Airline Carry Rules-How to Fly with a Firearm

Taking a Gun on a Plane- Airline Firearm Rules

Plano Rifle Case with AR-15 and 2 Handguns
Plano Rifle Case with AR-15 and 2 Handguns

When I tell people I am travelling to Nevada for Firearms training (I live in Philadelphia, PA), a question that often comes up is, “You can’t take your gun on a plane, can you?”

The answer is “Yes, you can!”

Most non-gun people do not realize it is perfectly legal is most of the U.S. to travel by air with your firearm, so long as you follow the airline firearm rules.

The rules are not complicated, and after you do it once, you will be pretty comfortable with the process.

Just be sure you do it right, because the penalties can be steep in some places (I am talking to you, New York City- See the video at the end of this article to understand why I say this) if you do it wrong.

If you are going to travelling by air and want or need to take your gun with you, it can be a little scary the first time you do this. I have travelled with a gun in checked luggage many times and I will say the first time I made some mistakes and it was quite stressful!

I will walk you through the process and give you a few tips on how to avoid any problems.*

Airline Carry Rules

First of all, much to the surprise of most people, it is perfectly legal to take a gun on most planes in the USA. You just can’t have it in your carry-on luggage.

Most airlines have a process to do this that you must follow. You must be sure that you also conform to the local laws of the departure and arrival airports. (Do NOT fly into, or out of, any airport in New York City with a gun!!! See the video at the end of this article if you want to know why!)

Please be 100% sure that your firearms are completely unloaded! See The 4 Rules of gun Safety.

Be sure all ammunition is in a closed container (the box it comes in will suffice with most airlines), NOT in a magazine.

Here is what will normally happen when you arrive at the departures gate:

  • You will walk into the airport and go directly to a ticketing agent. (most agents have processed guns many times)
  • Tell the agent you want to declare an unloaded firearm (or firearms).
  • Agent will ask you to open the case and show that the gun is unloaded. (NOTE: this policy has changed, at least at Southwest Airlines. They no longer ask you to open your gun case to show the gun is empty. I was told about this at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, which is where an “empty” gun fired a round that luckily did not hit anyone. They no longer want you to handle the firearms at the airport!)
  • Agent will give you a form to fill out and tape it to the gun case.
  • Agent will ask you to close and lock the case and put it back in your regular luggage (if it is a pistol case. A rifle case will obviously be its own piece of luggage).
  • Agent will either place your luggage on the belt with the other luggage and you are done OR agent will place the luggage on a special cart and call another employee to come get it.
  • Agent may ask you to wait in a particular area for 15-20 minutes in case the TSA needs to speak to you or have you open the case again. If this happens, wait 20 minutes and if no one comes to talk to you, you are done.
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Check the Airline Firearms Policy

First you need to look online at the Airlines rules about travelling with firearms and ammunition. Most of the major airlines have a policy that is easy to follow.

Just remember there are hundreds of people every day travelling with firearms, so you are not the only one.

Be sure you have the proper gun case

First you need to be sure you have a suitable suitcase and a suitable gun case. Most airlines will require you to have a lockable hard sided case to transport your firearm. Here is the one I use for handguns:

Travel Gun Case for Pistols or Revolvers
Sportlock Travel Gun Case for Pistols or Revolvers

I recently purchased this case for my AR-15, and as an added bonus, my pistols fit as well!!

Plano Rifle Case with AR-15 and 2 Handguns
Plano Rifle Case with AR-15 and 2 Handguns

Pay attention to the Ammunition Limits

They will have a limit to how much ammunition you may have in your suitcase, such as 11 lbs or so. I would stick to that rule, although I have heard that that is not often checked.

Be sure you have a lock on the gun case

You need a lock with a key, or a combination lock to secure your gun case. You must have a lock! You should NOT use a TSA lock for this purpose. (A TSA Approved lock allows the TSA agent to open your luggage to examine the contents.) You need to use a lock only YOU can open. I use the locks shown below that you can get from Amazon. Also, if your gun case has two places for a lock, use both! It must not be possible for someone to easily open your case. The hard plastic cases that some guns come with when you buy them are usually a bit flimsy and must be locked on both sides.

