Account of Flying with Firearms

Deviant Ollam
Incompetence at HNL leads to the longest bag screening process ever and narrowly avoiding cut locks. Know your procedures, people!!
PHL --> SFO --> HNL
2014-05-09


HNL --> SFO --> PHL
2014-05-18


Luggage & Gear
This was a most delightful of trips... one in which no damn work gear had to come with us. Since we were planning on being in Hawaii for quite a period of time, I didn't want to run afoul of any time limits after which a handgun would have to be declared. The ol' flare pistol did the job for this packing... with Abloy PL330 locks.

 

Outbound Travel
Dalton from Prime Flight (a 3rd party contractor) checked me in with the help of his collegue Yakima. When they realized I had a firearm, United staff's attention was garnered. Someone from United directed me down to the non-priority line. Uhm... no. I realize it was hecitc that afternoon, but I insisted that I was in the right place and assured them the check-in would proceed right where I was standing.

John, a terse supervisor whom I'd seen often in the past, was flagged down and he signed my declaration form without so much as a single word spoken to anyone. My luggage was sent back and 4 minutes later Yakima said we were given the all-clear.

TSA Pre-check and some upgrades to 1st class made short work of getting us to Honolulu. The bags all arrived just fine and i've never EVER in my life had such a wonderful time picking up a rental car at HNL. Normally that airport's Hertz counter is a goddamn zoo packed with clueless families of confused parents and whining children. It was deserted at the midnight hour of our arrival. I was in and out of the Hertz office in about 90 seconds.

 

Homebound Travel
Coming home was a real mess, unfortunately. David Tamahana from United checked me in and asked which bag had my firearm. Since one piece of luggage was a hard Pelican case and the other was quite clearly a cotton laundry duffel bag I was surprised there could be any doubt. Still and all, we got the paperwork filled out (David didn't like the idea of just affixing a stubby to the orange tag, he called that "the lazy way") and he asked an associate about which luggage belt to use.

All bags were sent back and we waited a bit for luggage screening. Ten minutes later, I walked back to the counter to ask about our status. An asian woman said "I'll go check" and badged herself into the back room. She never returned.

Five minutes after that, David came back over and said we must likely be OK. I explained how "likely" was not sufficient and that we needed positive confirmation. Staff conferred, but no one had answers. We waited some more.

A further ten minutes passed, then David came over and said "it really should be all clear." I explained AGAIN about how someone needed to call down to the TSA directly to be sure. David printed out some paperwork from his computer regarding my firearm (on ticket stock) and tried to get some people on the phone. He was reading my bag tag and the like to someone, listening, then pecking away at his computer.

Exactly 30 minutes after sending my luggage back, David now said that he could confirm everything had cleared. He was on the phone with Operations... the department responsibe for paging passengers if the TSA needs to open a locked case, etc.

We passed through passenger screening and walked right to our gate to await boarding.

At the gate, where we arrived 9 minutes after leaving David Tamahana's presence, Albert Martin from United paged me after we had stood in line for 4 minutes (our group was about to board). He and his associate Barry (who was on the phone) explained that the TSA needed to open my luggage. I was incredulous and incensed. They were very apologetic, especially after they learned that I did everything possible to avoid this. They felt even worse when realizing that my locks had been cut off at this airport in the past. Then they were REALLY worried when I explained that the locks I was using on this trip (Abloy PL330s) were of a construction that the airport likely COULDN'T cut off even if they wanted to.

Barry explained that someone would run my key down and bring it back quickly. He dashed off and returned shortly, explaining that the case was being screened and someone else would be up presently with my key. They even said I could board and someone would bring the key to me in my seat. I opted to wait in the gate area.

Eventually, 19 minutes after Barry had taken the key down (and a full hour and five minutes from the time my bags initially had gone back on the belt at check-in) a woman ran up with my key and I was the last person to board the aircraft. Thankfully, Lady Merlin had already stowed my backpack and our first class seats had plenty of room.

The luggage arrived home in Philly without difficulty and no locks had to be cut that day. I had JUST gotten a recent check from the TSA for this problem over a year ago. I'm glad I didn't have to go through the same process again.

 

Final Details & Thoughts
Honolulu airport doesn't see many guns. They do not have their act together, at least at check-in. Barry and Albert at the gate explained that David Tamahana did not know the correct procedure and that he (David) should have simply dialed the TSA directly to assess whether the luggage was cleared or not.

Anyone at HNL can reach their local TSA station desk and screening area by phone, but use of an outside line may be necessary.

 

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