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Carry On Concealed Carry

Five Lessons On Flying With Handguns

by James Tarr   |  March 26th, 2012 30

These fives lessons will save you time and headaches the next time you’re flying with handguns.


  • Chuck

    Sounds like some very good advise to me. Knowing what to do and how to do it first can save a lot of time and trouble. Thanks for the info.

  • Peter

    This should go into a tri-fold brochure folks can download and print out… The information is so critical that, I think, it just can't hide as a one-shot announcement out in "ether land".

  • SemperFlyBoy

    Great piece Jim! Although I am a former pilot (USMC), you have thoroughly convinced me to never get in a commercial aircraft again until these TSA Nazis are stood down. I enjoy your articles and Handguns TV appearances very much. Keep up the good work.

  • big

    If the TSA sees you're using combination padlocks, they know getting your case open won't be as simple as asking for your keys.
    No they will just use a bolt cutter & cut off the lock.
    "TSA has worked with several companies to develop locks that can be opened by security officers using universal "master" keys so that the locks may not have to be cut."

  • Celeste Tornwall Felice

    Great Article.Very insightful.
    but i guess we should not only have the airline gun regs on hand; but also a spare combo lock in your pocket to replace the one on your luggage, that some bozo airline agent May cut off,right?!

  • Richard

    A little advice from Richard, a retired NY Officer and current North Carolina DOJ firearms instructor/agent.
    You must check the state and local laws of the area of your RETURN FLIGHT !!. Example, New York
    does not care how many states you have a CCH from. When you attempt to declare a handgun in your
    check-in luggage is where the problem starts. Unless you are military traveling under orders, a Federal, State,
    or a person that fits "Police Officer", active or retired and HR-218 qualified or have a valid permit that is good in NY City. The Airline agent will summon the Port Authority Police and you and your handgun can expect some major delays, an attorney will be the next call. Many problems have popped up when a "thru" passenger
    is delayed either by their fault or the airline and you might have an overnight stay. Even though it was not your
    intention to break continuous travel, they can still charge you with unlicensed possession. You will up to the mercy of the local county ADA, hope that he is not looking for scalps.
    One best hoped for scenario would be no charges, but you loose the gun for good.
    Good luck

    • shotgun sonny

      Here's a good idea, screw NY and every other state that consistently harrasses gun owners!! I recommend not traveling there!! I use go to or citirx for any and all NY, NJ, MD, or IL business meetings.

    • granto

      Richard, it doesn’t seem to be a problem to pick up your luggage with a handgun at an NYC airport, but rather to check in at an airport in NYC with one- is that correct? What’s the distinction?

  • ron

    some very good and usefull information you have posted and i will heed your great advise.
    thank you for posting the info.

  • TimC

    Good suggestions all…I have one other.
    During the check-in process, you will be asked to demonstrate that the firearm is unloaded. I never muched liked standing at the airline counter racking handguns to demonstrate that they are unloaded to a ticket agent that may or may not know what end the bullet comes out of. To facilitate this process I have found bore flags to be a worthy investment. Even the most uneducated counter agent will be able to surmise the safety of a gun with an empty mag well and yellow plastic protruding from chamber and barrel. Its cheap, its easy, and it speeds the process of checking in immeasurably.

  • A. Oubre

    In January, I checked my bag with American Airlines in Tampa Florida. I told the ticket agent there was a firearm in my bag. She walked towards the conveyor belt as I told her again about the firearm. she told me I could go. Later I was called to security and had to explain to two airport police officers what had happened. the clerk lied and told them I had never told her. I was allowed to continue my trip with my firearm.

    On February 28th, I received a letter from the TSA telling me I was going to be fined $500.00. I wrote a responseand contacted my attorney. The fine was rescinded but I received a warning notice. This means the incident was documented, but I was not punished.

    • Bryan in KS

      You're lucky that you didn't get arrested! Never, never, never leave the counter until your firearm(s) have been declared and acknowledged, checked and passed to TSA for inspection. Also try to make sure you're easily identified/found if questions come up during the inspection. If you're not, your gun won't fly.

  • davidd

    For making sure the firearm is unloaded I use a standard gun lock that comes with every gun sold(at least all the ones I've bought). Just lock the slide to the rear(Handgun/semi-auto rifle) or take the bolt out(bolt action) put the gun lock on and lock it in the case. This also helps if the TSA uses x-ray scanners, then they can see a lock on the gun case as well as the gun itself.
    Every airport has different procedures. Some hand inspect your bag with you present, others just send it back to be x-rayed. Also some airports make you put the "Firearms Unloaded" tag inside the gun case and others make you put it inside your checked bag but on top of the gun case. Be prepared for something different at every airport.
    On a side note check to see what the airline you're flying on insures the baggage for in case of lost/stolen luggage/firearm. If you're gun is worth more than what the airline insures your luggage for (typically around $3000 for most airlines) you can buy more coverage to cover the full amount of your firearm/luggage.