Be sure your carry on does not contain any gun parts

This includes the magazines. I made the mistake of thinking that an empty magazine was completely harmless and because of the weight restriction on checked luggage, I put several empty magazines into my carry-on luggage and the TSA was not at all happy about that.

That little mistake allowed me to meet a couple of Philadelphia’s finest police officers right there in the airport! This particular incident did not cost me anything but some time, partly because my story checked out and I also have a valid Pennsylvania concealed carry license.

I did, however, have to run back through the airport in order to check my backpack which held the magazines. They let me choose between doing this, taking the magazines back to my car, or giving them up.  Well, that was a no-brainer seeing as though these Wilson combat magazines cost about $35 apiece!

When you get to your destination…

You gun will be on the carousel as usual, unless you are travelling with a rifle case or luggage that looks like it may contain something valuable or “dangerous”. If so, the airline may have your luggage set aside in a “secure” area until you come and identify yourself in order to pick up the bag or case.

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This happened to me and I was freaking out that my guns did not make the same trip as I did! So just look for the little office or area for your airline and inquire about your missing luggage.

I am no longer nervous about travelling with a firearm. It is one of those things that seems like a major hassle and could cause issues until you do it, then you will see how easy it is.

Warning!!!!

Do NOT take a firearm of any kind to any airport in New York!! They do not tolerate a picture of a gun, let alone actually having one in your possession. You WILL be arrested and spend some quality time in a cell.

Always know the gun laws of the state you are going to be flying to, as well as the laws of the state you are flying from.

Please comment below if you have any additional information I have not covered, or ideas for future posts!

*The information in this article is from my personal experience and does not guarantee that you will not run into any problems. It is your responsibility to check all rules and laws where you will be travelling, including local laws.

17 thoughts on “Airline Carry Rules-How to Fly with a Firearm”

  1. Hey Dave,

    I had a revolver while I was traveling to mexico last summer but the agents at our local airlines complicated things so much that I had to go without it.

    It wasn’t loaded and I had license sheets for it. But still they refused me. I had to pick it up six months after I came back. I had followed all the guidelines you have given here.

    Sometimes I think the agents just decide to make things tough for you for no apparent reason.

    Reply
    • Sorry to hear that! I don’t know the gun laws in Mexico but I believe they are pretty strict. I am guessing there were issues because it was an international flight? At least you were able to get it back!

      Reply
  2. Wow, I actually never knew you could check firearms when flying. I don’t know if my brother is a police officer knows all of this, I’ll have to ask him. Definitely a lot of steps someone would have to take, but if wanting or needing to take the firearm at least it’s possible. It’s nice to know the safe process they have if someone does check these in their baggage too just for me. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Jeremy, thanks for your comment! I don’t think most people ever think about the fact that people travel with firearms quite often. It is one of those things you don’t notice and the airlines really do a good job keeping it smooth and not drawing attention to anyone that is checking guns following procedure. Once you do it a few times, it is really only a minor inconvenience, but not at all hard to do.

      Reply
  3. Quite an interesting read! I’ve never taken a gun on an airplane, so it was, definitely, an eye-opener for me!!

    I found I couldn’t stop reading your page. I think part of it was looking for some information on how New York residents do when they need to take their firearms with them when travelling.

    In any case, I’m happy I chose your page to comment on, as I’ve learned something new today. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Thank you, Mitch for reading my post! I will look into the New York question and add any new info to the post. That’s a real good question. I know I was quite nervous the first time I traveled to a training class in Nevada, but all turned out ok and now I am not concerned at all.

      Reply
  4. I have often wondered how to transport a firearm from one place to another.  But never having had the urgency to do so, it’s always been an open question in my mind.  Thanks for the wonderful explanation you provide; now it’s no longer a mystery to me.  I don’t anticipate carrying a firearm in the near future, but if I had to, now I know that as long as you follow the rules (like with everything else) things ought to work out.

    Thanks again for the article.

