Flying with Firearms: A Few New Lessons Learned

“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen next, but I will explain it once it’s over,” the TSA supervisor said to me after the explosives detector alarmed on my shotgun case. Again.

Last week I took a jaunt down to my adopted home state of Colorado to spend some overdue time with family and friends. Of course, I found a way to sneak in a few Canada goose hunts courtesy of Brett Marcheso, Guide for Waterfowl Junkies.

The hunting meant flying with firearms so I dusted-off my Pelican iM3100 Storm Case, checked for any previously-used Firearms Declaration Tags (FDTs), ammunition (none found), and pieced-in my taken-down Benelli Super Black Eagle II and various accouterments. Thoughts of falling geese danced in my head.

In my experience in traveling with firearms, planning for the worst and hoping for the best is the strategy that leads to least stress. TSA agents are trained to smell stress and anxiety. I’m joking. Sort of. The point being that dealing with TSA can be unpredictable. Every interface with them seems to be unlike the one before.

At the Southwest check-in counter I set my bags down, handed her my ID and muttered the magic words that set everything in motion, “May I please have a Firearms Declaration Tag, ma’am?” She simultaneously said, “I bet you need a Declaration Tag, don’t you?” I guess I’m that obvious. At least we were on the same page from the get-go.

I set my regular checked bag on the scale while she went and found a FDT (Southwest doesn’t keep FDT’s at the counter at Sea-Tac Airport). I filled it out while she checked me in for the flight to Denver International Airport (DIA). Within three minutes I was walking my case down to the TSA security screening area that handles firearms, ammunition, pets, and other “special” cargo.

When it was my turn, I set my locked hard case on the examination table and stepped back next to the chair I usually sit in, waiting for instructions. The TSA agent said nothing, so I stood and waited for her to swab the case. She inserted the swab into the machine and…

ALARMS!!! FLASHING LIGHTS!!! And across the entire computer screen, a bright red box appeared with the warning, “EXPLOSIVES DETECTED!” I looked at the TSA agent and asked, “May I sit down?” She laughed, nodded in approval, and explained that she needed to call a supervisor because she wasn’t qualified to inspect the inside of the case. Okay, sure…she’s not qualified to carry a gun on the job either so I sure don’t want her handling mine.

The supervisor arrived and explained that he was going to inspect the inside of the case. Whether I needed to or not, I provided my verbal consent. He unlocked my TSA-approved locks with his universal key, lifted the lid, removed the foam in the lid, and then visually examined the non-firearm items. Unalarmed, he closed the lid, flipped the case upside-down, and opened it up again. The foam insert and all the items fell out into the lid as one unit. SOP. After visually examining the underside of the foam insert he swabbed the inside of the case. Again, the alarms sounded.

The TSA supervisor packed up the case, flipped it back over, and said, “Well, obviously the alarm went off again. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen next, but I will explain it once it’s over.” How reassuring. But at this point there was nothing to do but acknowledge his statement with an anxious smile. He then radioed for a single Port of Seattle Officer. That made me feel a little better – two of them and I might have begun mentally preparing for some sort of back room interview.

A bright-eyed, duty firearm-toting Port of Seattle Officer arrived within ten minutes. He bobbed his head slightly, seemingly excited for some action. The TSA supervisor informed him of the alarm. The Port Officer clearly hadn’t been called for this kind of situation before and was told that TSA needed him to inspect the firearm parts for explosives because no TSA agent is allowed to touch a firearm. Procedures are there for a reason and I respect that.

The Port Officer stepped up to the examination table, turned to me and asked, “May I inspect your firearm?” “Do I have a choice?,” I thought silently before giving him my verbal permission. He then asked, “What type of shotgun?” From there it was nonstop conversation about his experience with Benelli shotguns in the military and as a Port Officer while he checked every part of my SBEII. It was the most enjoyable search I’ve ever been a part of.

Once satisfied, the Officer verbally confirmed to the TSA supervisor that no explosives or other dangerous items were found, shook my hand, and headed back to wherever he came from.

As the TSA supervisor packed up my case and slid in the standard Inspection slip, I asked him, “So, if the foam in my case were glued-in, what would have happened when you wanted to swab the bottom inside of the case?” He looked me square in the eyes and replied casually, “I’d have ripped it all out.” I nodded my head, thanked the TSA folks and headed to the next security line where I was “randomly selected” for further screening. Totally understandable, but I wish they would have just told me to my face and put me into the special line instead of calling it “random.”

All-in-all, it was thirty minutes of extra process that left me just enough time to hit the head and grab a bite before boarding. And, honestly, given the alarms, it was surprisingly stress-free and easy. I’ll even give kudos to both Sea-Tac TSA and the Port of Seattle Officer for their good communication, eye contact, expedient action, and generally good attitudes.

My bags and I arrived in Denver without a problem; all items accounted for, nothing confiscated, no damage and locks still intact. That’s a successful flight with a firearm.

