Guide to Taking a Gun on an Airplane (2019)
Flying With a Firearm
Most gun owners, at some point, end up wondering whether it is legal to fly with their firearm. Some folks just want to understand the airport and TSA’s regulations for bringing firearms with them on their trip. It is also important to take into account the airlines each have their own independent policies on firearms. Most countries have various laws and/or requirements for bringing firearms within their borders. That said, while it may seem daunting to fly with a firearm, it is most certainly possible. And learning a few key things can help a gun owner travel with their firearm more easily. Some of the most important questions include:
- Where are firearms picked up from on the receiving end of the journey?
- What happens when a firearm gets lost like luggage?
- What case is ideal for transporting a firearm on a plane?
- How is ammo transported for flying?
- & many more.
It also helps to know federal law for traveling with a firearm.
How to Fly With a Gun: TSA Rules and Regulations
Firstly, it is always wise (and necessary according to most airline’s terms) to inform any airline that a checked luggage contains a firearm. Firearms must be declared before being checked. All firearms must be transported UNLOADED! It must be transported in checked baggage. The TSA requires a hard-sided case, oftentimes the manufacturer’s case works great as it is specifically made for the firearm. They also need to be locked in this case, and only the passenger (owner of the firearm) should retain the key or combination to the lock, unless otherwise instructed by TSA.1
Additionally, TSA restricts passengers from flying with any gun parts or ammunition in their carry-on baggage. Parts, magazines, bolts, firing pins, and ammo, no matter how deconstructed, needs to be transported in checked luggage. Even replica guns need to be transported in checked baggage. It is possible, however, to stow small arms ammunition in the same locked hard-sided case as the unloaded firearm. And rifle scopes are permitted in carry-on baggage!1
Retrieving the firearm after the flight is over (at the end of the line, destination city), is a little different than retrieving normal luggage. Luggage that contains a firearm will not be submitted to the normal baggage claim conveyor belt (baggage carousel). TSA, or receiving airport personnel depending upon the country and destination, will hold luggage containing firearms at the TSA baggage desk instead. The passenger can retrieve their luggage containing firearms by offering an ID to collect it.
How Do Airlines Handle Firearms?
The individual airlines all have their own policies on traveling with firearms on their planes. These are what the top airlines have to say about bringing a gun onboard.
American Airlines stands by the TSA in repeating many of the same basic rules offered on the TSA’s website in terms of traveling with firearms. American Airlines does draw a couple rules of their own as well, however, including: passengers must be 18 years or older to check a firearm, rifle cases must be locked at each end, and that ammunition is not acceptable to check unless it is properly packaged.2
Delta puts a specific limit on the amount of ammunition which can be transported, stating that no more than 11 pounds (including the case) can be checked. All parts and accessories must be stored in the same case as the firearm. The locked cases must be high quality and properly secured in all places meant to be locked. Delta is also specific to mention passengers checking firearms must be 18 years or older and present ID at the Baggage Service Office at their final destination to retrieve their firearm.3
Frontier states traveling with checked firearms is acceptable for passengers over 18 years of age, traveling on domestic flights. Firearms nor ammunition are allowed on international Frontier Airlines flights. Frontier is careful to point out that black powder nor percussion caps are not permitted on the aircrafts (including prohibiting checking these ammunition types).4
Southwest Airlines reminds passengers to look into all relevant local and state laws before flying with a firearm, including all territories included on the flight trajectory (flying from, through, and to, locations). Southwest indicates they allow multiple firearms to be transported within the same hard-sided case. They are the only airline to disclaim their liability for any misaligned sights (telescope sights included).5
Like many of the previously scouted airlines, United only allows passengers 18 and older to check firearms. They advise passengers checking firearms to only use the airport counter to check in (as they do not allow checking firearms at the self-service kiosks). United is one of the only airlines to remind passengers that many countries require the passenger to obtain a special permit or license before traveling to the country with a gun. United limits passengers to checking 5 firearms per hard-case or bag, however, does not limit the number of hard-cases which can be checked. Obviously in many circumstances additional baggage fees will apply as the number of bags increases. Also, the passenger must sign and date a special “Firearm Declaration Tag” which declares the firearm as unloaded.6
Tips for Flying With a Firearm
Always remember that declaring a firearm as the baggage is being checked is important. The airline always needs to be informed of all firearms present in any pieces of luggage. All clips, magazines, and firearms need to be completely secured in a hard-sided case before transporting in checked luggage. Even toy guns cannot be brought in a carryon luggage. Magazines which are not inserted into the firearm can be loaded, so long as the exposed opening is covered (duct tape works fine).1,4It is also worth noting that Law Enforcement Officers have their own set of rules and guidelines, allowing them many special privileges.2
And when flying into other countries, do not forget that some countries do not allow firearms, while others may require special permits or licenses be satisfied. For example, the United Kingdom requires a special permit to transport a firearm into the country. It is always a good idea to review the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website before flying internationally with a firearm.1 Even traveling from state-to-state and city-to-city, laws will change. Gun owners are required to be responsible in terms of complying with all local and state laws that govern the possession of a firearm in that respective territory.
Looking for an easy way to see the laws of various states to improve traveling with your firearm? Check out the Traveler’s Guide to Firearms: Understanding All 50 States.
1TSA. (July 15, 2019). Transporting Firearms and Ammunition. Transportation Security Administration. Retrieved from:https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition
2American Airlines. (July 15, 2019). Firearms and Ammunition: Traveling with Firearms and Ammunition. American Airlines. Retreived from:https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/baggage/firearms-and-ammunition.jsp
3Delta. (July 15, 2019). Traveling with Special Items. Sports Equipment and Firearms. Retrieved from:https://www.delta.com/en_US/traveling-with-us/baggage/before-your-trip/special-items
4Frontier. (July 15, 2019). Can I Bring a Firearm With me. Fly Frontier: FAQs. Retrieved from:https://faq.flyfrontier.com/help/can-i-bring-a-firearm-with-me
5Southwest Airlines. (July 15, 2019). Guns & Ammunition. Special Luggage and Restricted Items. Retrieved from:https://www.southwest.com/html/generated/help/faqs/special_luggage_faq.html?CLK=SITESEARCH#item_restrictions
6United. (July 15, 2019). Firearms. Sports Equipment. Retrieved from: https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/baggage/sports-equipment.html
About the Author:
Mark Doberman, The Proprietary Gun Smith
The Proprietary Gun Smith is a marksman, expert gun handler, ammunition specialist, survival guru, and lifetime gun enthusiast. He owns (or has owned) nearly every legal firearm and ballistic available, has fired nearly every gun, and regularly consults professionally in the firearm world. He has studied firearms and similar tactical lifestyle for more than 40 years. In addition to writing for ArmoryBay.com, TheProprietaryGunSmith has guest written for more than a dozen other sites and/or magazines in the industry.
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