer than OAK and I could watch them, I gave it to him.

The key was passed on to two agents who opened the case as a family member watched them. I was still settling ticketing as they were opening the case. I heard "How does this open?" in regards to the center plate. It has three 1" X 1/4" bars that swing in the middle to secure the plate and contents to the half. Instead of asking they opened it like a tuna can. I yelled at them, it felt good. but the damage was done. The case was broken and unable to secure the center lid. The supervisor was very nice and apologized. He gave me a claim for after I asked for it, and wrote his name on it. Stating, "I saw them pull the lid back and heard it break."

The noise of 90 pounds smashing onto the luggage carousel and the crowds reaction was enjoyable. I was hoping it broke the the thing. No such luck.


Final Details & Thoughts
In the end, and I hope you can give me some advice about this, I'm really bummed how I handled the situation in Oakland. I thought I was caught up on the rules and info before I got there. But I got tripped up on the thought of being tied up and missing our flight. Do I need to escalate to a supervisor right away? I'm making this trip again this year and will be bring our firearms.


Deviant's Thoughts
I am sorry for the delay and hassle that you experienced. Nowadays, the airports and the TSA have taken the interpretation that the customer is to retain the key on them at all times, but should surrender it to the screeners if the bag needs to be inspected and a screening area is not available in a publicly-accessible location.

The way i handle this is to demurr slightly, but push back a bit more in situations when people are being outright rude. If, however, it appears that there is no other recourse than to give a key to someone who is taking it to a back room, i have three personal rules...

1. I will only hand the key to a TSA staffer, not an airline representative or a 3rd party airport helper

2. I will always get the full name of the TSA staff member who takes possession of my key. I email it to myself and can follow-up later. I have had MUCH greater success with follow up claims if I know names, dates, and times.

3. I inspect my luggage fully upon receiving it at my destination. If there are any problems, I report them immediately before leaving the airport.

This may not be a perfect solution, but it is generally the best when you are faced with a screening area that is behind closed doors and when you are being asked to allow your luggage to be opened out of your sight.


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