Colorado was good to me and we knocked out our limits of Canadas in less than thirty minutes. But with all of the TSA issues I’ve encountered at DIA over the years I wanted to avoid setting off any alarms on the return trip. Frankly, I ran out of time to clean the case by hand so on the way to the airport we made a quick stop.

At a DIY carwash. A quick hail Mary, for sure. But it was either that or share a shower with the case. This seemed the better option.

Check-in at the Southwest counter was, again, a breeze; unlike at Sea-Tac Denver has FDTs at the counter. But at DIA you aren’t allowed to walk your own case from check-in to the TSA firearm screening area – a baggage carrier has to do it. The carrier assigned to me insisted on waiting for someone else who was in line with a firearm. Fifteen minutes later we were finally on our way to the screening area. When we arrived, they took the other traveler’s gun case first because it was on top my mine. Another 15 minute delay.

When they finally got to my bag I observed a much different procedure than was performed at Sea-Tac. First they ran the locked case through an x-ray machine. One TSA agent then put it on the examination table, while the other explained to me that they could not open my TSA-approved locks because they broke their universal key off in someone else’s lock the day before. Apparently TSA doesn’t believe in back-up copies. Before he could say anything else I volunteered somewhat forcefully to open the locks myself. They obliged.

The two agents opened the case, inspected everything that wasn’t a firearm part, and then proceeded to push their fingers into the foam surrounding the items in my case. They flipped everything over and did it again. The external swab came back clear and I was home free.

That is until TSA delayed me an hour and a half in the regular screening line. I got the the gate with one minute to spare, hungry and with a full bladder. If it weren’t for cleaning the case at the car wash I probably would have missed my flight. Period. And that’s TSA for you.

While I fly with a firearm frequently, It’s been a while since I’ve had an experience like that one. I’ll be adjusting my strategy and procedures going forward to account for the things that caused me delays on this trip. Specifically, I’ll:

• Arrive two and a half hours prior to my flight – two hours is cutting it close.

• Continue to expect every TSA interaction to be inconsistent and follow different procedures.

• Ensure I fly with as clean a case as possible.

• Never glue anything (foam or otherwise) to the actual case – I don’t want TSA ripping it out.

Safe holiday travels, everyone!

comments

  1. avatar HES says:

    Why are you flying with TSA locks? You’re not supposed to for the very reason of keeping them or one of the baggage handlers from opening the case on their own without you there.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      +1 I have a big ‘ole security lock on my pelican case for just this reason. The thing is a 1lb chunk of more or less solid steel and it would be easier to cut through the case than to force open that lock. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they could have busted you for using “TSA approved” locks on a firearms case.

      I will say though. When I flew out of O’Hare in occupied Chiraq, the only thing I got from the TSA inspector who x-rayed my case with a rifle, pistol, body armor, and as much ammo as I could fit under the weight limit, was a joke that “it’s not the weirdest thing I’ve seen this week”.

      1. avatar Conner W. says:

        “In fact, I’m pretty sure that they could have busted you for using “TSA approved” locks on a firearms case.”

        Really? Next time please do at least a little research.

        The part, “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock…” does not apply to TSA. I just got off the phone with TSA and confirmed this. They said, “You may use any brand or type of lock.” And, “TSA approved locks are not prohibited.”

        1. avatar Kroglikepie says:

          Really? Next time please do at least a little research.

          You clearly refuse to read 49 CFR §1540.111(c)(2)(iv) and instead choose to shriek about your phone call with the TSA. No one cares because they are wrong, and their mistake is a penalty for use in the real world.

        2. avatar Geoff PR says:

          ” And, “TSA approved locks are not prohibited.”

          While not prohibited, I personally would have serious concerns locking my firearms with a lock key that is well into circulation with the baggage-handler thieves…

        3. avatar HES says:

          And of course a verbal statement from a government employee overrules published instructions? I mean it’s not like an employee could misunderstand official policy. That never happens, right? Just like we can always trust LEOs to know their applicable state and local laws perfectly when it comes to carrying

        4. avatar kyle says:

          Really!? Next time you ALL need to do a little more research.

          ….drive

        5. avatar Cornholio says:

          “I just got off the phone with TSA and confirmed this.”

          I bet you get your gun law info from the local cops too.

        6. avatar Matt in FL says:

          But by definition, if you’re using TSA master locks, then more than “only the passenger” has a key. It’s their own rule, just like the one about it not being opened without you present, and by God I’m going to make them stick to it.

          http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2013/08/matt-in-fl/more-on-flying-with-guns/

        7. avatar Don from CT says:

          Regardless of whether TSA locks are allowed or not, they are definitely NOT REQUIRED.

          So why would anyone use them??

    2. avatar Conner W. says:

      That’s definitely a consideration I factor into my choice to use TSA locks. Someone else could open them with a TSA key.

      However, the part, “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock…” does not apply to TSA. I just got off the phone with TSA and confirmed this. They said, “You may use any brand or type of lock.” And, “TSA approved locks are not prohibited.”

