Account of Flying with Firearms

Deviant Ollam
Into and out of Florida, with little trouble this time.
RDU --> IAD --> MCO
2015-03-22


MCO --> ORD --> PHL
2015-03-26


Luggage & Gear
Speaking at an event in Florida required me to fly down directly from CarolinaCon with a whole lot of equipment. After giving a keynote, my team and I rocked a hands-on demo for the attendees. The conference put me up in some really nice digs, and I was glad to have Babak and David with me. For gear, it was Pelican cases featuring Abloy PL330 and PL321 locks, along with an H&K USPc, a Walther PPS, and a Beretta M9.

 

Outbound Travel
When checking in at Raleigh airport, Alix B. seemed somewhat familiar with the process regarding firearms. He said a simple "OK" when I declared, then six minutes later I was done with him and he sent me waaaay far away to a zone behind the American Airlines check-in counters where special luggage is handled. I was glad to have kept my SmartCarte. There was a person sitting there at oversize/special baggage but he apparently didn't have anything to do with firearms check-in. So I put my cases there and waited.

...and waited. And waited. The TSA was nowhere to be seen and this person from the airport didn't understand that I had to actually wait for my luggage to be cleared. He kept trying to say that I could "just leave the bags and go to my flight" but I kept standing there, asking to see the TSA. No real answer was given. Almost 10 minutes after arriving there, another airport staffer showed up, saying that the ticket counter is supposed to contact the TSA and request that they send someone over. Now people were on phones and radios, and eventually the TSA came out. It appeared to be a two-person team with a young man training and older fellow.

I unlocked my cases. They performed a swab test of my range bag (this is the item most likely to have gunpowder residue on it, so I wondered how it would turn out) and nothing alerted. They then proceeded to unzip my gun bag and dig through it a bit, which I didn't care for. They though they had found "loose rounds" but I explained what snap caps were and how they aren't ammunition. A few minutes later they were on to the second case, with the young man instructing his older companion, "Alright, find the firearm." The older TSO asked if it was alright that my small pistol case didn't lock, and the young man corrected him about the fact that as long as everything was inside of a larger locking case (i.e. the Pelican luggage itself) I was fine. Again they swabbed the pistol case. They checked the third bag, then finally I was all done. I watched them lock everything with my key and hand it back to me. The bags then sat there waiting, apparently because the airport 3rd party contractors actually take them down to the bowels of the building.

The TSOs said they'll use the CTX machine down there and if someone says they need the key again, they'll call me. So there I stood, waiting. This was now 20 minutes since I had arrived at the special luggage area. Five minutes later, I became perturbed. It was now a half hours since I'd set foot into RDU airport.

Minutes later, a woman from the airport asked what I was waiting for. I explained about the TSA and how my flight was getting ever-closer. (I had some time still, but this wait was just not acceptable.) She called TSA Screener Ops whose number apparently is +1-9191-468-4053. Within two minutes, it was confirmed that my luggage had cleared and I was able to head to passenger screening. Neither of the TSOs had felt the need to come back out and tell me this.

 

Homebound Travel
Flying out of Orlando is always an experience. Checking in super early in the AM, Michelle from United was speaking to Patsy and getting me sorted out, lightning fast. Four minutes after setting foot in the airport, I was at the oversize luggage area and Clark Rothman from the TSA was telling me that each of my cases alarmed. So I unlocked them, and he used his ergonomic lift-o-matic table to check them out.

The smaller cases went quickly, and my large green case didn't take much more than three or four minutes. He did pull my laptop and walk away with it, which I didn't appreciate, but it was just for a swab test and not too far from where I was standing. I helped repack everything and I was ultimately on my way eight minutes after heading to this station. Not super bad.

 

Final Details & Thoughts
North Carolina and Florida, despite being gun-friendly states, aren't ever the smoothest process for me. Not bad, though. In the end, I got where I was headed and no luggage was lost, etc.

 

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