Airline Travel with your Airguns: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Today’s report is the first 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. Over to you, Tyler.

Flying with airguns is easier than you think. My Steyr LG 110 Field Target Rifle has flown around the country without issue, and is about to fly internationally.

This report covers:

  • Protecting Your Gun
  • Size matters
  • Ammo
  • PCP and CO2 Guns
  • Springers and gas rams
  • Scopes
  • Tips for success

With the World Field Target Championship steadily approaching, I am making my final travel preparations along with the rest of Team USA. With the match in Lithuania this year, it will be a long journey and one that will require my rifle and I to be in the air quite a bit. Flying with an airgun (or any gun) can be a daunting process.  It typically compounds the frustrations and paranoia we all have about flying. Today, I am going to go over some best practices and show you just how easy it can be.

Protecting Your Gun

Whether it is a rifle or pistol, it is vital to properly protect your gun with the right case. In order to clear a TSA inspection, the following things must be present in your case:

• Lockable, with locks (I recommend two if possible)
• Corners of case cannot be pry-able to gain access

It is recommended to get TSA-approved locks. This means that the TSA agents at the airports have a master key to open that lock. While this can be beneficial if they need to open your case up for whatever reason, I prefer to keep one lock on my rifle case that is not TSA approved. This achieves one thing, the TSA would have to cut that lock off and I would know they opened it without me present, or they would have to call me to unlock the case.

I have seen people use zip ties, and tape to try and signal any case tampering, but all of those things can be replaced.  Good luck trying to replace my beefy ¼” steel lock without me noticing!  TSA-approved locks can be found here.

When I say the corners of the case cannot be pry-able, that means that with the case locked, someone cannot wedge something in the corner of the case to pry it open just enough to get a hand inside. Believe it or not, I’ve heard horror stories of people who have flown with guns getting their guns home to find bricks inside the case and the gun gone. This is almost certainly the fault of a poor quality case and a greedy airport worker. There are many brands that make good cases that are both lockable and cannot be pried open. I personally use Starlight Cases, but other brands include SKB, Pelican and even some Plano cases. These cases all have foam that can be custom cut to fit your guns and accessories. This is HUGE when it comes to adequately protecting your rifles and optics during a flight and baggage handling.

Tylers-case_03_web

Here is my Starlight case all cut out on both layers. As you can see, there is a spot for everything I may possibly need during a shoot. 

Size Matters

No on likes showing up at the airport and finding out they have to pay extra fees. This happens to quite a few people when they take their gun cases to the check in counter.  A standard length gun case is almost always going to take on an oversize baggage fee.  Most airlines do not charge oversize fees unless the bag is over 62-63 cubic inches. This is one of the reasons many shooters buy the smallest Pelican or Startlight cases. They are just under these size dimensions and require a little extra effort when breaking down and packing the gun.  Here are a few offerings from Plano, available through Pyrmyd Air:

Plano AW Takedown Hard Case
Plano AW Lockable Rifle Case
Plano AW Tactical Rifle Case

The fit will be more crucial with these as they are not double-layered like some of the higher end brands. With just one single layer to work with, you will likely just have room for the action with scope and stock in the case. Here is another that is bigger and would incur oversize baggage fees.  Here is an example of a full size case, that can be used in a pinch, but I would not recommend it. Note that the case only has latches on the front. You really benefit from the added security that the others have with the latches on the sides as well. This case would be pretty easy to pry open.  Also, the plastic is considerably thinner than you will find on the others, so rough handling could break the outside layer.

My case comes in at 62″ on the nose, with the wheels. This means no extra fees when I check it at the airport. 

Ammo

One thing to keep in mind when packing the gun up is your ammo.  If you are going to put ammo in the case with your gun, it must be in a sealed manufacturer box.  While pellets are not the same as bullets with primers and powder, technically, the TSA could still ground you for pellets in a non-manufacturer container.