  • Terry

    I don't think it matters if you use a keyed lock or a combination lock, if they can't get in they will cut the lock off. This has happened to me. I would prefer that the TSA doesn't open my case without me being present but it's unlikely that will happen.

  • Alan_T

    I bought some combination luggage locks that are supposes to be coded so TSA can open them . The TSA Gestapo probably won't bother though and just cut them off .

  • James

    If you have your pistol in a locked case inside of a checked luggage TSA will have to open the luggage to get to the pistol case simple because the xray cannot see through the pistols. Therefore, they open up the bag primarily to see what is UNDER or on top of the pistol case. It is also to verify that there is a declaration of a firearm in the luggage and that the pistol case meets specs.

  • SoCalRay

    Here is another stumbling block to airline carry. Recently a friend of mine with a CCW permit was traveling to California from Washington. He carries a S&W 380 Bodyguard. When he contacted Southwest Airlines to find out the procedure he was told that the 380 Bodyguard was not on California's firearm approval list and that if he showed up at the airport with it TSA would confiscate the weapon. If what he was told is true,than it would appear that we will have to check every state that we travel to in order to make sure our carry weapon is approved in that state.

  • Bill

    I have checked a hand gun for CC purposes hundreds of times while traveling for business. My experience is generally that which is portrayed in this article. Know the policy of the airline you are flying. I found it helpful to have a copy of it in the locked gun case. Richard's caution on locality are worth taking notice of especially in the NY/NJ area. I had one TSA agent try to overcome my padlocked Glock case and one counter agent get really nervous when she saw the gun. If you are calm, this too shall pass. Additionally, if the counter agent gives you a slip other than the orange luggage tag, you look too much like a cop. Please ask them for the orange tag. Generally, taking your handgun for reciprocal carry is not a big ordeal.

  • Frebitz

    How does all this relate to transporting a disassembled firearm? If I have a Glock mag, barrel, and slide in my carry-on and the serial numbered receiver (the part that the ATF considers a gun) in a small Otterbox in my checked luggage, the x-ray would only show some small parts and springs. Do we have to declare bare receivers in checked luggage?

    • Frebitz

      Palm to forehead. Went to TSA site and answered my own question,

      • James Tarr

        Frebitz, no firearms parts of any sort are allowed on carry-ons. On my way home from the SHOT Show one year I had a new Magpul AR-15 PMAG in an unopened plastic package in my carry-on, and it was seized, and a report was filed with the police. Never mind I had no firearm, or ammo. Interestingly I had the top cover of an AK-47 in my carry-on as well, but they let me keep that. A word to the wise, if you forget and have a spring or pin or some other tiny gun part in your carry-on, most TSA agents will not recognize them as gun parts unless you identify them as such when asked.

  • Alan_T

    China Airlines ? …….. Is that a direct flight from Beijing to The Peoples Democratic Socialist Republic of Chicago ? Or , is there a layover at The Peoples Democratic Socialist Republic of Los Angeles ? ? ?

  • slothead

    I've done it once and it was a piece of cake, but it was before 9-11. Back then, it had to be in a metal container (I used my Zero-H case), and the clerk at the ticket counter had to observe the packing, witness the locking, and check the document tag that had to be filled out for transport. When I got to SLC, I had to go to the baggage office to retrieve it. The only issue I had was that at the SLC baggage office, it was just sitting in the open (outside the office) with the red tag hanging out for anyone to walk off with (sort of a major issue). That was it.

  • JOHN


    • Scott Nelson

      Easy there, John-boy. Time to switch to decaf and please refrain from applying the "Caps Lock" key.

    • Rico

      Then everyone would have to be an Olympic level target master (under STRESS), and carry frangible ammo. Soooooo many people crammed into a small space like cattle, chances are good that an innocent or the plane will be shot. Especially if everyone has a handgun and fires at once.
      I would not carry some off brand .25 that the airline issues to me, couldnt trust my life to it or the untested ammo.
      How many people would try & steal that gun….or lose it?!

  • Dooger

    What model is that Pelican pistol case pictured?

  • BigTex

    Here's a good idea. Stop being such dumbasses who are so gutless and are such cowards as to actually believe you need a handgun on you to travel safely.

  • gun dealer

    Even though the title of your blog is very short but still it is catchy enough to manages the attraction at first sight and conveying the gist of the whole matter.

  • Jeff in VAB

    I have started placing active GPS trackers in my gun cases and watching the case movement continuously as well as possible. If the case dosent make it on the plane, Im not leaving. Of course, someone could break into the cases, but the traker is hidden n the foam. It's not fool proof, but another security measure.

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