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Air Guns Airline Travel with your Airguns: Part 2

Airline Travel with your Airguns: Part 2

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!

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21 thoughts on “Airline Travel with your Airguns: Part 2”

  1. Tyler
    All you have said is very good advice and I have never flown with a gun at any time but when with Harley I did fly quite a bit in the late 90s and early 2000s and after 9/11 as well when the TSA was really on edge and hyper sensitive to people acting out of the norm.

    I had a fellow worker that was going to service school in Milwaukee with his guitar and he was asked by a TSA agent what was in the case and instead of just saying a guitar he was a smart aleck and said a machine gun as a joke and the next thing he knows he was in an office being stripped searched and harassed as well he should have been for his stupidity so yes be polite and most importantly honest as they see all kind of people all day long and have no sense of humor.

    I also was on my way back from Milwaukee one flight and carried a buck folding knife in a sheath on my belt all the times and had to leave directly from class to make my flight in Milwaukee and forgot to take the knife off my side before getting to the airport and somehow made it thru screening at Milwaukee and got on the plane and it had a lay over in Memphis so I got off the plane to go out to smoke a cigarette and when I went back thru screening to reboard my next flight I was caught in screening with the knife and since the blade was over three inches I could not board with it and my baggage was already on the plane and I had no carry on so I ended up having to go to the check in counter and see if they had a small carton I could mail the knife to me with and luckily they had some boxes for just that purpose so I got it boxed up and addressed to me and they paid for the shipping but just barely made my flight home so it was a lesson learned and one I did not repeat as I had that knife since I was 8 year old and was not going to drop it in the amnesty box for some TSA agent to claim at the end of his shift.


  2. Tyler
    Hope you and the team have a good and safe trip. And that everyone shoots well.

    And you will have a little time for some fun there won’t you. It isn’t serious biusness the whole time your there is it?

    But wish you and the team good luck.

  3. I have never traveled with any kind of gun, but I do have an anecdote regarding airport screening from 13 years before 9/11.

    I went through airport security at my destination, an international terminal of a big city in South America. I had one carry-on and two checked bags, which I had to claim prior to leaving the terminal. The screener (who had a HUGE holstered revolver) asked me to open my carry-on, which he quickly looked through. I had an old, ragged (checked) hard-sided suitcase with broken locks. I had a simple belt wrapped around it to keep it from popping open during the trip. He let that one go by on the conveyor belt. (When I got to my hotel I discovered it had been searched, however, as the twisty-tied plastic bag I had for toiletries had been torn open by hand.) My third piece was a newer hard suitcase which I had locked. He asked me to unlock it. I quickly said, “Si, claro.” and immediately unlocked it. As soon as I unlocked it, he waived me past. He just needed to see that I would unlock it without hesitation. At the international terminal exit to the rest of the airport, as well as throughout the whole airport there were soldiers with AKs and semi-auto shotguns. That was also the case at expensive restaurants, expensive hotels, and banks. although those were un-uniformed private guards.


  4. BB,
    I enjoyed the guest blog. Good job Tyler, and good luck to all you guys.
    Jim Chapman has an article on his site about flying with airguns too.
    He puts his guns in smaller cases and puts those cases into a hard shell golf bag carrier. It makes him less conspicuous at airports.

    I don’t agree with Tyler that his procedure is easier than driving 10 or more hours. It would be so much easier on my nerves to drive than to do the TSA shuffle.

    David Enoch

  5. Thanks for all the information. I’m sure it can be very helpful for travelers
    Can you fly into an area that prohibits air guns? I’m thinking about Newark Airport, but I am sure there are others….

    • That’s something I’d recommend contacting the airport in advance about.
      I believe it was FredDPRONJ said not to claim your gun in his home state or you WILL go to jail.
      I’m sure they’d confiscated the gun too… OUCH!

  6. Good advice not to cause trouble at an airport. There’s no tolerance for this now, especially where guns are involved. Some years ago, I was near a check in counter, and I saw guy who apparently checked in past some deadline. He took an aggressive stance with the receptionist. When the receptionist said that he was going to call someone or do something to work around the regulation, the traveler said, “I don’t want to hear excuses.” Now, just what does he expect in response to that?

    Tyler, what is your affiliation with PA? Does PA now sponsor a professional team like Team Smith and Wesson? Anyway, Team USA is good enough for me. Best of luck in the competition.

    How do you insure your guns for travel? It is not through the airlines as you would when insuring packages sent through the post office, right? I have my guns covered with a separate insurance policy that includes a number of other things.

    I had another range day over the weekend that was pretty well catastrophic. My M1 completely tanked. Previously, I had been following a trend wherein smaller powder charges produced fewer jams. The extrapolation showed me that the next increment should leave me jam free. Every single powder charge was weighed to the last particle. They could not possibly have been more accurate. The overall cartridge length for the whole set was within 3/1000 inches. The brass was brand new. And what do I get? One jam after another before I quit with a quarter of my ammunition allotment remaining. The jams also took different forms from before. It is important to know when to quit. So, Mike, Kevin, Terry, and others, you were all correct about the mechanical problems with the gun, and it goes off to a gunsmith this weekend.

