Account of Flying with Firearms

A great write-up from a fan online


This whole account will be in Mike's own words, since he sent in such a terrific write-up!


Pelican 1610 with two Abloy PL330s and my HK45 compact. Duffel bag with less valuable items, no lock.


Outbound Travel
Having not flown with firearms in checked baggage before, I arrived around two hours before the flight’s scheduled departure. This was a bit overkill since the smaller (Humphrey) terminal at MSP was not at all busy on a Tuesday afternoon. There was almost no line at the Southwest bag check counter, and the employees there were moving customers through very quickly. One agent mistakenly attached another passenger’s tag to my non-firearm bag, but the gentlemen helping me noticed and removed it before I could say anything. They seemed to know the firearm declaration process fairly well. I filled out the details on the declaration card and a Southwest employee asked if the firearm was unloaded and stored properly. I removed it from its small soft-sided case within the Pelican and verified this, but it seemed they were OK with my verbal confirmation. They elected to place the declaration card inside of the soft-sided case with the firearm and I re-locked the Pelican.

After sending off my non-firearm bag, I followed the Southwest rep over to a TSA baggage scanning station about 25 feet away from the counter. He asked to see my photo ID at this point -- I got the impression this was something he was supposed to do at the counter. The TSA folks were informed that my bag had a declared firearm and they loaded it into the scanning machine right away. They asked to unlock the case “to look at the ammo” (50 rounds of Federal .45acp ball in a factory box) so I handed over the key to a TSA employee. I was able to observe the whole search – he had some trouble with the key-retaining padlocks but with some prompting got the case open. He didn’t swab test anything, just took out the ammo box, opened it, and looked at the rounds in their plastic holder. Upon seeing my carry holster in the case he expressed some surprise that I carried a .45 and we chatted a bit about the amount of recoil. He threw in a notice of inspection despite the fact that I was standing right there, locked the case back up, applied a non-holographic but serialized TSA approval sticker to the bag tag (on the waxed sticker-backing paper portion!) and sent the case on its way before handing me my key.

Both of my checked bags arrived promptly and in good condition at the Atlanta airport. I made sure to get to baggage claim quickly from the gate, but even so my bags arrived a bit before I did. I was happy to see an airport employee actually checking passengers’ retrieved baggage against their ID and/or baggage claim receipt stubs.


Homebound Travel
There was only a short line at the Southwest counter at ATL, and the employee there filled out the flight info portion of the firearm tag for me before asking me to add my address, phone number, and signature. I unlocked the case but they did not ask to inspect the firearm at all.

I was told to take the case back across the lobby to an oversized baggage check area where a TSA employee helpfully told me that I was in the wrong place and then proceeded to check the bag anyway. She opened the (still unlocked) case and did a swab test on a number of items, but didn’t pay any special attention to the firearm or ammunition. The luggage tag was then marked with some vaguely numeric scribbles in dark green Sharpie. She asked me to replace the locks. A different TSA employee placed the case on a luggage trolley. I asked if I had to wait for any other scanning, and was told I was all set. I decided to print a boarding pass at the check-in desk after completing the bag check process just to see if any extra firearm-related information had been added, but there did not seem to be any change from the information on a pass I had printed the night before.

Once again both bags arrived at the destination baggage claim unmolested. No one was checking IDs or claim receipts at MSP, but it wasn’t very busy and I was able to get to the carousel well before my luggage.


Final Details & Thoughts
Overall the whole trip went very smoothly from a firearms in baggage perspective. Both sets of airline and TSA employees seemed relatively familiar with the declaration procedure. In both cases I got through passenger security and out to my gate with more than an hour to spare despite opting out of full-body scanners and having no special airline or pre-check status. I definitely plan to include firearms in my checked baggage in the future when other valuable items are involved so that I can use decent locks.

Thanks again for your work documenting this process and for your excellent physical security talks.


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