PCP and CO2 Guns

For those traveling with CO2 or PCP guns, you will need to make sure your power plant is fully degassed before flying.  For guns with gauges, it is relatively easy to show that there is no air in your rifle.  For rifles without gauges, you must be prepared to have to disassemble your air cylinder.  Now, most airline agents that will be checking your rifle do not know the difference between a PCP and their childhood Red Ryder. I have never been asked to prove that my rifle was degassed. Again though, I have many friends within FT that have been in the unenviable position of having to prove to the TSA that nothing is inside their air cylinder.

Springers and Gas Rams

These are probably the easiest to travel with purely because the mechanism is self-contained and there is nothing else housed in the gun.  About the furthest you would have to go is taking the action out of the stock and showing them the guts through the cocking slot. I suppose they could make you take it apart, but I have never heard of this happening.

Scopes

Many think they can simply remove the scope from their rifles and store it in their carry on during a long flight. While this is a great idea and would be excellent for ensuring that the optics make it safely, here in the US, it is not possible. A scope can be packed in another checked bag, but cannot be taken onto the plane in a carry-on. Overseas, I know it can be done, but here in the States, we are not as fortunate.

Tips for Success  

I use a double-layered case, this allows me to fit my rifle, scope and all accessories into my case without burdening my actual carry on bags or other checked baggage.  The downside to this type of case is that your gun will need to be split to fit it.  Guns with wood stocks will need the stocks removed.  Thankfully, my Steyr LG110 that I am taking to the Worlds is easy to take down and can be made to fit perfectly in the case.  Because the action is on top of some of the accessories, (or with other guns, on top of the stock itself) you may want to add a layer of bubble wrap to any wood parts so that they don’t get pressure marks from the weight on top of them.

Another thing to consider is wall spacing.  Make sure you have a good bit of foam between your gun or parts and the walls of the case.  The hard plastic the cases are made from can be unforgiving, especially when the case is being thrown onto a cart or conveyor belt.

Overkill is a good thing.  Extra packing material in the case with the foam can’t hurt anything. Cut the foam to fit as closely as you can.  I recommend an electric hand held carver, but a simple knife will do just as well.  It helps to trace an outline of your gun or parts, then cut on the line and check the fit.  Better to go too tight rather than too loose. If too tight, simply cut a little extra material out.

Put your scope caps and turret covers on.  One of my Pyramyd Air Field Target Teammates, Greg Sauve has a scope that does not have turret covers.  During his trip to Italy for the Worlds in 2011, Italian customs (if I recall correctly) thought they saw something under Greg’s turret when it was inspected. They ended up attempting to twist the turret off, which rotated it all the way to the end of its travel and then some! Greg told me he had to use a wrench to get it loose. Thankfully, the scope still tracked perfectly and Greg was able to win the Veteran’s class title that year.

Pack up the gun and check the fit at least a few days in advance.  I like to let the gun sit in the case, locked overnight before I fly.  The next morning, I will pull everything out and check it to make sure nothing is under too much pressure when the case is closed.

Get a case with wheels!  Most of the cases made for flying will have them, but if not, do not buy it if you plan to travel. When you have 20+ lbs. of gear packed into a 20 lb. case, it can get very heavy. Having to lug that around a large airport would be a recipe for arm and shoulder pain, and buckets of sweat that could have been easily avoided.

With both layers packed, looks like my airgun and I are ready to go. 

That’s it for today. There is more to come, so stay tuned for Part 2.

35 thoughts on “Airline Travel with your Airguns: Part 1


  1. That rifle looks wicked 🙂

    I guess in today’s paranoid culture, you can only hope the airport personnel knows about guns and shooting disciplines.

    I once looked at the house on the other side of the street through my scope. It took me a while to realize that I was in plain sight of all the folks living there *and* the scope was attached to my (uncocked) Diana Panther. Oops… I hope nobody saw me 🙂


    • >I guess in today’s paranoid culture, you can only hope the airport personnel knows
      >about guns and shooting disciplines.