      1. avatar Danny Griffin says:

        Can you not read the federal regulations?

        From 49 CFR 1540.111(2)(iv): “The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the passenger retains the key or combination.”
        https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr;sid=1ced5b69464d2621557bcad98c596051;rgn=div5;view=text;node=49%3A9.1.3.5.9;idno=49

        Or from the TSA:
        “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel request the key to open the firearm container to ensure compliance with TSA regulations.”
        https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition

        Asking TSA airport workers is like asking a cop about gun laws. So much bad info among the rank and file.

        1. avatar Conner W. says:

          I guess you didn’t read my reply to your other incorrect comment, Danny.

          The part, “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock…” does not apply to TSA. I just got off the phone with TSA and confirmed this. They said, “You may use any brand or type of lock.” And, “TSA approved locks are not prohibited.”

        2. avatar Danny Griffin says:

          The federal CFR regulations don’t state, “Only the passenger and TSA employees…” There is a reason no one except the passenger has access to the lock. You asked a TSA employee. LOL.

        3. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

          Danny, you missed the (c) in 49 CFR §1540.111(c)(2)(iv). Conner, read the law that Danny has provided for you. If that quote isn’t enough, google the law and read it in context.

          The TSA agent you called is an idiot who doesn’t know anything but what he/she was told by some other TSA idiot.

        4. avatar Danny Griffin says:

          TX-Lawyer–my bad on the (c). :>)

        5. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

          Being honest, I missed it at first too. When I looked at it, something in the back of my mind was like “that doesn’t seem right.”

      2. avatar HES says:

        And of course a verbal statement from a government employee overrules published instructions? I mean it’s not like an employee could misunderstand official policy. That never happens, right? Just like we can always trust LEOs to know their applicable state and local laws perfectly when it comes to carrying

    3. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

      49 CFR §1540.111(c)(2)(iv) “The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the passenger retains the key or combination.” The TSA sanction for a passenger violating this provision is $500-$1,000. http://www.haysusa.com/Civil_Sanction.pdf

      The guidelines declare that the “attitude of violator” is an aggravating factor.

      When traveling with a firearm, keep a copy of 49 CFR §1540.111(c) with you.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if the TSA worker was also sanctioned when they clearly break the law?

    4. avatar Sian says:

      Was gonna comment on just this.

      You’re specifically NOT supposed to have TSA locks on a firearm case.

      Get some Abloy pucks and watch their heads spin.

      1. avatar Danny Griffin says:

        Abloy pucks. Sian knows what time it is!

        1. avatar Matt in FL says:

          Well no shit. Congratulations. You got us. I guess we should fall back to using TSA locks.

          Except those three examples involve using variously a rotary saw, a pipe wrench with a cheater bar, and oh wait, a rotary saw again. We’re talking about locking things in transit. If you’re worried about TSA or baggage handlers using a rotary saw on your lock, you’ve got much, much, MUCH bigger issues.

    5. avatar Anymouse says:

      It depends on the reason you have locks. If you care about protecting your guns, get an ordinary lock. If you just care about meetiing FAA/TSA, then TSA locks are fine. The problem is that all 7 TSA master keys aren’t secret. Plans are downloadable, and possessions isn’t illegal. Baggage handlers annd TSA agents have been known to steal firearms. Why make it easier for them by using locks they’ll have keys for? They will cut off non-TSA locks if they want to inspect a bag, but they’re fine with you unlocking a non-TSA for them when you’re present.

      1. avatar Danny Griffin says:

        Baggage handlers annd TSA agents have been known to steal firearms

        Yes. Over and over. Vaunted TSA scum stole Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bodyguards’ guns. So let’s give the stupid TSA employees ready access to our firearms.

  2. avatar st381183 says:

    The TSA is clear that TSA approved locks arent to be used. The case containing the firearm should only be accessible to the owner of the firearm, to minimize theft of the dangerous contents by………………..you guessed it, TSA officials. So I write my cell phone number on the case so they can call me if there are any problems and I can unlock it.

    1. avatar Conner W. says:

      Sorry, but you are 100% incorrect.

      The part, “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock…” does not apply to TSA. I just got off the phone with TSA and confirmed this. They said, “You may use any brand or type of lock.” And, “TSA approved locks are not prohibited.”

      I tried adding my phone number to the case (still do have it there), but they kept cutting locks.

      1. avatar Danny Griffin says:

        They are not supposed to be cutting locks. They are to page you back to security to open your case if there is an issue. If you do not respond, your case does not get loaded onto the airplane.

        Again, they are not supposed to be cutting locks. You should call supervision and the airport police if necessary. If you don’t get satisfaction there, go up the chain and pursue the matter, don’t just acquiesce. You’ve chosen the path of least resistance, though.

      2. avatar Chip Bennett says:

        The part, “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock…” does not apply to TSA.

        Please quote the part of the applicable statute that supports TSA’s interpretation here.

        1. avatar Danny Griffin says:

          Facts? Law? Conner will need a safe space soon.

