Flying with a gun isn’t as complicated as one might think, but there’s a right way and lots of wrong ways to do it.
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Yes, You Can Fly With a Gun
There’s a significant misconception that you cannot fly with a weapon, that’s simply not true. Any legal gun within the United States can be flown with the passenger but without access to it. For the avoidance of doubt, guns cannot be transported on your person nor in carry-on bags. They also cannot be brought on board in a locked case. This extends to magazines or clips, but not necessarily all attachments for a weapon (like scopes.)
Despite this restriction, every year since the formation of the TSA in 2001 following the September 11th attacks, TSA agents still miss 85-95% of guns that are brought through by testers. This number got better during COVID, but there were also fewer travelers and fewer things to do at checkpoints – when just dozens of travelers are passing through each day, no less than 100% of guns should be detected.
That, Most Definitely, Will Need to Be Checked
There’s no question that ammunition, clips, and guns will need to be checked by gun owners traveling with firearms. There are specific federal laws that come into play when transporting weapons as personal luggage and it means that travelers can’t simply put it in their checked bags along with their swimsuits.
Gun owners who carry weapons everywhere for their protection sometimes completely forget that they are carrying a weapon with them and leave it in a carry-on bag, only to (rarely) be discovered by TSA. For them, it’s not as simple as returning to the check-in counter and putting it in the cargo hold.
Process and Costs to Flying With a Gun
To comply with the rules and regulations of 49 CFR 1540.5 here is how to fly with a gun in the United States.
- Locked hard-sided case
- Pelican or similar but does not have to be specifically a “gun case”
- Must use a TSA-Approved lock
- Must have padded interior
- Firearms must be unloaded
- The weapon need not be disassembled
- Firearms and ammunition should be separated but can remain in the same case
- Replica guns must be checked though they need not follow these procedures (toy guns)
- Airsoft (BB guns) follow the same procedures
- Accompanying equipment and attachments must also be locked in the case as well, though rifle scopes can be transported individually in carry-on bags
- At check-in, a declaration card from the TSA will be given to the traveler at which point the traveler will open the case to place it inside the pistol case and close, lock it again
- More than one firearm in the same case is permitted so long as it is closeable and locked
- Each firearm must be declared, each direction of the trip (once checked you do not need to notify anyone else)
- Flying abroad may or may not restrict the transport of firearms or add additional requirements. Check with CBP prior to departure for more specific information.
Failure to properly secure the weapon, declare it and check it in per TSA regulations can result in a federal misdemeanor charge. Obviously, finding the weapon at a checkpoint will cause alarm for security personnel and fellow travelers, however unintentional it may be from the sportsman.
This helpful video from 2017 remains valid today:
Costs for most US airlines are the same as if the weapon case were a checked bag. When those fees apply, it’s typically $20-30 so long as the case weighs 40-50 lbs (overweight bags incur additional costs.) If a traveler is checking two bags prior to the weapon case then an “excess baggage” charge may apply.
Traveling with a firearm doesn’t have to be complex. Following the rules such as ensuring it is completely unloaded, separated from the magazine and ammunition, properly declared inside the case, transported in a hard-sided (interior padded) case specifically designed to carry such weapons with a TSA-approved lock will ensure safe transport. It must be checked in and most components must be locked away too.
What do you think? Have you flown with a firearm? Have you made mistakes when flying with a gun?
Is it Sunday already? Kyle is that you??
I’m sure your gun will be waiting for you when you get back. Do you think you can bear to be parted from it for a week or however long your vacation is? jesus…
Can’t see the point of this post,
People are being shot everyday in the US while everyone else watches in horror, yet here you are teaching people on how to travel with their guns. How difficult is it for you guys to part with your guns for the duration of a trip?
Or is it important to keep a gun with you at all times in case the need arises for an impromptu mass shooting should things get boring?
Do you even know what sporting clays are? How many mass shooters have delcared their weapons to the TSA while it’s being transported in a locked case that looks exactly what is was designed for? How many mass shootings were carried out by a sporting clay shotgun? You and people who think like you are the problem and want every gun in America confiscated. Then I can’t wait for your screams of injustice when you”re mugged in a dark alley and the cop shows up with just bagful of lollipops to try to bribe the thug from slitting your throat with the knife he stole from his step-mom’s kitchen.
Kyle – please replace that photo. Anyone who knows from gun safety would never rest their finger on the trigger of a weapon, loaded or unloaded. Trigger finger doesn’t touch the trigger until you are ready to fire. That woman is not ready to fire.