      Haha–not a chance. An incident with a TSA jackboot accidentally discharging a passenger’s handgun (firearm) found in their carry-on bag at a TSA inspection station comes to mind! The chances that TSA employees can keep anyone safe is about the same as the proverbial ice cube’s chance….

      On the other hand, I was a professional pilot who endured enough of the the TSA to quit my very good and hard-earned career (the TSA gang is even worse with flight crews than passengers) so, yes, I do have an ax to grind with them.



        • RR
          I am with you on flying as I flew quite a bit when I worked for Harley at their Talladega Test Facility here in Alabama and that was back in the late 90s to mid 2000s and after 911 it was ridiculous as to the bullxxxx you had to put up with just to get on a plane.

          They moved their testing out to Arizona in 09 and I was not offered a position out there ( thankfully as all that were have now been laid off after they trained their contract replacements ) but had no intentions of leaving my beloved Heart of Dixie.

          Like you if I cannot drive there then I do not need to be there Period.

          BD


  2. Thanks, Tyler, and I hope you have a great shoot at the World FT Championship! Your article just reminded me (with several citations of pointless or illogical travel requirements therein) why I never fly airlines anywhere anymore (and I used to be an airline pilot)! I simply can’t handle all the tyrannical nonsense from the TSA safety facade and jackboots and I personally must avoid them like the plague.


    • Calinb

      Thank you! It should be a lot of fun!

      I can understand where you are coming from, it’s one of the few necessary evils I have learned to put up with. I am just hoping that my international experiences are similar to my domestic ones. Even when things have not gone right, my gun and I still end up in the right place, so I can’t really complain…..yet!

      Thanks again

      Tyler


  3. Tyler,

    Nice article,….and wow/drool on the Steyr LG110 ! I, for one, would love hear more about it. Example,..how much is custom and how much is add on stock/options. The scope looks “busy” at the front end, what’s up there ? What’s the green “thingies” on the rear of the scope ? Explain the workings on the butt end,..looks highly adjustable. Is the pistol grip full custom ? What are the scope’s optics, reticle and adjustments like ? You get the idea. (Not here, not now),…but just an idea for a future guest blog. I think it would be real treat for the readers,…similar to getting an up close look at a Rolls Royce or a Lamborghini.

    One question though,…What do shooters do that want to take a batch of extensively hand sorted pellets ? That would not fall into the “factory sealed” container definition.

    Chris


    • Chris

      Lots of question’s. I like it!

      The vast majority of the gun has been customized or had work done. Is that necessary, heck no! But I can’t go back and change it now LOL. The gun has been fully modified by AZ (Allen Zasadny) and started life as a high power (20 FPE) gun.

      The Butler Creek cover has a Leupold close focus adapter put into it. This allows many scopes that focus under 15 yards but not under 10 to actually get down to 10 yards or below. In the case of my Leupold Competition scope, it focuses down to 10-11 yards on it’s own (after I reparallaxed it). In some cases, there are 8 yard targets at international competitions, so I have to be able to see those close ones, and the adapter allows me to do that. The green things are just zip ties that hold the eye cup on the scope. I like green, as you can tell by the wood.

      The butt hook adjusts up, down, left and right as well as the hook portion being independently adjustable. It gives me a lot of room to tweak things, especially on elevated targets or extreme downhill targets. As for the grip, it is custom. It was made to fit my hand by a stock maker in the UK by the name of Gary Cane. Gary is very well known and pleasure to work with. His wood work really put the finishing touches on the gun and it’s a piece of the kit I would have trouble living without at this point.

      You want an up close look, the blog is not the place for it. Make your way out to one of the larger FT events here in the US, and I’ll gladly let you shoot it! Might I suggest the upcoming US Nationals in North Carolina?

      Let me clarify on the ammo. While it does have to be in a manufacturers package, it does not have to be sealed from the factory. There would be no way for anyone to know what is sealed at the factory and done by the individual. Those who sort, would just put their selected pellets into a tin, throw the tape back onto them and put them in the case.

