Question: I know a lot of shooters travel with their shotguns. I have never traveled by air with a gun and have always been afraid of the hassle. What’s involved in taking my shotgun on a plane?
I often teach or meet shooters who have never flown with a shotgun. It’s amazingly easy, even after 9/11. Make sure you check with your particular airline before you travel because the airline you are traveling on might have different restrictions and requirements. Having said that, the following is true for most airlines and most airports. You should also make sure that your shotgun is properly insured with a reputable company like SIAI (Sportsman’s Group Insurance). Again, you should call and check with your airline and the airports through which you will be transporting your shotgun prior to departure day.
You will need to travel with your unloaded shotgun in a hard-sided case that is lockable. While most airlines will allow you to check up to 11 pounds of ammunition, my advice is to travel without any shells and purchase whatever shells you need when you arrive at your destination. Eleven pounds works out to less than 100 12-gauge shells and it is simply not worth the hassle to transport shells. When you arrive at your destination airport, you will need to check your shotgun as checked luggage at the ticket counter. Carrying your shotgun or ammunition onto the plane or checking curbside is not permitted. When you check your bags with the ticket agent, advise the agent that you have a firearm in your bag and identify the bag that contains the shotgun. If you are carrying ammunition, this is the time you would declare this as well. The ticket agent will ask you to fill out and sign a declaration card, will require you to open the hard-sided case so that he/she can inspect the shotgun and then ask you to place the declaration card inside the case and close and lock the case. In most airports, the ticket agent or other airline representative will escort you to a TSA (Transportation Security Agency) inspection station after you have secured your boarding pass and luggage tag receipts. At the inspection station, the TSA officer will run your case through a machine that detects explosives. In some airports, like San Antonio, the TSA inspection station is in a remote location. The process is still the same, but the distance from the ticket counter to the inspection station is a bit longer. Once the TSA officer completes the electronic check of your bag and gives you the “all clear”, you can proceed to the security checkpoint and board your plane.
When you arrive at your destination airport, you will retrieve your gun case in one of three places depending on the local procedures at the arrival airport: 1) the luggage belt with the rest of your luggage, 2) the “oversized baggage” area, or 3) the baggage office for your airline. This varies from airport to airport. If you pick up the shotgun at the oversized baggage area or the baggage office, you may be asked to show a government picture ID to verify that you are the owner of your bag. When you leave the airport, make sure you are compliant with local laws regarding the transportation of a firearm. In most states, if you keep the gun in a locked case and the case is transported in the trunk and out of reach of anyone in the passenger compartment, you should be safe but ALWAYS check with the local authorities at your destination regarding local laws. Traveling in and out of the New York City area in particular can be very tricky so make sure you know the local laws before venturing into another state or locale. If you have never traveled with your shotgun before, you may be a bit uneasy about it, but it is much easier than the general public is aware of. I have traveled hundreds of times with my shotgun and have never had a problem. Safe travels!