We all know that guns and aircraft don’t mix, right?
Yet, it does seem to be worth repeating every once in a while, as you’d be surprised at how many people keep “forgetting” there’s a firearm in their carry-on.
But how do you safely transport such weapons?
It’s actually not as difficult as you might think, and provided you follow a few straightforward procedures, you and your firearm should be able to get from A to B with no problems.
In this article, we take a look at everything you need to know when it comes to flying with firearms – what to do, and what not to do, and everything in between.
Read on to discover how to achieve fuss-free-firearm-flights.
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- How to Fly with a Gun in a Few Words
- Penalties and the Law
- Checking In vs Carry-On
- How to Fly with a Gun – The Process
- Importing Firearms
- Who Can Carry a Gun on a Plane?
- Firearms and Flying – Extra Tips
How to Fly with a Gun in a Few Words
Transporting firearms on a plane might be a scary prospect to some people, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s the short version of what you need to do:
The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says that you may travel with a firearm only if it’s in a hard-sided, locked container and is with your checked-in baggage.
It also needs to be fully unloaded, with ammunition appropriately stored and within limits.
No firearms of any kind are permitted in the aircraft cabin.
Of course, there’s much more to it than that, so read on to find out how to sail through security without a care in the world.
Penalties and the Law
Before we get stuck into how you travel with a firearm and ammunition safely, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the law.
It is illegal to carry a firearm and/or ammunition into an aircraft cabin. Carrying parts of firearms is also prohibited, but can be checked in.
A “firearm” is defined by the United States Code 18 Chapter 44 as:
(A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon; (C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or (D) any destructive device.
When carrying such an item, it’s up to you to comply with local laws and legislation when it comes to possession of a said firearm.
If you’re not allowed to carry a gun, you certainly won’t be allowed to fly with one – checked-in or otherwise.
And it’s also your responsibility to adhere to firearm regulations at your destination – particularly if you’re crossing international borders – as they are likely not the same as the country of departure.
Ammunition is also prohibited in carry-on luggage, whether you have the means to fire it or not. Again, it can be included in your checked-in baggage.
It is also against regulations to carry unboxed or loose ammunition to/through airport security. This carries the same penalties as if your gun was loaded.
And speaking of, both guns and ammunition are regularly confiscated at airport security checkpoints in the US – and around 90% of these weapons are actually loaded.
I once forgot I was carrying one of these tactical folding knives on an international train – and I had my prized blade confiscated from me. Thankfully, I wasn’t fined or prohibited from catching my ride.
With a firearm, I’d imagine it would be somewhat different.
The common excuse – “I forgot it was in there” isn’t going to wash with law enforcement personnel, and you can be sure of one thing – you won’t be catching your flight.
And that’s just the beginning.
You won’t be getting your gun back, either. Expect to be detained, cited on weapon’s charges, and have an eye-watering fine handed to you – of anything up to $13,000 – depending on your history.
You are allowed to carry optics in carry-on and checked-in baggage – such as range-finders, rifle-scopes, binoculars, and night-vision.
Follow those links for more information on those individual products if you’re interested.
Checking In vs Carry-On
If you fly often enough, these terms become second nature, but even for seasoned travelers, it’s still possible to get confused.
There have certainly been times when I’ve attempted to carry something on that I should have checked in, and thanks to a total brain fart, I’ve had it confiscated and/or promptly thrown in the trash.
Carry-on luggage is what you’re allowed in the cabin of the aircraft – what you will have on your person for the duration of the flight, or stored in the overhead bins above you.
These stylish tactical messenger bags make for ideal carry-on luggage, for example – perfect for keeping your essentials close to hand for the flight.
Checked-in luggage leaves you on the conveyor belt at the check-in desk, making its way to be securely stored in the aircraft’s cargo hold, until you arrive at your destination.
Firearms and ammunition are only permissible on a flight if they are appropriately stored in checked-in luggage.
How to Fly with a Gun – The Process
In order to safely fly with your firearm, you should follow the steps below to comply with TSA regulations.
For most countries in the world, the process will be the same or similar, but I advise you to check directly with your airline to confirm.
And if you have any doubts, contacting the airline check-in desk well before departure is highly recommended.
- Before arriving at the airport, make sure your gun is unloaded and safely stored in a case with a hard shell. Soft cases will not be permitted, and your firearm might get damaged in the hold, anyway.
- The case should be securely locked, and unable to be opened by anyone who doesn’t have the key (or combination) – which should be safely stored on your person/in your head at all times. (Don’t write combinations down.)
- Each firearm should be declared separately at the check-in desk to airline staff. Depending on how many you’re flying with, as well as size and weight, there might be limitations and/or fees.
- Security staff might request you open the firearm cases to ensure they comply with regulations (i.e – they’re not loaded). Be prepared to do a TSA firearm inspection if asked. You are the one that opens the case – without handing your key or combination to anyone else.
- Ammunition and magazines can be included in the same case as your firearm, but they must be securely held in place in a wood, metal, or plastic box specifically designed for the purpose.
- You will have to fill out a firearm(s) declaration slip, confirming your gun and ammunition is stored in accordance with TSA rules. Aesthetically, this will vary from airline to airline, but the basics are the same. You will be required to provide your name, contact details, signature, and date.