      Tyler


      • Tyler,

        Thank you for your time and all of the Steyr related answers. And thank you for the invite to attend and shoot it. Stickin’ close for now. I do live in Ohio, so maybe I will get to a P.A. event sometime. And,…before I forget, best of luck in Lithuania !

        1 question,..the articulated butt,…you mentioned extreme uphill and downhill as an example. Does it adjust and stay fixed ?, or,..is there tension on the joints that allow movement ? I would think that the 2 extremes would require different shouldering.

        And on the custom pistol grip….that is the biggest “jewel” in the crown. I have always been a fan of (fine) wood work. A thought I had today was if a person was to form their hand,.. on say,… a piece of clay. Have that 3-D scanned. Then send that info to a CNC mill/machine to re-create it in wood. Of coarse,..at some point,..hand work would be involved.

        I saw a scanner for QC at Honda one time,…..it could check very complex parts,…and NEVER touch them. Just an idea. The same could apply to the forearm wood. Talk about the ultimate in (repeat) holds !! 😉

        Thanks again for all the rare insight…….Chris


        • Well come on out to the Cup Chris, I will probably have it there if you want to check it out. And check out our FT club: http://1.ohioairgunners.com/

          That particular assembly rides on a cylindrical rod. I installed a quick adjustment screw on the right hand side that can be loosened to move the hook up/down and left/right if needed. I try to keep the left/right the same. But for elevated shots, you move the assembly up. For downhill shots, you move it down. Pretty simple. That particular assembly has actually been replaced in favor of the Air Arms FTP 900 butt hook set up. The Air Arms offers a bit more adjustment and with additional pieces, can be built up (or scaled down) to fit the shooters preferences.

          Yes you could do that. But Gary actually has you send a photo copy of your hand via email with a few key measurements on it and goes from there. It’s really fantastic stuff and super low maintenance on the part of the buyer.

          Tyler


  4. Hey Tyler,

    Great write up! You have put together a really nice kit there. I hope I never have to fly anywhere again, with or without a gun.

    I did not have a chance to get back to you at the Fun Shoot about the knob on your scope’s optical power adjustment. Would you please pass that info on to me here?


    • RR

      I assume you mean the magnification ring? They are made by a friend of mine by the name of Bill Rabbitt, he makes a lot of cool odds and ends of airguns. Sadly he doesn’t have a website and currently can’t do every scope out there, but he has made plenty of them already for various scopes. Shoot me an email and I can get you his info, Tyler.Patner@pyramydair.com

      Thanks

      Tyler


  5. Tyler, great tips for setting up a hard case. Even if your not flying your tips will really protect your gear.
    Hope to see you at PA when I win the contest and become CEO for the day, you can help me spend my $3000.
    thanks, Bill.


  6. Actually, this sounds more difficult than firearms for which you don’t have to worry about degassing equipment. The rule on ammo is new to me. I always thought it had to be outside of the gun case as well as being in original packaging or wrapped and sealed somehow. The standard requirement is a hard case which I think should cover the restriction on being able to pry open corners. This is also a function of putting locks on all the available places, not just one. As for the locks themselves, I didn’t know that TSA had to tell you that they were cutting off the locks. My nightmare was them cutting off the locks and sending the gun through to take its chances. For that reason, I looked into the TSA locks. But I didn’t find any that were robust enough. So I took my chances with Masterlock padlocks, and the airports I use have a policy of calling you back if there’s an inspection problem, so there is no concern about the case traveling unlocked.

    I found to my grief that you cannot take scopes on carry-ons when this led to a whole squad of San Francisco police being called about my case. The charge was transporting part of a gun. That had never occurred to me since the scope is an accessory, but the TSA works from a list and scopes are on the list. Fortunately the San Francisco PD was very supportive and refused to violate my Constitutional rights as they said by confiscating anything, so I got the scopes checked. Interestingly enough, the spotting scope was fine for carry-on. The fact that it did not attach to a gun made all the difference.

