This article was written my Mark Chapman a Texas Gun Pros friend and colleague and we thought it would be helpful for some of you. (DBF)
I, recently, traveled to Atlanta for a contract assignment and since Georgia is a “gun-friendly” state decided that I would bring along my firearm to experience what steps had to be taken to get a gun checked into baggage and reclaimed at the far end. The following will be a “step-by-step” of my experience and it must be noted that this is ONLY for American Airlines (AA) and other companies may differ in their procedures.
I booked my travel electronically through the AA web site and reviewed all of their documentation regarding travel with a firearm and the procedures necessary to declare such to their airport personnel. Due to the recent Ft. Lauderdale tragedy (01/06/2017), with an active shooter who claimed his firearm at the airport terminal baggage claim before opening fire, I decided that it might be prudent to contact AA’s customer service department to determine if any changes had recently been made that might affect my travels. The customer service representative stated that no changes had been made in response to that incident and hadn’t heard of anything pending along those lines.
However, she noted that my flight reservation had not been “flagged” that I would be carrying a firearm in my checked luggage and that it was a good thing I called as it would have posed a problem when I arrived at the airport. When I stated that their web site did not state that such was a requirement nor did their online reservation system allow for such to be declared, she apologized and stated she would notify her superiors that there was a gap in their notifications in this respect.
To note, I used a PELICAN hard-sided case to store my firearm that had two (2) TSA compliant locks, one at each end, to prevent unauthorized access. The ammunition was stored in factory boxes as suggested by AA’s web site.
At the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport, on the day of my outbound flight, I checked in and notified the agent that my unloaded firearm, in a locked case, was inside my luggage and that I needed to fill out the special card to declare such. Here is an example of the card (front/back):
This is where another couple of undocumented wrinkles popped up. The first wrinkle was that it was not stated (on the AA web site) that the filled out card had to be placed within my luggage on top of the locked case so I had to unlock my bag and open it up for inspection and stowage of said card. Luckily, nothing untoward was revealed during this inspection but everyone needs to be aware that this is a part of the process and that their “delicates” may be exposed to the public eye.
The second wrinkle was that my checked bag was also externally tagged (no explanation was given at this time) for processing at the destination:
The bag was then taken by the agent and that’s the last time I saw it until I reached the Atlanta airport. I should note that this procedure is ONLY for the bag containing the firearm. If the ammunition is stored in a separate bag (as was mine) all you need to do is assure the agent that it is packaged properly and no inspection or special tagging is required.
Now, this DFW/ATL trip was not without its glitches as the original airplane we boarded developed an electrical failure, during the pilot checkout, and was put “out-of-service” mandating both the crew and passengers to deplane and board another aircraft. This also meant that all checked luggage had to be transferred as well which added a concern about lost/misplaced bags containing a firearm that was obviously tagged for all to see.
After the flight, I went to retrieve my luggage from the baggage claim area, per normal routine. While my first bag, containing the ammunition and not especially tagged, was delivered in a short space of time the second bag was nowhere to be found. I waited until the last bag was delivered and the carousel stopped before getting really worried that somehow my bag had been identified and removed by someone inappropriately.
Having no other recourse I lined up to talk to the AA representative, in the baggage claim area, to report that my bag and firearms failed to appear as expected. As I waited, I noticed that the sign for their office listed their function as “Baggage Services” and, suddenly, the light dawned about the special tag (BSO) that had been attached to my bag and sure enough when I looked inside their doorway I was able to identify my missing luggage standing there waiting for me to claim it. I had to present my bag claim stubs and proof of identity (TX driver’s license was adequate) to have the agent release it to me.
Fast forward one (1) week and now it was time to return to Dallas after my on-site visit had concluded. The reason I’m including this dialog is that the exact procedures followed at the DFW airport were not repeated at the ATL airport and it must be noted that each airline/airport combination may be different in nature so flexibility/patience will be required to navigate the hoops they make a person jump through to check a firearm.
First, since my visit concluded earlier than expected I arrived at the airport early so the ticket agent suggested that I attempt to fly “standby” to get home quicker. This caused me some confusion as I had presumed that baggage containing firearms/ammunition would be required to be loaded onto the same flight as the passenger while flying standby allows bags to handled separately (different flight used) if the passenger is “bumped” to a later flight. The ticket agent double-checked with her supervisor and, yes, AA allows the bags to be shipped on a different flight than the passenger. Again, please note, this may be completely different with another airline so a strong suggestion is to be flexible and inquire what procedures will be followed.
I take the “standby” flight offered and, sure enough, I was unable to board any flight until my originally booked one came up which meant that my bags were sitting unclaimed at the DFW airport for about 4-6 hours depending on which flight they were eventually loaded upon. Upon arrival at DFW, I went to the baggage claim area for my flight and contacted the baggage claim agent for my bags to find that they had been delivered at the opposite end of the terminal and had to walk (remember baggage claims are outside of security so there’s no easy way to get from one point to another) to that other claim area to get my bags.
In conclusion, while it is possible to travel with a firearm in checked baggage the experience can be a bit trying at times so a good attitude, including patience and a sense of humor, is required to make it through.