  3. avatar Ace says:

    This part alarmed me:

    “He unlocked my TSA-approved locks with his universal key, lifted the lid, removed the foam in the lid, and then visually examined the non-firearm items.”

    You shouldn’t be using TSA locks on a firearm case. You should use your own locks, and retain the key. The TSA should not be able to open firearms cases when you are not present. To quote the NRA website: “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock.”

    The guide at http://deviating.net/firearms/packing/ is the most definitive one I’ve seen and he never uses TSA locks.

    1. avatar Conner W. says:

      Actually, you are incorrect.

      The part, “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock…” does not apply to TSA. I just got off the phone with TSA and confirmed this. They said, “You may use any brand or type of lock.” And, “TSA approved locks are not prohibited.”

      1. avatar Kroglikepie says:

        You are incorrect. Stop doubling down on stupid.

      2. avatar Hannibal says:

        STOP. Imagine, for a moment, that not everyone else in the world is wrong.

        They aren’t. You’re wrong. Worse yet, you’re stubbornly and ignorantly refusing to see the very clear evidence that you’re wrong.

        1. avatar thebronze says:

          This guy Conner is a buffoon.

    2. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

      That’s a great source. Maybe Conner should check it out.

  4. avatar Jim Bremer says:

    Ha…noticed that TSA lock thing too.

    https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition

    this part: Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel request the key to open the firearm container to ensure compliance with TSA regulations.

    If you have a TSA lock then you aren’t the only person who has “the key or combination”

    The swabbing thing is weird….I’ve flown a ton of times with Firearms(different airpots than in the article) and never had any case swabbed.

    1. avatar fiundagner says:

      Flown twice in the last 16 years. Without firearms both time. I got swabbed (hands, feet, shoes) both times. Had to explain to the tsa agent at Regan that no i couldnt remove the metal on me (shrapnel, internal surgical staples, surgical pins) and step through the metal detector again. The agent refused to believe i couldnt just pull them out for the flight and get new ones later. Refused to believe to the point that the local pd got involved.

      My 16 yr old daughter was selected “randomly” for enhanced screening on the basis of the TSA agent not believing a 16yr old would read actual paper books (she brought 6 books, including one textbook, and went through everything in 2 days).

      Explain how this harrasment makes us safer please

      1. avatar Garrison Hall says:

        “The agent refused to believe i couldnt just pull them out for the flight and get new ones later. . .”

        This speaks to the level of intelligence required of TSA agents. It reminds me of the comment of an elected congressional representative who thought that too many people on the island of Guam would “cause it to tip over”. Beyond stupidity.

    2. avatar Conner W. says:

      The part, “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock…” does not apply to TSA. I just got off the phone with TSA and confirmed this. They said, “You may use any brand or type of lock.” And, “TSA approved locks are not prohibited.”

      1. avatar Jim Bremer says:

        Are you a parrot? Or perhaps a Progressive Democrat like Schumer or Hillary?….repeating the same thing over and over and over again does not make it true nor correct. It’s been pointed out what the regs/laws are…yet you believe some guy “on the phone”????? Perhaps try using some logic and ask “Hmmmmm….maybe the $13 an hour guy on the phone might be incorrect on this one.”

        Good God…where did the TTAG find this guy to write a post? PLEASE don’t allow this guy back.

        Oh….and Connor I’ll save you the time in responding and do it for you

        Actually, you are incorrect.

        The part, “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock…” does not apply to TSA. I just got off the phone with TSA and confirmed this. They said, “You may use any brand or type of lock.” And, “TSA approved locks are not prohibited.”

        1. avatar Cornholio says:

          Probably an anti-gun “look at me” troll.

  5. avatar Chip Bennett says:

    Kabuki Theater.

    Don’t you feel safer?

    1. avatar Ranger Rick says:

      Almost as safe as when they put the armed National Guard soldiers at the baggage screening post 9/11/2001🤡

      1. avatar Brainman says:

        “Armed”, but sans ammunition.

    2. avatar Conner W. says:

      Ha, yes…it was a nice reprieve.

  6. avatar Oso says:

    Checked my rifle in a pelican case with Southwest in Austin today with no issue. But my checked luggage bag had ammo in it, so TSA left a nice note letting me know they searched that bag. They didn’t bother to apologize for unwrapping the wrapped Christmas presents in my bag or inexplicably losing my magazine holster. Still trying to straighten that out. Of course they are going to deny losing it and never reimburse me.

  7. avatar Joe R. says:

    The TSA doesn’t care about guns or air-safety. They distract you with a firearms case search, while a TSA agent smells your hair and fondles you.

    /sarc, as far as you know

    1. avatar Ranger Rick says:

      Don’t forget about the guys with a foot fetish inspecting your feet.

  8. avatar Nick says:

    I’ve only ever flown with a gun once, (my grandfather’s Savage 99 I inherited). Easy as pie, just told them and the counter, they gave me a tag, put it in the box after confirming it was unloaded and it got put on the conveyer belt. Came right out with my other bags at Sky Harbor, no haste.

