Account of Flying with Firearms

J
Into and out of Texas with ease for this man's trip.
PHL --> AUS
2014-08-12


AUS --> DFW
2014-08-14


Here's the Story
This is a travel account in J's own words. We thank him for his feedback and appreciate his comments on the site being informative and useful.

Travel Account
I traveled from PHL to AUS on US Airways on 8-12-2014, returned AUS to DFW to PHL on American Airlines on 8-14-2014. This was a business trip, so schedule drove choice of airline. I traveled with my CCW pistol locked in a small Pelican case, secured by two Master keyed locks. I had two empty magazines in the Pelican case. I put the Pelican case and a box of ammo (in the standard manufacturer’s cardboard box) into a soft-sided American Tourister suitcase and secured it with a TSA lock.

I had a mostly positive experience at PHL, the major exception being that I couldn’t see my bag being screened. When I got into the US Airways check-in area between terminals B and C, I asked an employee whose name I didn’t catch what check-in line to use if I needed to declare a firearm; she didn’t bat an eye and pointed me to the special assistance line. The check-in clerk there, JoAnn B., also seemed accustomed to folks checking weapons. [Note from Deviant - Yes, JoAnn has plenty of experience in thsi department... she's checked me in loads of times when I used to fly on US Air.] She handed me the orange declaration card to fill out, checked my ID and gave me my boarding pass, ran my credit card for the checked-bag fee, and escorted me down to desk 19 for the bag to be checked by TSA. She put the bag on the conveyer belt through a curtain and told the TSA guys behind the curtain that there was a weapon in the bag. She then stood there chatting with me for about five minutes while the TSA guys checked the bag, and stuck her head through the curtain twice to see whether they were done. I was wearing a suit and tie, and she remarked, “Doesn’t look like you’re going hunting.” (True, I wasn’t.) We then talked a little about some of the other people she had seen check firearms. She volunteered the view that some of those yahoos really shouldn’t have guns, and wondered why on earth one would take a gun while taking the family to Disney World. I politely tried to explain that I usually do travel armed when I take my children somewhere, and why. I doubt I changed her mind about anything (although a polite guy in a suit speaking calmly and saying reasonable things might have helped a bit), but she wasn’t hostile about it, recognized that the rules were the rules and she had to do her job. When the TSA guys confirmed the bag was cleared, she told me so, I thanked her, and she wished me a pleasant flight.

There were no special markings that I could see on the bag, the printed luggage tag or my boarding pass. I confirmed with JoAnn that I should put the declaration tag inside the soft-sided suitcase but not inside the gun case, and did so. There was more typing than usual during the process of issuing my boarding pass, so it’s possible there was some flag in the computerized passenger record, but I didn’t specifically ask.

The screening was done behind desk 19 between terminals B and C. After getting my boarding pass, JoAnn walked down to that desk with me (maybe 20 yards) and placed the bag on a conveyer belt, where it went through a curtain into a back room. I was not able to see the screening process at all. However, nobody asked me for the keys, and the locks on the gun case weren’t TSA compliant, so I assume they saw no need to open the gun case. From getting to desk 19 to getting the all-clear on my bag, the screening process took maybe five minutes, with JoAnn waiting there with me the whole time. There was no suggestion that I should do anything other than wait for the TSA folks to do their inspection. I never saw a TSA employee or got any pushback about how the gun or the ammo had been packed. When I arrived at AUS, there was no TSA slip inside the suitcase indicating that the bag had been opened, so it is possible that all they did was x-ray and/or residue test it along the outside. But I don’t know whether they opened the outside suitcase or not.

After TSA cleared the bag, the rest of my experience was uneventful. The outside of my bag was wet when I got to AUS (it had been raining in PHL the entire time I was at the airport), but otherwise no problems. My suitcase was on the carousel with everyone else’s, no indication of tampering.

On the return trip, I had another positive experience at AUS. Setup was the same – pistol in a locked Pelican case, ammo in the cardboard box inside the suitcase with a TSA lock. Again, I asked an employee which line to use to check a firearm, and she put me in the right place without blinking. The check-in clerk’s name was Sarah, and she was also entirely professional. She gave me the declaration card (white, on American Airlines), gave me my boarding passes and a receipt for the checked bag fee, and directed me to the TSA checkpoint 20 yards away. She didn’t walk down with me to the checkpoint, but she had several people in line behind me and the checkpoint wasn’t hard to find. Again, no visible indication of firearms on the outside of the bag, although again there was some typing that might have been a flag on the passenger record, though again I didn’t ask.

At the American/United end of the AUS terminal, the TSA screening checkpoint is between the American and United check-in desks. It’s roped off, but in plain view to the check-in lines and the rest of the outside-security portion of the terminal. There was only one TSA screener working when I got there, and maybe ten oversized bags waiting for him to check. But when he finished the bag he was working on and saw me (and two more people checking guns) waiting, he put our bags ahead of the golf bags that had just been left. Although there was what looked to be an x-ray machine at the checkpoint, he didn’t run my bag through it. He asked me to open the TSA lock on the outside of the suitcase, which I did. He then opened my suitcase, asked me if I had the declaration form (I pointed it out to him; it was inside the suitcase, where Sarah had told me to put it), and both manually inspected nearly everything in the bag and ran the explosive residue test on the inside of the bag. He didn’t ask for the key to open the gun case and didn’t open the cardboard box containing ammo. He did fold the declaration card up and place it so it nested inside the handle of the pistol case. When he was done, he repacked the bag, put in an inspection slip with time, date and location stamped on it, zipped up the bag and invited me to reapply the TSA lock to the outside suitcase, which I did. The whole process took about ten minutes, and I spent some of it chatting with the other gun owners in line with me. (We agreed that our real problem was that none of us made enough money to be flying in a private jet, where we wouldn’t have to put up with this.) As I was leaving to go to my gate, a second TSA officer came up to help the first TSO inspect bags. Neither one of them gave me any grief at all.

Flight experience back was uneventful. My layover at DFW was about an hour, and my bag made it on to my onward flight to PHL and was on the carousel with everyone else’s. No indication of tampering, apart from the time-stamped inspection slip that I’d seen the TSO in AUS put in.

 

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