The looks on the airline agents’ faces were priceless. “You can’t be serious,” they mumbled as I hefted the gun case onto the scale at the check-in desk. It was an understandable reaction, since they had just printed my boarding pass to London’s Heathrow Airport and now they were watching me try to hand them something they knew would never be allowed. And yet, somehow I wasn’t insane. Let me back up here a second . . .
I needed a vacation. Last year was an insane flurry of activity, with my time split between writing for TTAG, practicing and shooting with Team FNH USA, my day job and studying to finally take my CCNA exam. There was barely time for sleep, let alone getting any rest and relaxation. And even when I found some time to go home for a bit, I kept writing instead of relaxing. So I decided that after SHOT Show was over in January, I’d go visit some of my extended family in Trieste, Italy.
My aunt was happy to put me up for the week, but she did ask one favor: there was a lamp she wanted from an American company and she requested that I bring it with me rather than pay for the overseas shipping fees. Naturally I gladly agreed, and given the dimensions I figured it would fit nicely in a small carry-on bag. But when the box finally came I realized that I sucked at math more than I realized — the lamp was four feet of solid aluminum tubing.
For days I tried to figure out how I was going to get this thing on the airplane. Carrying it aboard was right out, since the long metal tube was definitely going to be classified as a “weapon” by our friends at the TSA. And while it came in a nice cardboard box, that wasn’t going to survive being chucked around through the baggage system and tossed into the cargo holds of a couple airplanes. I needed something durable yet disposable. And then it hit me: I needed a gun case.
A quick trip to the local Academy Sports yielded an acceptable case for the small sum of $16 that fit the lamp and all of its accoutrements exactly. And while I would normally lock my gun case once it was packed, since I wasn’t actually transporting a firearm I opted instead to zip-tie the thing closed and then wrap it with an excessive amount of clear tape. When it was all finished, it was perfect.
By now the fine American Airlines employees at San Antonio International Airport are starting to recognize me. After the number of trips I’ve taken with various gunpowder-consuming toys over the last year, taking the same early morning flight every time it’s only natural. So when they saw me coming with the black case, they already had an idea what was inside. So when they pulled up my itinerary and saw that the final destination was in Italy, the expression on the woman’s face turned to one of immense concern — and she also seemed to do a quick scan for the nearest manager.
The moment I saw that look, I decided to try and resolve the issue. “It’s a lamp” I said.
She seemed confused. Clearly this was a gun case and not a lamp. “A what?”
“It’s a delicate lamp. It’s just packed in a gun case.”
She seemed to get it at that point. “Oh! But when you land in London, it might get you some unwanted attention you know.”
I had already anticipated that. In fact, there was a betting pool back at the office as to whether the case would be allowed into the country and, if so, its condition once it arrived. “I think it will be fine,” I said.
She didn’t seem satisfied. “Well, just to be sure, let’s put a note on it.” She grabbed a blank luggage tag, slapped it on the case, and quickly scrawled the words “CONTAINS LAMP” in block letters. Satisfied with her work she handed the case to the rampie behind her, who started to turn towards the security office instead of putting it on the conveyor belt with the rest of the bags. She grabbed his arm and stopped him — “no, it’s just a lamp, it’s fine!” The rampie had a look of pure happiness on his face, which he later explained: “It means I don’t have to go through the security area. That takes forever.”
I spent the next day and night in transit. First to DFW with a six hour layover, and then an overnight flight to Heathrow. And while the flight was enjoyable enough, in the back of my mind I was worried about what would happen at the end. Would I have a problem with customs in England? Would security stick me in a room and question me until I had missed my connecting flight? I just didn’t know.
The last time I landed at Heathrow was the summer after freshman year of college, close to a decade in the rear view mirror by now. At that time customs was still handled the old fashioned way: everyone went through passport control, then you went wherever you were going next. Apparently things have changed a little bit, and international transfers don’t even interact with passport control anymore — you just go through security again and then you’re off to your next flight.
In London, there were no problems. I breezed through security, there were no announcements demanding my presence at the nearest security office, and I successfully boarded my connecting flight to Milan without incident. It was easy. Too easy.
When I finally landed at Milan’s Linate airport, the gun case was waiting for me on the baggage carousel when I stepped through passport control. I was still slightly concerned about how Italian customs would react to a gun case — with the words “GUN CASE” clearly molded into the plastic itself — coming through their borders. But I became less concerned when I discovered that apparently customs in Linate airport consists of a single bored looking officer behind a folding picnic table staring at his phone as hundreds of people walk past.
For the rest of the trip, no one even batted an eyelash. The bus from the airport to the train station, the train ride to Trieste, the cab to the apartment…not a single question about the long black case I was carrying.
I get the feeling that part of the reason that no one cared is that they have no reference as to what that item is. The ticket agent at San Antonio arport had seen hundreds if not thousands of these black cases, but the baggage handlers in the UK and the somnolent customs agent in Italy had probably never encountered one before. They had seen golf cases and ski cases by the thousands, but rarely if ever a gun case. In much the same way that open carry desensitizes people to the carrying of guns by civilians, the constant drumbeat of cases that don’t typically carry guns have probably desensitized these employees as well.
The gun case arrived at the apartment at Trieste intact, with all of the original zip-ties in place, and having never been opened. Despite being a long metal tube in a gun case.