    Reply
    • Hugo,

      Thanks for the nice comment! I’m glad to have answered any questions you may have had about transporting guns using airline firearm rules. I always thought it was going to be a big hurdle, but if you follow the guidelines, it is just a few additional steps an nothing to worry about!

      Dave

      Reply
  5. Hi Dave,

    Great article! My hubby and I are in the process of learning about gun ownership as he has some friends that enjoy target shooting and such, and thinks he may want to get his own. It makes sense you can check your guns, otherwise, how would hunters every get to enjoy their hobby anywhere outside of driving distance, right? We also worked for the TSA back when it first started, and I remember then how we would open the gun cases, which always made me very uncomfortable as I knew zilch about firearms at the time. Glad to hear the advice is now that it is not only okay, but recommended that you use locks only you can open. 

    This article made the whole process seem so clear and easy, I think your piece will help a lot of amateurs like us.

    Thank you!

    Desa

    Reply
  6. Dave,  Thank you for that information.  My husband and I both have carry permits and that is great information to know for if/when we decide to carry when we travel.  We fly to California at least once a year sometimes more.  Do you happen to know how hard it would be to fly with guns to California?  Would the rules be about the same as what you described or maybe stricter?  We haven’t tried it yet, but maybe we will now.  Thanks again for the article.

    Lynn

    Reply
    • Lynn,

       Thank you for your comment! California is definitely not a gun friendly state.  However I believe it is legal to fly to California as long as the rules are followed to the airport. When leaving the airport, keep the gun LOCKED in a hard-sided container. Also be sure the Ammo is also locked in a separate container. Having said that, I would be extremely careful and checking all applicable laws for the city you would be flying into, especially LA or San Francisco. There are also restrictions in California as to the capacity of the magazines you maybe carrying. If you are carrying any type of magazine that hold more than 10 rounds, you would be breaking the law.

      Dave

      Reply
  7. Its amazing the kind of knowledge been shared through this platform. I have never for for once thought about the transportation of fire arms and ammunitions I guess it never crossed my mind and that is the reasoni find this article really important. Applied knowledge is power.

    The Newyorkers gat no chill, why aren’t they allowing the transportation of firearms? Has it been abused in the past

    I’m thinking theres a reason why and I wanna know

    Great write up keep up the good work

    Reply
    • Zuchii, thanks for your comment! Unfortunately, New York is run by Far Left people that think banning guns is the way to prevent crime. Though their intent seems good, they seem to forget that America is a free country and people have the right to defend themselves. It is a good place to stay away from!

      Dave

      Reply
  8. Dave, when I started reading your article I was amazed that it is legal to take a gun on any plane at all, whatever the country.  However, when reading further and finding the specific rules and procedures you have detailed, I have a better understanding of this subject.

    I think it is really great that you have taken the time to make this valuable information about travelling with a gun, available online for all to read.  I’m sure anyone who is anticipating travel such as this would greatly appreciate the information you provide on this subject.

    Reply
    • ValerieJoy,

      Thank you for your comment! Since the first time I took a gun on a plane, I thought it might be a good idea to let other people know the procedure so they don’t make the mistake that I did. Hopefully this article will put peoples mind at ease if they are nervous about taking a firearm when they travel.

      Dave

      Reply
  9. This was an informative read. Not being a gun person at all, I was glad to hear about the rules they have in place for carrying concealed weapons on a plane, and, and no, i didn’t know that you could, in the first place. I’ve had friends whose luggage went missing and never found, or rifled through probably by baggage handlers, and came up with items missing. Is this a concern for you at all, and is there some kind of insurance or something you can get for conceal and carry guns?

    Reply
    • Zardozmania,

      Thanks you for reading and commenting on my article. Yes, I am always concerned with theft and/or loss of my guns when traveling. So far, I have not had any issues. I do, however, always seem to have my suitcases damaged with every flight I take!

      I do not know if there is insurance, but I always photograph my guns, including the serial numbers in case there is an issue, and always check that everything is still there before I leave the baggage area in case I need to register a complaint or report a theft.

      Reply

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