Nothing has ever made me feel more like the stereotypical blogger than angrily opening my laptop, connecting to the intertubes and furiously airing my grievances to the world. Double points for using a grainy cell phone photo as an illustration. But sometimes, stupidity demands to be highlighted . . .
I’m flying to Phoenix today to go see the guys at Tac-Con. Because Arizona is about as firearms-friendly as it gets, I’m taking my XD(M) with me. And let me preface what I’m about to say by noting that I hate traveling commercial. I’m the guy who always opts out in the screening line, and given the fact that I’m a normal-sized adult, I don’t really fit on airplanes. So I just assume that traveling with a firearm will be even more stressful than normal, and this morning I wasn’t surprised by the course of events.
Normally, I show up to Austin Bergstrom Airport about 75-90 minutes in advance of my departure time. While not the fastest airport I’ve ever flown out of, Austin does manage to move people through fairly quickly. Knowing that I’d have to declare my gun, I showed up a full two hours in advance and I’m really glad I did.
Since I’ve never flown US Airways, I made sure to read all the documentation online about their policies surrounding the transportation of firearms. Theirs is pretty standard stuff. Make sure your gun is unloaded, locked in a hard-sided case, ammo in a separate container with no magazines loaded. Fairly simple stuff. I locked everything up in the case the night before, packed my clothes on top, and headed out.
When I got to the US Airways lady in the baggage check line, I cheerfully told her that I had a firearm to declare. She asked that I open the case so she could place the bright orange “unloaded” tag inside. At no point did she ask if it was actually unloaded. I opened the case, and that’s when things went off the rails.
Gate Agent #1: “Is that the ammo?”
Gate Agent #1: “You can’t keep it in the same box as the gun”
Me: “Your policy doesn’t make a distinction and the TSA website indicates that it is fine to pack it in the same case”
Gate Agent #1: “Hey Gate Agent #2 (supervisor), can you help out?”
Gate Agent #2: “Sure. What’s going on?”
Gate Agent #1: “He says he can pack his ammo in the box with his gun.”
Gate Agent #2: “I’m not sure. Call the main line.”
Gate Agent #1 (picks up the phone & dials)
…phone rings and rings…
Gate Agent #1 (to Gate Agent #2): “They’re not answering”
Gate Agent #2: “Okay”
Me: “I read both the US Airways policy as well as the TSA policy and it is totally fine to pack ammo in a box inside the locked case. I assure you it is safer as well.”
Gate Agent #1 (Ignores me and continues checking in other patrons while Agent #2 stares intently at her computer)
…five minutes go by…
Gate Agent #2: “I can’t find anything. Use the radio.”
Gate Agent #1 (picks up radio): “Hi I need someone to call me about an issue at the counter.”
Meanwhile, my underwear is spread about and the other patrons are working around me to check in. Humpty and Dumpty finally figured it out and even though Gate Agent #1 assured her supervisor and me that she had learned differently “in training,” I was allowed to pack my ammo in the case. At which point I was instructed to head over to the TSA screening station to have them run my bag through the X-Ray.
Little did I or the TSA know that Austin had hosted a large triathlon this weekend. Several of the competitors were traveling home with their bicycles, all of which had to go through the large luggage screening area. That happens to be the same place as the firearms screening area at Bergstrom. And since the TSA didn’t plan well (imagine that), there was one very deliberate employee going through bike cases with a fine-toothed comb. I spent 15 minutes waiting in line until the triathletes finally gave up, left their gear for screening, and headed through security. Not content to just leave my bag and head on, I waited for the TSA agent to finish with the bike case he was fingering. At that point, reinforcements had arrived in the form of a second agent.
The new agent took my bag, unzipped it, and started haphazardly removing clothes. I started to help and he told me sternly that “the rules” prevented me from touching my belongings. Once my clothes had been removed for the second time, the original agent came by and said, “What are you doing? You have to run that through the X-Ray.”
So the new agent stuffed my clothes and gun back in my duffel and forcefully zipped it closed. For the umpteenth time in life, I gave thanks for not owning nice clothes, and watched them run my bag through the X-Ray. Once my bag was through, the agent grilled me about the case that I’d used and asked why I only had one lock instead of two. I replied that it only had one lock hole, a small lie since the factory XD(M) case has two. He eyed me suspiciously and then told me I was free to go. Total time, thirty-five minutes versus what should have been a five minute excursion.
The rest of my boarding process was uneventful and ordinary. I opted out of being body scanned as usual, removed my shoes, and got patted down like a criminal.
What’s the lesson here? Other than spending the boatload of of cash necessary to get a private pilot’s license and buy a plane, you’re best served by leaving yourself plenty of time to deal with people who have no interest in being helpful or living in the real world. At a minimum, I should be able to show up at an airport, declare a firearm, sign a form, show them its clear, and have it go through the main baggage area. An extra five, maybe ten minutes, tops.
I’d love for the airlines and the TSA to adopt a reasonable standard regarding firearms transportation in much the same way that I’d like to see fifty-state carry reciprocity. I know that it’s a long ways off (likely never), but a man can wish.