@Gus/Aziz – Not every trip is a business meeting, some are hunting trips, some are extended stay visits, some people don’t feel comfortable without one. And to your point Aziz, if an “impromptu mass shooting” occurs, some prefer to be armed for their defense.
@Heather – Image swapped. It was a stock photo and I didn’t look closely at the trigger.
Next week from Kyle, “How to Carry a Firearm at Disney.” Next winter, “Five Favorite Things to Shoot in Fort Myers.”
I guess Esteban Santiago used these same procedures you lay out here when he flew from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale, claimed his weapon at baggage claim, and promptly shot and killed five people in the airport, injuring six more.
“Flying abroad may or may not restrict the transport of firearms or add additional requirements. Check with CBP prior to departure for more specific information.”
CBP will not provide guidance on the legality of you firearm in your destination country.
@Semperfi88 – If you click the link from the TSA, this is the exact guidance they give. “If you are traveling internationally with a firearm in checked baggage, please check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website for information and requirements prior to travel.”
If you feel you need to take a firearm with you on a domestic trip “for your safety,” you shouldn’t leave the house. You are a threat to society because the mere activity of being unarmed in public in the United States isn’t dangerous at all.
Kyle, does this mean you and your firearms have now arrived at your Airbnb rental in De Borgia, MT?
When did any one ever stop a mass shooting by being armed?
I don’t think I’ll ever understand that weird “American conservatism”.
@Aziz – I’m not here to defend or advocate for US law – I don’t drink but I think people should have a right to do so. Guns are legal in the US and finding instructions for how to travel with them is hard, thus the post.
That said, quantifying attacks that are stopped is a lot harder to do and receives less press. There was a very famous case whereby someone entered a Texas church and began shooting only to be gunned down by armed parishioners. https://bitly.com/3wXencv But as I am playing Google for you, according to this article on that event, ten times in 316. However, as some have been stopped by armed citizens, does that not make a case for more citizenry to be armed?
Just don’t connect in New York because if there is a misconection and you have to stay overnight and recheck it you will be arrested even if you are following TSA rules. That has actually happened. You have to be allowed to transport the gun at the origin and destination airports and state laws can vary widely and as you can see you are really risking it even with connecting airports. Over400 people have been charged trying to check guns at New York airports unloaded and in a locked case.
I’m saddened that my favourite travel blog is now plumbing the depths of depravity by promoting strategies for transporting guns to the psycho rabble engaging in the ‘sport’ ( a ludicrous misnomer) of hunting. There are millions of topics to be covered, many of legitimate interest. It’s beyond bizarre that you chose to write about this…
@Paolo – We are so happy to be your favourite travel blog but should clarify. I am not a hunter but I know many and there is surprisingly little information on the topic which helps us become a more valuable resource to our diverse readership.
As I am sure you will recognize, anyone can transport a weapon this way for any reason and that doesn’t just apply to the US. The UK has a similar process and *shockingly* Australians don’t even have to inform the airline that they are transporting a firearm in the cargo hold. Apparently, hunting exists Down Under as well.
Thank you for the post. It is very difficult to find up to date and correct info. Only went through the process once and it was painful.
And yes, there are plenty of reasons someone might need to check a firearm. Like maybe being in law enforcement or military in addition to being a hunter, sportsman, Olympian, private security, etc.
No sane person has ever committed a mass shooting. We have more guns than people in America, a fact that won’t be changing anytime soon. Firearms and ammo don’t “expire” so we are likely to live in a society of armed people almost indefinitely. So how about we do something to address mental health?
Not sure how many armed civilians have prevented a crime. It’s likely more than crimes prevented by police since they typically show up after an event.
Anywho, I’d challenge anyone to prove a sane person would commit a mass shooting. Give me at least one example. So maybe everyone can show the same level of outrage about our lack of mental health awareness instead of always just defaulting to guns=bad.
Access to guns is a universal problem, not one restricted to the US ( although the magnitude of the problem is hundreds of times greater there than in countries like Australia)
Please don’t give oxygen to the gun lobby/ hunting nutters. The use of that photo is inappropriate and offensive. Parents training their kids to engage in this appalling bloodlust should be referred to child protection authorities. It’s abusive.
Just another reason to put someone on the no fly list……..
Kyle, while I have no plans to transport a firearm anytime soon, this is useful straightforward information. It is too bad that the information, provided by the TSA and clarified by you, has to be political. As another poster mentioned, there are plenty of valid reasons for firearm transportation. One example is a local law enforcement personnel going to the FBI Academy. Local/state law enforcement personnel are not allowed to carry a weapon on an airplane (although Federal law enforcement are and go through a separate TSA screening area at the airport).