  9. avatar Sam in Ohio says:

    I’ve not flown with a firearm since 2002 which may as well have been a century ago. The most memorable thing was a passenger behind my hunting partner and I who demanded to know what was in the firearms cases. My friend replied, “Wait a minute and you’ll find out.” Whereas I just asked, “May I inquire as to the contents of your luggage?” Ticket agent took a big sigh and checked to ensure they were unloaded and we dropped them with TSA. No big deal other than the strange looks from the other people in line and the wide eyed shock of the woman with the questions.

    Noticed the same woman complaining about the rifles to the poor ticket agent. We managed to be quite a few people in front of her for the X-rays and I couldn’t resist telling the TSA person that she seemed really nervous when she was behind us at the ticket counter. I hope they gave her “The Probe”.

    Told the story to a guy we used to shoot skeet with who was a retired Hollywood weapons contractor. He said, you should see how they look at you when you open a case and there’s an Uzi and a silencer inside.

  10. avatar Hoyden says:

    This week only – mention ISIS – get a free prostate exam!

  11. avatar Rand says:

    I have used TSA locks for the hard case ever since they were invented. You have the choice of either using the TSA locks or being stuck at the airport when they cut yours off and there are none to put back on the case. Do you have TSA references to not use TSA locks? There is no prohibition on the TSA website.

    https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition

    1. avatar Danny Griffin says:

      No. Read the firearms declaration page. You must affirm that only you have the key or combo to the gun case. The writer signed this, yet used locks which do not abide by the rule. Wow.

      1. avatar Conner W. says:

        Danny – You are 100% incorrect. “Wow.”

        The part, “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock…” does not apply to TSA. I just got off the phone with TSA and confirmed this. They said, “You may use any brand or type of lock.” And, “TSA approved locks are not prohibited.”

        1. avatar Hannibal says:

          You’re not very bright, are you?

          Nothing amazes me more than someone who is not only ignorant, but so stubborn that they can’t recognize it.

        2. avatar Chip Bennett says:

          TSA interprets federal statutes in a manner that is inconsistent with the black-letter reading on the statutes. Being that the firearm owner bears all risk for violating those ststutes, I would not rely on TSA for legal advice regarding following said statutes.

        3. avatar Isaac says:

          From TSA website:

          Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. As defined by 49 CFR 1540.5 a loaded firearm has a live round of ammunition, or any component thereof, in the chamber or cylinder or in a magazine inserted in the firearm. Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel request the key to open the firearm container to ensure compliance with TSA regulations.

          If TSA is requesting a key from their own pocket for your locked case then you have failed. If someone cuts the lock off your case then they are just as wrong as the TSA agent who told you TSA locks are OK for firearms cases.

          Or try this article:
          http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2013/08/matt-in-fl/more-on-flying-with-guns/

          Do not usa a TSA lock on your firearms cases people.

        4. avatar cawpin says:

          Conner, just stop. You are pasting the same incorrect response everywhere. You, and only you, can have access to your case. You have been given the actual law on this yet you refuse to accept it.

        5. avatar Danny Griffin says:

          I wonder if Conner is a TSA employee. Something’s definitely not right about him.

    2. avatar Conner W. says:

      This. This is exactly why I fly with TSA locks. I’ve both non-TSA and TSA locks cut cut and was left unable to get new ones so I’ve missed or had to cancel flights. Tip-of-the-hat to you, Sir.

      1. avatar HES says:

        Its why I carry a spare set of locks in my other luggage. I travel for a living and my son is a competitive shooter and when we fly , it’s always with spare locks.

        1. avatar Matt in FL says:

          This is the proper solution.

  12. avatar JasonM says:

    I would chime in about not using TSA approved locks on your gun case, but I think enough people have already.

    I knew a photographer who always flew with a starter pistol, because it’s a fifty state legal way of declaring a “firearm”. He does that because the one time he checked a camera case with TSA approved locks many years ago, after the creation of the TSA, some of his valuable gear didn’t reach the destination. By declaring the starter pistol firearm, he can lock his luggage with high quality locks and not have to worry as much about the Thieves Standing Around at the airport.

    When I travel, I use a big pelican case for my luggage, and I put all my clothing, toiletries, etc. in there. I also add a zipped gun rug with a gun (plus any ammo or magazines I need). The big pelican case is my locked, rigid container. There’s no restriction on putting other stuff in there. I’ve put valuable Christmas gifts in there, and never lost a thing.

    1. avatar Matt in FL says:

      This is how Deviant Ollam, whose site and video, linked elsewhere, were the gold standard for this info for a long time. (I think some of his site’s info about specific airlines is now outdated, but the broad strokes are still dead-nuts accurate.) He uses a big metal box that used to contain grenades or the like, and he locks it with a pair (I think) of massive puck locks.