- You may or may not face a few additional questions from airline/security staff about your firearm and how it has been stored. If everything is in order, this should be a mere formality, and no need to freak out.
- The declaration slip will be placed inside the firearm case. You will never be asked to label the weapon on the outside.
- The case, with your firearm and ammo securely and safely locked inside, will now either be placed on the conveyor belt, or you might be requested to take it to an additional TSA security area. Again, there’s no need to panic, as this will be to give it some further checks, which may or may not include an X-ray screening.
- Once the check-in desk process for firearms is complete, and your firearm has been handed over to airline staff, you can proceed to security as normal.
Arriving at Your Destination
Upon exiting the aircraft at your destination, you should make your way to the baggage reclaim relevant to your flight.
All being well, your firearm case – along with any other checked-in baggage – should appear on the luggage carousel.
However, it might have been taken to an airline baggage office – often the same location for oversized and unique items.
You will likely have to show identification, and your firearm may or may not be checked again. In some cases, you might receive an escort from the airport.
Again, this is nothing to worry about, providing you have all your documents – including your luggage reclaim tickets.
That wasn’t so hard now, was it?
When it comes to traveling with firearms on a larger scale, you need to be particularly careful, and if you want to import guns and ammunition, you must do so through a licensed importer, dealer, or manufacturer.
US Customs and Border Protection will tell you all you need to know. They will also help with international travel when it comes to personal firearms and ammunition.
Who Can Carry a Gun on a Plane?
There are a number of individuals who are allowed to legally carry a gun onto and in an aircraft cabin.
Federal and state police offices can carry a firearm on a flight if they have passed the TSA Law Enforcement Officer Flying Armed Training Course.
Air or Sky Marshals are good examples, although their use varies depending on the country and/or airline.
Pilots with similar relevant training are also permitted to have a gun in the cockpit, as a response to the possible threat of hijacking.
They are known as Federal Flight Deck Officers (FFDO), and although armed, they have limited jurisdiction.
Firearms and Flying – Extra Tips
Here are a few more tips and tricks from experienced firearm flyers that might help things go even smoother than they already should.
When choosing a hard case for your gun, consider something inconspicuous – that doesn’t look like it contains a firearm. That way, you can potentially reduce the risk of theft.
Remember Antonio Banderas’ guitar case in the movie Desperado? He was onto something.
Firearms cases should securely hold the firearm inside. You don’t want to risk damaging your baby, so look for cases with quality, customizable foam inserts. Pelican are up there with the very best.
And speaking of the best, this article on the top tactical clothing brands in the world is an interesting read.
Alternatively, consider storing the gun in a soft case within the hard case.
A solid piece of advice for traveling with a firearm is to arrive at the airport in plenty of time. Check-in queues can be long, security takes time, and there could be any number of reasons for a holdup.
You don’t want to miss your flight because you’ve left things late. Give yourself an extra hour just in case.
Remember, the TSA is just one body that provides these rules, regulations, and guidelines – you need to be aware of the airline’s specific laws, as well as those at the location in which you land.
Finally, a word on manners. It’s vital that you remain polite and patient at all times – particularly when security staff are going through your belongings. Expect long delays – at the very least – if you’re rude.
Furthermore, you should always be present when they are checking your gear, so stand where you can see the process, and wait patiently until it’s complete.
And don’t make jokes – on forms, in person, or otherwise – it’s just not worth it.
You might have heard the stories of individuals who have ticked the “yes” box to the following visa question:
“Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?”
They did so “for a laugh,” and weren’t seen again for a very long time.
For more information, including a real-time visual guide to this whole process, check out the excellent video below.
Can I carry a concealed knife on a plane?
No, you certainly cannot. For a start, you’ll light up like a Christmas tree when going through security, and you’ll have a jolly old time trying to explain it to law enforcement officers.
Take a look at this article which explains concealed carry knives in more detail, and this is a great review of the best concealed knives on the market.
But either way, you’re not allowed a knife on a plane, concealed or otherwise. Period.
Can I carry pepper spray on a plane?
Again, no. It might be a non-lethal assailant, but can still be used for nefarious purposes, and it is illegal to carry pepper spray into an aircraft cabin. The same can be said for CS gas.
This article on the differences between pepper spray and CS gas might be helpful – but while you’re allowed to carry them in the street (in the US, at least), you’re not allowed them on an aircraft.
Can I carry airsoft guns on a plane?
Just like their real steel counterparts, airsoft and replica guns are not allowed as part of your carry-on luggage and must be declared and checked-in in the same way.
And there shouldn’t be any surprise, either, considering how realistic airsoft guns can be – like these awesome airsoft pistols, for example.
Check out this article for the differences between “real” military gear and airsoft – it’s becoming very hard to tell them apart.
When flying with firearms, it’s vitally important that you stick to the rules, so you can enjoy a smooth transition to your destination with as few headaches as possible. And as you can see, knowing what to do, when it comes to guns, can make a huge difference. That is also why you should know the basic shooting range tips and everything else firearm-related.
I hope this article has helped you achieve that in some way.
Let me know your thoughts on the topic in the comments, or if you have any useful firearm flying experience you’d like to share with the community.
Stay safe out there – and happy flying!