    I always try to diversity my experience, so I also had my AK along. This was to confirm the accuracy of the Hornady steel-cased ammo which had been foiled before by scope problems. Nothing was left to chance. I zeroed at 25 yards. After counting off 56 clicks of adjustment, I was perfectly centered and I shot three rounds right on top of each other. CTC was one bullet diameter. Then I moved to 100 yards for accuracy testing. There are 13 screws for my optics including the ones that attach the rifle to the mount, the mount to the rings and the rings to the scope. I checked every one, and they were rock solid. So, I fired away and…. I wasn’t even on paper. What did I do wrong?!?!?

    I finally got on paper, but accuracy was erratic. But I think that may have been due to the barrel heating up. The gun was so hot that I could barely hold the front handguard. It was one of those days, but the big and enduring mystery is what the heck happened with the AK. Mounting system was solid. The scope was not at the end of its adjustment range by a long shot. It is highly baffling and expensive.


      • It depends on what you mean by accurate. There is no bottom to how inaccurate AKs can be which is true of many other guns. However, mine is a Saiga, produced in Russia. It is used as the basis of the top of the line Arsenal AKs which differ from them only cosmetically. There are plenty of reports of these guns and much cruder versions shooting 3 MOA. Mike shot his under 2 MOA. I myself shot my gun a little over 3 MOA without a rear bag. Interestingly, my new M1 gunsmith tells me that M1 service rifles were required to shoot 3-4 MOA. So this gun that is known for its accuracy is no better than an AK, at least at shorter ranges. My military surplus bolt rifles also come in about 3 MOA with iron sights. Anyway, no way should the AK be off the paper when switching between fairly small distances.

        Here’s what I think happened. I know that a gun zeroed for one distance will hit low closer than that distance. My 25 yard zero was dead on. That means my 100 yard impact should have been a little high. How much? I checked the ballistics table for the 7,62X39mm round and found that it rises an inch between the muzzle and 100 yards. But where exactly is this inch measured from? I had supposed at 100 yards. However, the ballistics could equally be interpreted to mean an inch difference (approximately) at 25 yards. However an inch of vertical displacement at 25 yards is very different in terms of correction than an inch at 100 yards. Specifically, adjusting an inch at 25 yards is 4MOA or 16 clicks of my scope which is a considerable amount. That was the price of not zeroing low at 25 yards. This four inches of difference goes a considerable way towards what happened to my first shot at 100 yards. I found that I was way high.

        None of this says whether the gun is inaccurate, but it does confirm the blooping trajectory of the AK, something that is associated with inaccuracy although it is not quite the same thing. This makes me wonder about Tom sighting in at 10 feet. It seems like the round could go off the paper at greater distances. Or maybe something about the trajectory and airgun distances keeps the round from going too far off.

        Anyway, armed with my information, I will try it again.


        • 25-200 works on the iron sights with their 2″ over bore or a micro red dot on an ultimak with 2.5″ over bore.

          If your mounted optic is like 3.5 to 4 inches over bore- zeroing at 25 might have put you clear over the target at 100.

          I did this the other day shooting a squeak with a B25. When I knew my windage was dead on (as yours was) but the pellets were missing I stopped to think. “I didn’t see any dust puffs next to, or under the squeak, I might be shooting high.”

          Next shot, instead of putting the sight post on the squeaks chest, I gave the whole squeak a 6o’clock hold and connected.

        • Your 100 would have been around 3″ high based on 2″ height above bore.

          Your AK will shoot 3-4 MOA 5 shot groups with cheap 122gr tula walmart fodder, then when you are close you can shoot your SST’s.

  7. I will be visiting US and will be staying at New Jersey. I will be shipping my airgun to virginia and from there i will collect it to New Jersey. I will be flying back to my country from JFK Airport. However, people have really told me not to carry even an airgun to JFK Airport. I did check with TSA and they do not consider airguns as firearms. My airguns will bedisassembled and will be in checked luggage. I would like to know if anyone has recently experienced travelling from JFK to another country with an airgun especially those who are visitors in US as i will be visiting in November this year.

    • wajie316,

      Welcome to the blog.

      People say lots of things, but the TSA has to operate by their regulations. One airport should be pretty much the same as another, regardless of where it’s located. However, have a lock for your luggage, just in case.


      • Thank you for your reply sir. i have read alot of forums and people told me that the port authority is responsible and they are the ones who inspect and arrest. Tsa is least of my worries and thats wat i have been told.

        Furthermore, there is a possibility that i ship them to Virginia and collect them and go straight to JFK Airport from there or arrive in New Jersey before 48 hours from my departure. That way i will not be eligible to follow the rules of New Jersey or New York City. I might have to carry the Toll receipt to show incase they needed proof.

        Wat’s your take on this?

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