  13. avatar Grendel says:

    They cut the locks off of all my stuff. Including gun cases. Threw zip ties on it all and sent it on a later flight. Heading to Alaska from Seattle no less. My shotgun, ar pistol and armor. All with zip ties. My two ammo cans now just zip tied, and my luggage all opened repacked and then sent an hour after me with only zip ties. Oh and try to complain…that goes over like a turd in the punch bowl.

    1. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

      What they did was just as illegal as if I cut the lock off your case and went through it. If this happens in the city you live in, file a criminal complaint and consider civil action as well. I know it is too much of a hassle if it happens in a city you don’t live in, unless something really valuable goes missing.

    2. avatar Sian says:

      Get some abloy pucks.

      Good luck cutting those off without setting the whole inspection area on fire.

    3. avatar Jeremy B. says:

      That’s a violation of federal law. TSA officials are only allowed to open your firearms case when you are present.

  14. avatar jwm says:

    I don’t fly. Fuck them all.

    1. avatar MiserableBastard says:

      Amen, brother

  15. avatar FedUp says:

    Arrive two and a half hours prior to my flight – two hours is cutting it close.

    Screw that. I’d rather drive if you take the time savings out of the airline equation.

    Then there’s the whole part about “this guy’s shotgun tests positive for gunpowder residue, bring out the Anal Probe”.

  16. avatar ironicatbest says:

    Goose hunt with Water Fowl Junkies. Use a Pelican iMi Storm Case, use a Benelli Super Black Eagle, and fly Southwest Airlines. Got it.

  17. avatar Nightingale says:

    I often take domestic trips out of Reagan National with a Beretta in a fitted case and whenever they say to, I open it to allow the TSA agent to swab the gun itself, usually along the barrel. I don’t always clean that shotty after Trap & Skeet and, oddly, their explosives detector has >never< gone off.

    When the first TSA agent put his dirty swab in the EDT machine, I said "You know, if it doesn't test positive for explosives the machine's broken." It didn't. The TSA agent stood there a minute and thought about it, shrugged, then he closed up my case and checked it through for my flight.

    Useless equipment.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      Most modern powders are chemically very different from high explosive. The sniffers DO know the difference. I can tell you that for a fact as I have gotten on a plane in my competition gear as I was too lazy to change between the end and getting to the airport. (Just threw the half-empty magazines in an ammo can then threw it and the rest of my gear in my Pelican case.) I can guarantee you that everything in my case was absolutely covered with GSR not to mention the gigantic streaks of it across my face and hands. They swabbed the gear and me, no issues. Makes perfect sense when you consider the chemical traces they are actually supposed to be looking for. It was rather hilarious sitting on a three hour flight in my multicam BDUs with (obviously) no rank or unit marking while smelling like I just crawled out of Fallujah. Got some odd looks.

  18. avatar Paul says:

    Does anybody know what the purpose of swabbing for explosives is? While I have never planned to bring a bomb on a plane, I don’t think calling attention to myself by checking a firearm would be part of that plan.

    Seriously, why do they do that? I figured out why they don’t want TSA locks on gun cases, but the swabbing mystifies me.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “Does anybody know what the purpose of swabbing for explosives is?”

      To detect chemical traces of potential explosives, *before* the baggage is loaded onto the aircraft. Since aircraft are pressurized to a percentage of atmosphere at altitude, a barometric switch makes a handy detonator for terrorists to destroy aircraft in flight. Where it would make world-wide news. Terrorists *really* like seeing their handiwork making the news.

      Gunpowder residue ‘smells’ to the detector the way some non-detonated explosives smells…

      1. avatar pwrserge says:

        Do you have any data on this? I’ve gotten swabbed while covered in GSR with no issues.

        1. avatar Geoff PR says:

          Gunpowder has been known to be used in improvised explosives.

          Think about it – If the machine was programmed to deliberately ignores the scent of GSR and un-burnt powder, wouldn’t that make a nifty explosive to take down an airliner?

          That it didn’t trigger on you concerns me a bit on the machine’s sensitivity.

          And if memory serves, one of the numerous things it ‘sniffs’ for are certain nitrogen compounds…

        2. avatar Geoff PR says:

          EDIT –

          “Gunpowder residue ‘smells’ to the detector the way some non-detonated explosives smells…”

          I may be in error on that part of my comment.

          However, that it didn’t trigger on you fresh from a shoot soaked in GSR sure raises my eyebrows on the sensitivity of that sniffer, tho…

      2. avatar jester says:

        on a side note- dogs can tell the difference. cant comment on the machines…

  19. avatar Danny Griffin says:

    Conner W just won’t learn. Just because some minimum wage TSA dolt breaks the rules and doesn’t know the law is no excuse. Directly from the TSA, here are the procedures (just as I stated above):

    “TSA must resolve all alarms in checked baggage. If a locked container containing a firearm alarms, TSA will contact the airline, who will make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner and advise the passenger to go to the screening location. If contact is not made, the container will not be placed on the aircraft.

    “Travelers should remain in the area designated by the aircraft operator or TSA representative to take the key back after the container is cleared for transportation.”

