Matt's Account of Flying with Firearms

A traveler gets briefly separated from their firearm for one day on a trip out of Dallas


Travel Account

I've appreciated your content and the resources you've made available, especially when it comes to flying with firearms. If you are still compiling information, I have an experience to share that I think will help other people.

This week I flew to Dallas from Bangor Maine to hunt with friends. In my pelican case I had a handgun and two rifles for the trip, and no ammunition. I was flying via American Airlines, and had printed off your cheat sheet of TSA regulations. As I expected, I encountered a lot of ignorance regarding policy, but it was pretty easy to convince them of the proper procedure. They did tag the case as a firearm however, and tried to separate me from my keys twice. 

My trip back from DFW was an absolute disaster though from the winter storm they had. Three cancelled flights, and one of them almost sent my firearms to Philly without me when I had to cancel. However, yesterday was the real disaster which I'll try to detail below:

My flight was a 06:45 flight and I arrived at about 05:30 to DFW which was an absolute shambles from the snow they had gotten. I went to the counter and was informed that TSA was not manning any oversize room. My error was not insisting harder, but I agreed to send the case to the bag room without an inspection, and would be called if the case needed to be opened. I went through the checkpoint with my shooters belt on because I forgot and no one called me one (great job boys) and bored since I never got a call.

That was the wrong move, since I got to Bangor and my case didn't. AA handled it, found it in DFW and had it sent the next day, especially since I impressed upon them how badly they had broken the chain of custody. It came today, locks intact and unmolested, which I found surprising since the ticket counter suspected that TSA would cut the locks and zip tie it back shut, which they had seen frequently.

Here's the takeaway:

There is a potential that if a bag doesn't get inspected, and you leave and it stays, it gets stuck in legal limbo where it can't board because it isn't inspected, and it can't be inspected because you have the keys. I don't have a good answer for how to deal with this situation. The best I can figure is to ask them to ship it to you or to your FFL. Worst case, call BATFE and have them yell at TSA for you, and initiate the greatest slap fight between flaccid government agencies in known history. I'd be very curious as to what your suggestion would be in this case.

There is new communication from TSA where the number of locks has to match the number of hasps on the case. Four holes, four locks. Thankfully, no one reads that so no one questioned me until I arrived. You can totally pull the trick of weighing the case without the locks and open to save you some baggage weight. Every time I tried it it worked. Thank you for saving me $140 in overweight fees.

Thanks for your time, and I appreciate the resources you provide. I hope I was detailed enough here and I welcome questions. I just hope that this helps anyone else dealing with ignorance and bureaucracy, and frankly it gives me some closure to vent about it too. This seemed like an interesting rabbit hole I never thought I would encounter.

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