Someone mentioned ‘private security’; you know for all of those people that want to restrict gun rights until it affects the security of their person or family!
@Steve I am quite certain that private security, military, and law enforcement do not need Kyle’s description/blog post of how to transport weapons. Pretty sure they got the memo years ago. This post is far more appealing and accessible to the Estaban Santiago types who, because of lax controls over who can buy weapons, reads this and is like, “Oh, great, I can actually bring my firearms into an airport quite easily and kill people for no reason.”
It’s a disgusting post. Right down to the glossy happy picture of showing Junior the joy of guns. “Here ya go Junior, now, next, let’s discover the joy of automatic weapons that can kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time…..it’s ok, it’s sport!”
Meanwhile, this site encourages this post as we endure the biggest surge in gun violence in this country seen in years. Including the recent mass shooting in San Jose and another in Miami. Bad optics. Yes, a lot of clicks. Yes, tasteless.
Seriously, what’s next from Kyle given the timing of this post. Perhaps, “How to Pack To Fly to An Insurrection.”
@Stuart – my goodness, what would happen if you ever lent yourself to hyperbole? Guns aren’t illegal, the TSA shows how to safely carry them, as does this. Your statistics are not even close to accurate.
If we wrote about steaks on airplanes, we’d be responsible for heart disease by the same logic.
You’re right about CBP not providing guidance on the legality of transport to foreign countries. However, they will provide advice on how best to return to the US with your firearm to minimize hassle. I believe they want you to register them prior to travel and then verify upon return.
Thank you for the good information. While many of us here travel mostly abroad (I nearly always do), most of the public travels domestically. As we have seen in recent times with thugs roaming around destroying communities, we can never be too careful. Not all of us stay in 5 star properties and 5 star locations. Many people go camping, stay in a national park (wild animals are just as much of a concern as thugs, although, wild animals usually are more gentle on the eyes), stay in a cabin, or etc. If you live in particular states, you can conceal carry in 26 or more states with reciprocity. Millions of people also hunt. If thugs and the police have guns, it doesn’t make sense for normal citizens to not have them with them.
Gun control is just like the war on drugs. It means normal citizens won’t have guns but thugs always will. Their risk tolerance is always higher just like it is possessing and selling drugs. Again, it doesn’t make sense why only cops (who often are criminals themselves in their enforcement of abusive laws) and thugs should have guns and not normal citizens.
If you don’t believe in having the means to defend your family from attack, you don’t deserve your family. It’s shocking how some people think it is wrong to have a means to defend their family from attack.
Oh, Jackson. There’s a special place in Matt Gaetz’ boudoir for you.
I assure you, I have traveled to more wilderness areas of the world than you can ever imagine or dream of, kayaking rivers all over South America, The Himalayas, Africa and others over the past 25 years and, guess what, I never needed a gun. Or even wished I had one.
This is a blog about points, flying, travel, hotels and exploration. With that comes the hopeful understanding that it encourages peace, compassion, and respect. Basic humanity. Otherwise, really, what’s next? “How To Make Your Own Pipe Bomb to Combat The Other Guys Pipe Bomb.”
Did you ever stop to think that maybe it’s you and your lot that are actually the, “thugs?”
Thank you for writing this post. Many people are not even aware that you can travel with firearms, or believe that it is difficult. Firearms ownership has surged in the last year, and this is useful for new gun owners.
You’re showing a lot of restraint by keeping some of these comments up. I don’t think I’d be as charitable.
Straight out of the NRA playbook: seek to normalise the indefensible concurrently with shutting down alternative views.
Oh please. Do you even know what you’re talking about, or are you just repeating Maddow’s talking points?
The NRA has very little real political influence these days. It’s bankrupt and most gun owners don’t identify with them anymore.
If you have a real complaint about the TSA and its long standing policies regarding firearms in checked bags, write your Congressman. Don’t trash a travel blogger for posting a guide that is helpful to tens of millions of law abiding Americans.
Yes, as expected, direct from page 2 of the NRA handbook : suggest anyone with an alternative view is ill-informed, stupid or merely doing the bidding of others.
As for the wisdom of guns in checked luggage: it wasn’t very long ago that a passenger retrieved a gun from his bag on the luggage carousel, loaded it in a bathroom and proceeded to murder 5 people in the arrival lounge ( IIRC, Ft Lauderdale).
