Account of Flying with Firearms

Deviant Ollam
An easy series of hops for work in Seattle and family in Montana. Nice and simple.
PHL --> ORD --> SEA


MSO --> DEN --> PHL

Luggage & Gear
For this trip to Seattle, I had two Pelican cases... a larger 1620 and a small 1500, each with a pistol (a Walther PPS and a 1911, if I recall correctly) and each case had the usual Abloy Protec PL330 and PL321 locks.


First Leg
Leslie McCalister from United checked me in, assisted by Christopher Smith from Prime Flight (the PHL airport contractor). There was lots of curiosity about my ammo during check-in... how it was packed, how much I had, etc. Leslie didn't understand about the second firearm when I attempted to fill out a second declaration card. "You don't have to declare ammo" she said. I explained that there was another pistol and she asked why not just put them in the same case. Heh, right.

The bags went back to the TSA, and five minutes later Christopher came out asking for the key. I explained (as he knew from dealing with me in the past) that I will only give the key to the TSA. Four minutes later Antoin Debose from the TSA came out, took my key, and was very polite. He headed back, and then five minutes later, Christopher returned with my key. I was all set.

I'm not wild about them attempting to always get the third party contractors to get people's gun case keys, or to have these folk in control of the keys at any time, really. It's not a major issue... but just do you damn jobs, TSA. Come to the customer, let us work with you to get the case open, etc.

When arriving in Seattle, I was told that gun cases don't get sent up on the regular luggage belt. Well, they did. At least I have the peace of mind that everything was locked. ;-)


Second Leg
Terry from Alaska Air was checking me in at SEA. I declared my firearms and things went pretty smoothly until I noted that their system didn't give me pre-check. I explained that as a Global Entry member, I have a known traveler number. "How do I know the number is really yours?" she asked. Really? I explained that the entire purpose of said number is to link up with the federal database of fliers. The system would reject it right away if someone tried to use a fake one, I noted. It wouldn't match my name.

Things were processed pretty fast and I proceeded to the TSA who were behind a small half-wall of frosted glass. TSO Schearer did a swab of the outside of the cases, checked how secure the latches were, asked me a few times to confirm that declaration cards were inside, then ran things through the CTX machine. There was no need to open either case.


Third Leg
Coming back to Philly from Montana tends to always be an easy prospect, and this journey was no exception. United's station at MSO isn't always staffed very well, but they're fast. The TSA screening area is in the check-in hall about 50 yards away, and things there are always well-staffed. There was an alarm on one case, LTSO Pulse checked things. He pulled out a lot of items, swabbed things, and I was re-locking in no time. Missoula is a very nice place to visit and a good spot to screen a firearm for flight. :-)


Final Details & Thoughts
This was an easy series of flights, with no real hassles and no major problems. The next journey, heh... that's another story.


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