Flying Home For Christmas... With Your Pistol

Flying Armed

Lots of folks will be traveling in the air this week.  It's scary times out there, and if you can legally carry a pistol, why would you not do so?  If you've never flown with a gun before, it is actually one of the easier things to do, and really has not changed much at all since 9/11... unlike every other aspect of air travel.

I've flown with guns for many years.  Even as a young teenager flying alone and spending my summers in Idaho, I took guns and had no problems.  (A funny side note, when I was 13, flying by myself, I took a "bump" for a later flight while on a layover in Chicago in exchange for a free ticket.  This was before cell phones, so I called my grandparents collect from a payphone and told them my new arrival time and flight information.  I can't imagine that happening these days without a federal case being made out of it.)  At 14, I traveled out and back with a .22 rifle.  At 15, I took a .22 revolver and my Winchester 94 .30-30.  At 16, I flew out with my .22 revolver, my 1911 .45, and my M1 Carbine.  I came back that year with the same guns plus a brand new .38 special derringer... but that is another story in and of itself.  Back then, you had to carry them unloaded, in a locked, hard shell case, and declare them at the check-in counter.  The airline counter person would have you open the case so they could look at them, then watch as you locked the case.  They then attached a bright orange tag to the outside of the case that said "Unloaded Firearm."  Depending on the airline, if you were traveling with a locked pistol case, and it was inside of your regular suitcase, the orange tag was attached to the pistol case and inside your suitcase.  Sometime in the 90s, I believe, someone realized the orange tag was an attention getter to thieves, so they started putting them on the inside of the locked cases.

During all that time, I never flew without at least one knife, and usually two.  As a kid, I carried a Swiss Army Knife and a lockblade of questionable quality.  Later, a SAK and a Spyderco Endura were my flying companions.

Today, it still varies from airport to airport and some airlines have their own special rules and regulations, so check your specific details before you fly.

Generally, it goes like this...  You still have your unloaded guns in a locked, hard sided case.  The typical plastic carrying case that a new pistol comes in that can be locked with a padlock is not good enough as it can usually be pried open far enough for the gun to slide out.  Invest in a quality case with locking latches.  They are not all that expensive.  You can have ammo in there with the guns, but it can't be in a magazine or speed loader or something similar.  It needs to be in a manufacturer's cardboard box, or another container specifically designed to carry ammo.  You let the counter person know that you have to declare an unloaded firearm.  She'll weigh and tag your case, then call for a TSA person.  The TSA guy will escort you to a private location where you give him the key and he opens the case, ensuring that it contains unloaded guns and properly packaged ammo.  He locks it, gives you back the key, and tags it as having been inspected.  He then gets it into the baggage handlers care.  I've been to one airport where they X-rayed it but did not open it, another where they had me open in and show them they were unloaded.  The best advice is to research you airport and airline's rules, and have printouts of what they (and TSA) say on their websites.  Here's the link for the TSA information page.

In addition to making sure that you and your guns are legal in your destination, be careful with your midpoints.  I've heard at least one story of an traveler on a layover in NYC, and his flight gets cancelled.  He gets his checked baggage (including his cased firearms) and the airline puts him up in a hotel overnight.  The next morning, he goes to check in for his rescheduled flight, and when he tries to declare his firearms, he gets locked up for having unregistered guns in New York.  Even if you don't get convicted in such a circumstance, it could lead to the seizure of your guns, extensive time invested, and a lot of money for lawyers, fines, etc...

Don't let confusion or rumors keep you from being armed for safety while going home for the holidays.  Do your research, have the right gear, and allow a little extra time for the process at check in.

Christmas Music Suggestion

Today I picked up a new CD, A Very She & Him Christmas.  She & Him is a kind of retro folk duet made up of a guy named M. Ward and the actress Zooey Deschanel.  She has a great voice, and they play ukulele, guitar and piano to the Christmas standards.  She kind of gives a flavor of a smoke filled big band lounge, but with a mix of a talented folk act playing for tips in a park.  I especially like the reversed rendition of "Baby It's Cold Out There" where she is convincing him to stay.  Give A Very She & Him Christmas a listen if you like the classics.


  1. In some cases the TSA people are not even being called forward at all to check the firearm, the clerk at the counter is doing it all. Like you said, it depends on the airline and honestly what day of the week it is. But it is in fact not difficult to take you firearms and ammo with you, lots of people do. MAU

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. Thanks, Donald! I have a CC permit but have not tried to take my handgun when traveling by plane. I've heard that this is actually decreases the changes of the airline losing your luggage since no airline wants to have to report that they've lost a handgun.

    I recently posted an article over on our site about the Traveler's Dilemma. Do you check your bags with your EDC? Or do you carry on without your full EDC? Tough decision.

    Thanks to your article, I may just try checking my luggage with a handgun next time.



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