    The only remaining danger is the universal one about someone walking off with your bag, and the only defense I know of is to get down to baggage claim early to get your gear as soon as it comes out. I don’t know of any method to recover a bag once someone has walked off.

    Also, I would not be sure about international procedures for transporting guns. Even in the U.S. with the unique personal ownership of guns, there are problems. The TSA will often change details in their own procedures. And they are often freaked out by my transporting more than one gun. More than once, I’ve been asked if I’m traveling on military orders like I’m James Bond. And when I tell them that I just target shoot recreationally, they don’t seem convinced since that is what a real James Bond would say. I’m never relaxed until I pick up my guns on the other side.

    On another note, Kevin and all, I knew you guys had ways of solving all the pcp problems. The golf bag makes a lot of sense, and not being familiar with diving, I didn’t realize the tanks were so light and portable. I had been envisioning massive tanks almost as large as a full-grown adult, but maybe those are specialized for storage.

    Matt61


    • Matt

      I wouldn’t say more difficult, just something else to keep in mind. Remember, the spring gun shooters on the team have very little to worry about with regard to their guns and the TSA. There is a weight limit on the ammo that can go in the case. With pellets, that’s never going to matter. Now I have traveled with it in my own containers before, and because there is no powder or primers they didn’t care. I opened one of them right there, showed the person the pellets and it was fine.

      Every time I have flown with the gun, with the exception of the first time, they always hold the gun off in the airline office or in the oversize baggage area. They do this so you have to present an ID to pick it up. At some smaller, regional airports, I have seen them come out on the standard baggage claim. Most larger airports that I have traveled through, they go to the office.

      I can understand the “never being relaxed” part. I’ve actually missed connecting flights before that the gun has made it on to. Talk about an epic freak out! But once I calmed myself, I called the airport that I was going to once my missed flight landed and they were kind enough to set it back behind the counter for me. Then all I had to do was go pick it up when I arrived a few hours later.

      It’s all in how you approach it. It can be the worlds biggest hassle, or you can go with the flow and do what you’re supposed to. For me, it’s not a process I mind and often times I hear a lot of funny comments when the case opens. Typically, the first thing everyone comments on is the scope. Next is the green wood. I’m still waiting for the day when I get the airline attendant that just happens to know airguns, that will be interesting.

      Tyler


  7. Excellent that’s some interesting insight Tyler Patner, thanks for the blog and information, I probably won’t have to deal with an international flight, hopefully not Italy, but who knows it’s definitely possible I may have to do it in country some day. Good heads up on the different cases and locking requirements, I own a pretty nice plano foam cut out case but that Starlight looks even better. Thanks, Ricka.



  8. Gentlemen,

    a warning to all if you unfortunately get diverted to my lovely State, New Jersey. First, NJ considers airguns firearms. Second, in order to own a firearm here, you must have a Firearms Identification Card (FID). However, you must be a resident to obtain the FID (very Kafkaesque). Usually once per month, a hunter/competitor/collector gets diverted to Newark due to weather/mechanical problems. When the person goes to collect his luggage, he is arrested by the Port Authority of New York and NJ police (the Port Authority runs the airport) for unlawful possession of a firearm. It’s outrageous and the prosecutors “usually” allow the poor person to plead to a misdemeanor. I’m going to see a retired Port Authority policeman tomorrow night and I’ll question him on proper procedure for transport to avoid this – if it’s possible.

    Fred DPRoNJ



    • Last night I discussed the above with two individuals from my 25 yard Bullseye league. The consensus is that if you are from out of State, do not have a NJ FID, and get diverted for whatever reason to New Jersey and you decide to pick up your precious target gun or other airgun/firearm from the airline (you need to go to an agent to do so – they don’t dump it on the luggage carousel), the minute you step back from the counter holding the case, you will be arrested as stated above. The only way around it is to NOT claim your firearm but make sure the airline agent re-tickets it so it flies with you on your new flight (assuming this is an overnight stay before the next flight leaves). DO NOT TAKE POSSESSION of the case but leave it in possession of the airline baggage department. Hope this helps.