There is no legitimate reason for guns to be carried in checked luggage. If there is some compelling and legitimate reason for them to be transported, it should be via a separate courier arrangement.
I usually just roll my eyes and move on. But seeing the commonly used justification for gun rights about “some prefer to be armed for their defense” during an “impromptu mass shooting” I had to spit out the United Airlines (Matthew) and Southwest (Kyle) kool-aid this blog seems to serve up and focus on something Kyle pointed out.
“Ten times in 316” that people have defended themselves
And how many people died in the 306 occurrences? Its often not reported how many people stop attacks because it doesn’t happen…..otherwise the NRA, Fox News, or OAN would be jumping up and down reporting it. But because we as “Amurican’s” have to have our supposed God given right to carry a gun, nutcases will continue to follow those supposed “safeguards” to gun ownership and purchase a gun or better yet a semi-automatic rifle. Because tell me why anyone who hunts needs a semi-automatic rifle?
Yes, I am suggesting that you’re ill-informed.
Also, please do post a link to this “NRA Playbook.” I’d be interested in seeing it, especially since I dropped my membership years ago, after they refused to stand up for Philando Castile. It sounds like you’re using the exact same tactic, by suggesting that I’m just parroting NRA talking points. I most certainly am not, but the talking points you’re using are very much the words of anti-firearm influencers.
How manly of you to travel d!cksize. If you didn’t need on gun on your travels, more power to you. Owners of guns may have any number of reasons to fly with their lawful personal property. To compare legally owned guns to pipe bombs is disingenuous. Why don’t we ban high calorie foods? It is the (ostensibly unacceptable) risk to fat people that turned the pandemic into a terrible social experiment such that the authorities deemed lockdowns necessary. Far more harm has come from lockdowns than from “assault weapons” owned by lawful American citizens. Millions are killed by obesity. Mass shootings by crazy folx are orders of magnitude lower in fatality.
Guns are not illegal in the United States. As such, they can be transported via air. While I generally don’t care for Kyle’s writing, your objection to this article is moot. Get a significant movement to amend the Constitution and maybe you’ll have ground to stand on. Otherwise, kindly shut the front door in your prison colony.
Lol. It’s a great sense of amusement when blinkered Americans like you ‘point the finger’ at Australia in respect of its origin as a prison colony ( while ignoring/forgetting/not understanding the exact same situation in the US as a British colony).
Also forgotten: the fact that the murder rate in the USA is more than 5 times that in Australia , on a per capita basis ( with guns being the ‘weapon of choice’); incarceration rates are more than 4X
So the irony of suggesting “shutting the prison door” is beyond the pale, even for delusional Trumpsters. Fortunately decent Americans, ie the overwhelming majority, will prevail and defeat the loony gun lobby once and for all…
What is more relevant than the origin of Australia is the current border closure, which is akin to Soviet bloc policy. I don’t think you understood what “shut the front door” meant. It’s interesting that you bring up the murder rate. What do you make of the fact that people who are part of a group comprising 13% of the population commits 53% of the murders? Is that white supremacy in action? Leftists strain to find fault with “white supremacist” statistics. I suppose many view the FBI as a white supremacist institution, but here are the relevant data:
I consider perhaps the main cause of this disproportionate violence and incarceration to be the insane War on Drugs, not gun ownership itself. The gun lobby is the least of America’s problems.
Thanks for the great information. I will be traveling for business and will be participating in a sporting clays fundraiser event for a local charity. This article provided exactly what I was looking for, the proper means to legally and responsibly transport my shotgun. Thank you.
I very recently completed a hunting trip and traveled on American Airlines. I have a pelican V 700 gun case. I had three TSA approved cable style locks on the gun case. At the airport I departed from American Airlines said the case was fine. TSA has said the case was fine. I have flown with this case twice before no problems. But when it came time to come home and flying out of Dallas Fort Worth the American airlines employees would not except a gun case and offered no help. I would recommend not flying with pelican case on American Airlines.
No one commented on how guns are usually not identified during tsa checkpoints? Or did I read that wrong….they check my baby s milk every time I go through. You’re telling me a baby bottle.is more noticeable than a handgun on their screens?
Thank you for this article, I’m traveling over Thanksgiving and plan on taking my handgun. I’ve been trained with it, grew up around fire arms and raised my child and Grandchildren around them as well but more importantly taught them to respect them and what they are to be used for. I’m grateful to have to right to defend myself or others in this crazy world we live in now.