    Now Conner, does that sound like the TSA should have a key or free access to your firearms? You can lead a horse to water…

    1. avatar Hannibal says:

      He’s not only wrong but has decided to be a stubborn dolt about it.

      Dunning–Kruger effect on display.

    2. avatar Charlie Foxtrot says:

      It is his right to show up at an airport with a gun case that only has TSA approved locks. It is the TSA’s right to not accept his gun case, because it only has TSA approved locks.

      You forgot the link to the TSA fact sheet you quoted: https://www.tsa.gov/sites/default/files/resources/firearmsammunition_factsheet.pdf

    3. avatar ozzallos says:

      Um, according to your own bolded text and Conner’s article…

      -Contact was made.
      -Passenger was asked to open the container.

      Just stop. You’re trying too hard at this.

  20. avatar Tim nottim says:

    Why wouldn’t you just ship your gun? I despise the TSA and air travel in general and only fly when I absolutely can’t avoid it.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      Shipping your gun is a major pain if you’re only in town for two to three days for a competition. It’s actually only marginally more expensive to check a 100lb pelican case with all your gear with most airlines.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        Yeah, but check with your airline on the fees.

        Some of the super-discount airlines have been hitting travelers with eye-watering fees for checked baggage over certain weights at check-in…

  21. avatar David T says:

    “Every interface with them seems to be unlike the one before.”

    That is my experience too.

  22. avatar kyle says:

    lol you guys kill me.

    All the crap this guy went through and the only thing anyone cares about is whether or not the dang locks were TSA approved?

    How about the fact that…AL QAEDA WON!!!

    They wanted to change the way we live, and they did it. And they did it with our own laws, planes, and box cutter knives.

    1. avatar Danny Griffin says:

      Can you change the way we do security now? No. Have you been through security in Israel? I have. The world is what it is, and you bitching about how “Al Qaeda won” doesn’t change anything.

      On the other hand, allowing the TSA (or other government employees) to knowingly violate the law without saying anything, or standing up for your rights and the law, doesn’t help society and that IS something we have some control over.

      1. avatar ozzallos says:

        Administrative Searches were a thing back in the 1970s. You’re about 30 years too late to bitch about this.

  23. avatar Leighton Cavendish says:

    As for keys and locks…bag handlers could easily use bolt cutters…or just make the entire bag disappear…just sayin’

    1. avatar Danny Griffin says:

      If that happens, things get serious. I mean federal prison time serious. This has happened in the past. Demand the police come and take a report of a firearm theft while in .gov possession. It’s amazing what can happen very quickly in that case.

    2. avatar pwrserge says:

      It’s rather hard to make a 100lb pelican case big enough to hold a body “disappear”. Cutting the locks off of MY case would be even harder as I use heavy duty locks which make it easier to cut through the case than the lock. I generally carry my helmet hut with the included NVGs for night shoots, but the rifle, body armor, battle belt, and pistol all get checked in my 2’x3’x1′ Pelican case.

  24. avatar Outlawf15 says:

    More shitty advice brought to you by the only blog to claim you don’t have to engrave your SBR until/unless you sell it, coincidently also based on a phone call with some random govt employee. That was roundly disproven, too.

    Posting the same comment 10 times that clearly runs counter to published law doesn’t make it any more convincing or correct.

  25. avatar Lance F says:

    I just got off the phone with the TSA, they said that “shall not be infringed” doesn’t apply to them or the Government.

  26. avatar ozzallos says:

    Well, I guess I’ll tackle this one.

    It probably gets checked because the xray machine operator (using the most mundane terms I can muster)can’t determine the overall contents, kicking it to an officer. That being the case, the officer can’t assume what’s inside and checks for explosive residue first. They tested, then tested again to determine a false positive. All that tells them is there is something explosive inside the bag (gunpower, duh) but cased ammunition alone usually isn’t messy enough to provide that alarm. No officer has the authority to handle your firearm, so PD was called probably somebody else to determine you weren’t Joe Terrorist. Explosive expert was probably on the phone as well.

    Good call on cleaning the case off on your return trip, the results speak for themselves. Your bag still got screened, but the trace was negative. I tend to think it seems random because any number of things can occur to get to any given outcome. Some of it depends on the skill of the xray operator viewing your bag, sometimes its how clean your bag is for the trace.

    Given your encounter here, I didn’t see anything wholly unreasonable. Not sure about the foam ripping unless it was so thick the supervisor couldn’t determine the presence of stuff beneath it by… pressing on it? Not sure, but he would have been obligated to get underneath it after two alarms for explosives.

    And remember kids! 100% percent of everybody with a firearm in their bag forgot it was there!
    …Statistically impossible, but sure. Why not!

  27. avatar GS650G says:

    So the big issue in the comments is the lock.

  28. avatar Button Gwinnett says:

    1) There should be NO LIMIT and 365 day open season on Canada Geese.
    2) The airport is DEN, not DIA.

  29. avatar Grumpy says:

    +1 on every airport being different.

