by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Today’s report is the second and final part of a guest blog from Pyramyd Air’s own Tyler Patner. Readers know Tyler from his experiences shooting field target, plus a recent guest blog he wrote about an Air Arms S510 Ultimate Sporter.

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me. Now, take it away, Tyler.

This report covers:

  • Attitude is everything
  • Weapons and checked bag fees– airline policies vary
  • Big airports versus small airports
  • Here’s how it works
  • You’ve reached your destination — now what?
  • It pays to insure it!
  • See you in the friendly skies!
  • Wish us luck!

In Part 1, we covered some best practices for protecting your gun and the basics of what you need to get through a TSA check. Today we will discuss the process of checking a gun step by step.

Attitude is everything
This goes for more than just flying, obviously, but it’s very applicable here. When you go to the counter to check in, the calmer you are, the better. It’s best to remember that these people work for the airline and are going to do what they can to get you and your gun processed properly and get you onto your flight. They don’t want any trouble and typically are very friendly and helpful. Now, the TSA agents are typically not as nice but simple cooperation is all they ask. If you cooperate with them, they will make sure your gun (and you) get to where you need to be.

Weapon and checked bag fees – airline policies vary
Most airlines will charge you the typical $25 fee for a checked bag when traveling domestically with a case that is not considered oversized. Internationally, the fees change far more from airline to airline. Southwest is pretty easy going. I have had instances where the gun was my only checked item and they waived the fee. American and United both have never given me an issue either.

I am traveling to the field target world championship match on SAS, which is part of the Star Alliance (United here in the states), so we will see how that goes. I know the weapon fee they charge is a bit higher, at $75. And they do consider the gun as a checked item so any other baggage is an additional fee on top of that.  My advice — call the airline you are looking to book with ahead of time and ask these questions. Once you book, it also helps to call and let them know what you are traveling with, so they can note your ticket. That way, when you show up, they shouldn’t hassle you too much more than normal.

Big airports versus small airports
We often don’t have many choices for the airport from which where we fly. Most people think that big airports, in places that are not gun friendly, will cause them more issues. Typically this is the exact opposite of what actually occurs. When flying out of large airports, you must remember that the person helping you has likely seen hundreds of people flying with guns in their career. I’ve flown out of some of the harshest places (when it comes to gun friendliness) like O’Hare airport in Chicago or Cleveland, where I fly regularly. At these larger airports, it’s just another day for the folks behind the counter.

It’s at the smaller, regional airports (like Baton Rouge) where I have seen issues.  At smaller airports, you may be the first person they’ve seen checking a gun in weeks. Sometimes these employees will make a bigger deal of it because it’s not a common occurrence and there is not a huge line of people waiting. It can pay to be just another face and ticket number versus a “special case.”

Often times the TSA checks the case behind the scenes at the smaller airports, where they will actually do it in front of you at larger ones. This is just a swabbing of the exterior of the case for hazardous materials. Most of the time, this swabbing results in nothing but if it does flag something for some reason the TSA may investigate further. I have many friends that have had their locks switched around, or zip ties broken off when they get their cases on arrival at their destination. This is because the TSA folks check the case without the owners eyes on the case. Often they will not open the case, but from time to time, they will. Trust me, that can be a very gut-wrenching feeling. I have never had this happen at an international-sized airport. They always walk me over to the TSA counter and the TSA agent will swab the case and check my locks/latches right in front of me. I’ve never been asked to open the case for a TSA agent.

Here’s how it works 

  1. For departure, try to arrive a little earlier than you normally would. If it is suggested that you get there two hours before a flight, add an extra half hour just to be safe. You and your gun (in case and locked, of course) will need to head inside to your airline’s check in counter. Do not try to check your baggage outside at a baggage check kiosk, or at the automated check-in stations inside. 
  2. When checking in at the counter, tell them you are flying with a gun (when flying domestically, it helps to just say a generic term like gun or rifle).
  3. They will pull out the proper paperwork and ask for your identification, and will ask you to open the case.  
  4. Sometimes they will give it a good look, other times they will just make sure there is actually a gun in the case and give you the go ahead. That all depends on the person behind the counter. Typically, FT guns get the obligatory “WOW, that’s a huge scope!”
  5. You will sign their firearm certificate and you will put it in the case with your gun.  
  6. Close the case, lock it, and they will put your label on the case just like they do with other checked baggage.
  7. You will pay the fee, get your receipt and then they will typically take you and your case over to the TSA inspection booth. Not all airports operate this way though, some will actually send the gun back on the conveyor belt and have you wait while TSA inspects it behind the scenes. The TSA is simply making sure your case cannot be pried open, is locked and does not have any hazardous materials present on the outside of the case.
  8. Assuming your case passes inspection, you will be free to go through your security screening and head to your gate.  

You’ve reached your destination…now what?
Once you land and get off of the plane, head to the baggage claim. Even if your case is under the oversize limit, they will typically take it to either the oversize counter or to your airlines office in the baggage area. You will have to present them with your I.D. to claim your case. Then you are free to go; simple as that!

It pays to insure it!
Just as a side note, I would highly recommend insuring any higher-end rifle you plan to fly with. It’s typically not too expensive and covers far more than just damages or loss when you fly.  I have two FT rigs insured along with two scopes, all as individual items. The total replacement value is somewhere in the realm of $10,000. It costs me less than $200 per year to insure these items. Obviously, your cost may vary depending on the values and your insurance agency. We all know filing a claim can be a real pain, but as the saying goes, “better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.”  While no one wants to think about the chances of a gun being lost, damaged or stolen, it’s always nice to have some peace of mind in an insurance policy. Most of this goes for firearms as well, so keep that in mind should you ever have to travel with them.  

See you in the friendly skies!
Hopefully this gives you an idea of what it is like to fly with an airgun. It’s not too bad an experience, and it beats the heck out of driving 10+ hours to some shooting events. Whether you travel to compete with your guns or go hunting, flying with them is not hard to do. For me, it gives me peace of mind over shipping it where it is totally out of my hands for the entire length of travel. If this helps just one reader out there get up the courage to take a hunting trip or a trip to an FT match across the country for the first time, it will be a success.  

Wish us luck!
I will be heading out the rest of Team USA on our respective flights later this week and early next week. The world championships are set to begin on August 21st.  It’s sure to be a fun trip and I will post my report over on the Pyramyd Air Field Target team site when I return. For those of you who are interested in keeping up with the match in a more timely manner, click here to see the Lithuanian set up match site. Lithuania, here we come!