      Fred DPRoNJ


  9. Tyler,
    Great article, best of luck in competition. I’m always interested to see the mods on these guns.
    Twenty-five years ago I did a moving job with a buddy. If a box rattled he took great delight in dropping it from two or three feet. My bud’s a firefighter now, but as far as I know, he was and still is a “box kicker” (his term) or baggage handler for the airlines. I’ve had my checked baggage fly off to a different part of the country and listened to stories of riffled suitcases with valuables missing to be able to enjoy a flying with such a nice rig in checked baggage.
    Question, I have learned my lesson with guns rusting in long-term storage in cheaper hard cases with open cell foam. Do the better quality hard cases with moisture seals cure this? I solved this problem by only using hard case throw in the back of the truck at the farm and soft cases around the house.
    My latest find is a hard plastic golf bag case with wheels. Fits two to three soft cased rifles and keeps neighbors and theives in the “great” gun friendly state of Maryland off my back. Anymore I’m afraid for anyone to know I’ve got guns.


    • Since you’re not the first person to mention that same line of thinking, I will just say, there is one remedy to keep you from worrying too much about what happens to the gun during a flight. Heck, there have been matches that have not gone so well for me and I’ve actually hoped they lose the gun on the way home LOL. But that will be in part 2.

      As for the foam in cases, the best thing to do is buy a case with close cell foam. What you can’t see is that the foam in my starlight case is their upgraded “high density” foam. It is a closed cell foam that would not grab the moisture if it was very humid. The pressure seal in the case does help. Although I’ve found that more beneficial for the temperature issues than anything else. Since the gun will inevitably get super cold in the belly of a plane at 20,000+ ft. It’s definitely smart to have the moisture seal, and I know if we splash down in the ocean (God forbid) that the water shouldn’t make it into my case. Yet another reason to pay the big money for it.

      One of our team members, Hector Medina actually has a travel bag that his gun case fits into. So not only does it not look like a gun case, but he can also pack many other items in with it, instead of having a whole other checked bag. Quite smart if you ask me.

      Tyler


      • Tytler
        I don’t know if you remember me (Michael Loar) as I emailed you about a Benjamin 90 ci buddy bottles that the outer black plastic coating was cracking and you said it was a common issue with them but not a safety issue and to call Crosman to verify it. Well I did and was instructed to ship it back to them by UPS as cheap as possible with no insurance and included a note as to what I wanted in pellets or parts to cover my cost of shipping the bottle to them and they would replace it free of charge along with the rerquested items to cover shipping to them and that was Monday the 27th of July and they received it Thursday the 30th. I just received a UPS notice that my new tank will be here Friday the 7th so I had left word with a fellow PA customer service rep and asked if he would relay the message to you and all the PA reps so that they can instruct customers that Crosman will replace the defective tanks free of charge regardless of age or ownership. I was just wondering if you in fact was made aware of that fact and support provided by crosman so it could be passed on to customers like me that contacted you about the cracking issue with the Benjamin tanks.

        BD


        • Tyler
          Sorry about the name typo as it was late and my eyes were not working as planned .

          Please read response above this one to you as it will help you with customer service at PA.

          BD




    • John,

      Welcome to the blog.

      First, we recommend not cleaning the barrel unless accuracy falls off. My Talon SS, for example, has 15,000 + rounds through it and has never been cleaned.

      Read these reports:

      /blog/2005/11/is-your-airgun-barrel-really-clean/

      /blog/2006/01/cleaning-airgun-barrels-the-stuff-you-need-to-know/

      /blog/2014/04/getting-things-clean/

      B.B.



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