    Departing Amarillo – Fill out the form, open the case and show me the firearm is unloaded. Lock it up, have a blessed day, 2 minutes top and everyone smiles, says sir and is polite as can be.

    Returning from Orlando: Agent call supervisor who finds the paperwork, wait 10 minutes. They only ask if unloaded, case remains locked. Supervisor calls lackey to escort me to security, another 20 minute wait, there there inspect all may bags while I watch through a window. The gun case gets a quick scan, never opened. The suitcase gets unpacked, between dive gear and some chef knives they have a field day, 20-30 minutes or so later, all is good. Total time to check in about an hour, wife wander off to some store in the meantime in the terminal and spends a couple hundred on something expensive.

    Advice : Be prepared for an extra hour, should be less. Use regular locks, but a set of 4 might be handy if someone cuts them off at transfer. Leave the spare 2 in the case with a note to apply if they have to cut open. I have heard of this, never 1st hand. Locks are cheap, just a pain to buy on the road. TSA locks are crap and probably not kosher, but I suspect you could get away with them.

    TSA Precheck is worth the extra $85 for 5 years or whatever it is now. Complete the form, let them take your prints and a picture. Once registered, it marks your boarding pass and you go in the fast lane, regardless if you have a firearm checked. Will typically save you 30 minutes every time you go through security, sometimes up to an hour. Its a total no – brainer, does not matter if you are transporting firearms are not, wasting time standing in line is no fun.

  30. avatar Don from CT says:

    This was interesting. But the author has one thing seriously wrong. You are NOT supposed to put TSA approved locks on gun cases.

    They are supposed to have to come get you if they need to open the case. The whole idea with you waiting while they screen it is that it will not have to be opened again.

    This is actually pretty well known in the gun world. In fact, this has become a “life hack” among some gun guys. If you have fancy electronics or expensive booze, put a little handgun in a large gun case and include the other stuff with the gun. Then the TSA goons in the bowels of the airport baggage system won’t have access to your MacBook or George T Stagg.

  31. avatar Jim Bullock says:

    About those sniffers…

    Back in the day, flying out of SeaTac, actually, my shoes twigged the swabbed sample machine. Some alert, or extra special paranoia, or random procedure of the week, or something — they were swabbing everybody’s shoes. Since the machine twigged, they run the shoes through an x-ray. TSA-guy is asking some questions & I’m playing along with the small talk. Shoes come back, then I ask: “Well, that was weird. What could have done that?” TSA-guy rattles off: “Did you do this? Do that?” And I come within half a second of a trip to Langley, or worse.

    Inside my head I was already saying: “Oh, I get it, it’s the *feature*. That gizmo has to be a *this* or combined *this and that* looking for traces of *structures in chemical explosives*, which *the stuff you mentioned* would also have.”

    Sanity prevailed, and in my best awed hick, I said out loud: “Ain’t it something what they can do these days.”

    I studied chemical engineering back in the day; absorbed and retained a bunch of it despite myself. My near-fatal observation at SeaTac was simple knowledge, nearly “general” to anyone working in a chemical field. Yet, had I mused, it would have been bad. “It’s obvious.” is never a good answer when they ask “How’d you know that.”

    Knowing how the world works has somehow become evidence of nefarious intent. Worse, if you haven’t been told, you’re double-plus not supposed to be able to figure something out yourself. Yeah, it’s gotta be one of

    The guys talking about pressurization s& witches above are doubtless on some list simply for knowing that, despite the wide coverage of the Lockerbie attack carried out that way. No loss, really. Everybody who comments here is on a list or three, or at least that’s the way to bet.

  32. avatar Hunter427 says:

    I think this topic on lock has been kiicked to death. I leave a rifle out west so as to avoid airport hell. This year bringing a new rifle out to Idaho and it will be shipped

  33. avatar TxRadioguy says:

    I’ve flown on three different airlines with my firearms since I got my Kentucky CCDW in Oct. 2017.

    Best flying experience: Southwest Airlines (Louisville to Boise and back twice) everyone at the respective check in desks were cool my bags came out on the baggage belt like everyone else’s.

    Worst flying experience: Delta (Louisville to Ft. Benning) Delta puts an extra baggage sticker on your checked bag with a code on it telling the baggage handlers that the bag must be picked up at the baggage service office and on top of that…before they hand it over to you they wrap it in two giant zip ties. Oh and once you’ve checked in at your departure location and you’ve declared you’re travelling with a firearm…Delta disables your ability to check in for your return flight 24 hours prior to departure via their app or their website.

    Second worst flying experience: American (Louisville to San Antonio). Only difference between them and Delta is they don’t zip tie your bag before turning it over to you…and on top of the extra baggage claim sticker they put a big red “deliver to BSO” tag on your checked bag as well. They also disable your early check in ability.

    I do have to say that the ticket agents at the departure locations for all three airlines have been wonderful…no one freaking out or looking at me weird because I’m flying with a gun…again Southwest was the best of the three.

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