Account of Flying with Firearms

International travel proves difficult for someone departing from Canada.
YHZ --> PHL --> BNA

BNA --> PHL --> YZH

Luggage & Gear
J. had a Pelican case with Abloy PL330 padlocks. Here's the account of his travel, in his own words...


Outbound Travel
The airline agent said "No problem", provided the unloaded firearms declaration form, and then asked to see the firearms. She visualized the firearms, nodded her approval, told me to re-lock the case. Then she asked for the key (which is very unusual). Surprised, I said: "What?" She said that the screeners might need to look inside the case, and that I could give her the key. I told her, simply: "I'm sorry, but I can't do that." She said it was okay and sent me on to the CATSA screening area, which is located immediately behind the U.S. Airways counter.

The CATSA screener protested the "guns and bullets" being in the same checked bag, saying it was not permitted. She conferred with a second CATSA screener, who also insisted to me that it was not permitted. They implied that the contents were not packed properly, using inaccurate and loaded terms like "loose clips", "packed together", and "thrown in there", but they also refused to open the case to look inside. They actually accepted my offer of the key, and one screener held and examined the key closely, but they refused to open the case, saying that opening the case was not permitted. The second screener called a CATSA supervisor, who also insisted to me that my single checked bag was not permitted, saying that I needed to check an additional bag (with the ammunition). Despite my presentation of CATSA and U.S. Airways flying-with-firearms documents, they just wouldn't back down. The CATSA supervisor would not permit any further (higher) avenue of appeal, saying: "I am the supervisor." In my experience, unions tell their members to "Obey now; grieve later", so I told the supervisor that Obey now; grieve later was exactly what I would do, taking their respective (first) names before returning to the U.S. Airways counter, and then to the privacy of a handicapped washroom, to re-pack to the CATSA screeners' arbitrary new standard… which also came with an additional monetary cost of US$35.

The second time around, the CATSA screeners ran both bags through the scanner without examination or comment. Two screeners, and a lot of gawkers, but no supervisor. The bags were weighed and then left in a roped-off area to be picked up by an employee of the airline.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. My bags were on the carousel; their locks were still intact.


Homebound Travel
Checking in for the return flight, the airline agent said "No problem", provided the unloaded firearms declaration form, and then asked to see the firearms. She visualized the firearms, nodded her approval, and told me to re-lock the case. She asked if the locks were TSA locks, and I told her that they were not. She told me that I should use TSA locks, and I said that I could not. She told me that the regulations had been changed. "Who changed them?" "The TSA", she said. I mentioned that the U.S. Congress might have something to say about that. She told me to give her the key. I told her, simply: "I can't do that." She said that the screeners might need to look inside the case, they they were located out of sight behind the walls somewhere, and that I could give her the key. "They've changed the rules", she said. Once again, I said: "I can't do that." In that case, she said, I would have to "…wait over by the scale…" until she could confirm that my bag had cleared TSA.

I waited by the scale; minutes later the the U.S. Airways agent gave me a 'thumbs-up' sign. Apparently, there had been no issue during the TSA screening.

U.S. Airways required me to gate-check my carry-on (BNA>PHL); in moments like these, I 'm happy the bag is a Protec'd Pelican. I dislike gate-checking; no airline employee collects - or even looks at - the gate-check claim stubs. For the next leg (PHL>YHZ), I did not gate-check; I carried-on. My checked bag was on the carousel; it's locks were still intact.


Final Details & Thoughts
I filed a formal complaint with CATSA. Following their investigation, CATSA's customer service agent insisted on speaking by telephone. She told me, verbally, that their investigation had found that the evidence was consistent with my account, that their screeners and their supervisor had all been mistaken, and that they had now been educated on the correct policy, which (essentially) defers to the respective policies of the respective airline. CATSA's written responses to me were not so unequivocal; frankly, they were as clear as mud; they used the words "…we have addressed this matter with the screening personnel involved…as well as headquarter management" and "We apologize" but, clearly, the written responses are cleverly calculated to concede as little fault as possible.

I am not the only person that this has happened to; many others have reported the exact same treatment from CATSA screeners and CATSA customer service. Absent a more-clear public statement from CATSA, I'm certain that this CATSA screeners' arbitrary standard will be misapplied again, to someone else, if not to me. I'm still out-of-pocket US$35. for the extra cost of the CATSA screeners', and their supervisor's, error; I still don't have a document clear enough and with small enough words to be read and understood by a CATSA screener (and thus to prevent this from happening again); in the real world, that is to be expected.


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