My roommate traveled to Florida on AirTran recently, and he wanted to take his firearm along with him. BTW, yes you can do that, and it's completely legal. However, he ran into some trouble along the way.
This is his story:
This is his story:
This is the story of my first experience checking a gun & ammunition on a commercial flight.
I decided to take a last minute trip to visit my sister and brother-in-law in Daytona Beach, FL. It was my brother-in-law's birthday and my sister and I thought that it would be fun to surprise him (Plus ? when you live in Ohio you will use any excuse you can find to head south). Since Florida honors my Ohio CCW I decided that I would check my Kahr P9 Covert, 20 rounds of Winchester Supreme S9, and my 6 & 7 round magazines.
Before leaving I decided to do some research. I looked up stories that others had shared about their experiences on traveling with a firearm. I also looked up and printed the rules for traveling with hazardous materials from both the TSA and AirTran.
The AirTran policy is more restrictive than the TSA policy. AirTran does not allow you to transport your ammunition in the same container as the firearm.
Now with the specific policies in hand I decided to purchase an appropriate case to transport my gun with. I bought several different cases but finally found a Winchester case for $40 that I really loved. This case was a little bigger than what I had planned on purchasing but I knew that it would protect my firearm and I could carry two guns if I wanted to. I also picked up two padlocks to attach to the locking rings on the case.
Since I was only taking a short trip I decided to pack this case inside my checked bag with my clothes and toiletries. I felt that it would be safer to keep this case inside my baggage since anybody can tell exactly what is in this case by looking at it.
Here is a picture of the case packed inside my checked bag. Keep in mind that the suitcase this is packed in is not really a "checked" bag but is actually a full-size carry-on (Hence the limited space). Again, I was only taking an extended weekend trip and didn't need to take much since I was staying with family. You can also see the 20 rounds of 9mm in the factory box in the zippered pouch. My handgun and both magazines are locked in the hard-sided case and have no ammunition with them.
Because of the wording of AirTran's policy I decided to call 1-800-AIRTRAN the day before my flight to get clarification on their policy. The specific wording of their policy is as follows: "Ammunition ? small arms ammunitions for personal use must be securely packaged in the original manufacturer's packaging, or in a fiber, wood, or metal box specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition. Ammunition must be packed in baggage separate from the firearm."
The final sentence of their policy is what concerned me and I decided that clarification was in order. Upon calling 1-800-AIRTRAN I quickly realized that the representative who answered the phone was not prepared to assist me with my question. At anytime during the process of transporting a firearm when someone working for an airline asks you if you are a LEO after asking them a firearms related question then it is a pretty good bet that they are operating out of their element and will be incapable of assisting you. I asked the representative if I could speak with a supervisor and she put me on hold. The female supervisor that answered the phone was extremely helpful and knowledgeable. It was immediately apparent that this was not the first time she had been asked a firearms related question. I explained how my bags were packed and she assured me that I had met AirTran's requirements and that I would have no problems checking in. She said that since my gun case was locked separately from the ammunition in my checked bag that it was okay to transport the ammunition and firearm in the same baggage. I had attempted to record this conversation on my mobile phone but I ran out of memory before even speaking to the supervisor and thereby making my recording useless.
I still wasn't 100% confident that I would have no problems at the airport but I was determined to take advantage of my rights and take my firearm with me to Florida. Just in case I ran into any problems when checking in I brought my brother with me who is an employee at the Dayton International Airport to walk me through security and to my gate. This turned out to be completely unnecessary. The gentleman who was working the AirTran counter when I checked in had obviously checked in a handgun before. The process was very simple:
- I declared my firearm and ammunition to the agent as I was setting my bag on the scale.
- The agent asked to see my boarding pass and my ID which I presented to him.
- The agent asked me to open my bag at which time I showed him the case and pointed out where the ammo was stored.
- The agent then asked me to open my gun case so that he could verify that the gun was unloaded.
- I unlocked and opened the case and showed the agent my unloaded firearm with the two empty magazines. (At no point did the agent or I touch the firearm.)
- The agent had me sign a bright red firearm inspection tag which he initialed and then I placed this tag inside the case.
- I then relocked my gun case, placed it back inside my checked bag, and closed my checked bag.
- I walked my bag over to the TSA screeners and again declared my firearm and ammunition to the screeners. (The AirTran agent was very careful to point out that I had to remember to declare my firearm and ammunition to the TSA screeners even though I had already declared it to him. The agent made sure that I understood this point and explained that a lot of people get in trouble because they forget to declare the firearm and ammunition to the baggage screeners. The agent also made a comment about checking the gun being no big deal as he could probably see that I was nervous about the whole process. I made a point of thanking the agent for his professionalism.)
- The TSA screeners then asked me to wait while they screened my luggage. I actually got to see my gun on the X-ray display screen and was rather impressed by the resolution. The screeners said everything looked fine and sent me on my way.
I had no troubles when going through the security checkpoint and was not pulled aside for additional screening. I landed in Orlando and my baggage popped out of the chute just like everyone else's. I inspected the bag and could find no evidence that anyone had so much as opened my bag after it was out of my sight.
The trip down to Florida was very simple and I felt very comfortable with the whole manner in which everything was handled. Everyone that I had dealt with was extremely professional including my dealings with the TSA baggage screeners.
For my return trip I was much more at ease with checking my gun at the counter. I had packed my bag identically to the way that it was packed on the way down. I saw no reason why I would run into any issues on the way back.
I showed up at the AirTran counter about 1 hour and 20 minutes before my plane was scheduled to depart. I had to wait in line this time because I got there right behind a high school class trip. There were about 10 AirTran agents working the counter in Orlando as opposed to the 2 agents I saw in Dayton. When my turn came I followed the same procedure as before and declared my firearm and ammunition as I was placing them on the scale. This agent had never checked a gun before so he asked me to wait while he went and asked another agent for assistance. The other agent came down the line and I already had my suitcase opened for him when he arrived. I explained how the gun case was locked with no ammunition in it and that the ammunition was stored in the factory box separately in my suitcase. The agent immediately told me that I could not transport the gun and ammunition in the same baggage. I again explained to him that the gun case was locked and that the ammunition was separate from the firearm. The agent then repeated his previous statement to me and I asked him if I could speak to his supervisor. The agent went down the line and spoke with his supervisor and when he returned he told me to take my baggage to the other end of the line to speak with her. I repacked my bag and carried it down the line.
The supervisor was already in defensive mode and was in the middle of printing copies of AirTran's baggage policy for me when I arrived. I explained that this would be unnecessary since I was already carrying copies of AirTran's and the TSA's baggage policies and was quite well versed in them. Over the next ten minutes I tried to explain how I had spoken to a supervisor at 1-800-AIRTRAN and had transported my firearm and ammunition in the exact same manner on the flight from Dayton. At one point I was actually able to show the AirTran supervisor how my bag was packed at which time she turned to another one of the agents (who apparently outranked her) and told her that my bag was packed correctly. To this the other AirTran agent/supervisor immediately responded that she was incorrect. Another agent actually suggested to me that I give my ammunition to the security personnel and not take it with me. I explained to her that I had no intention of throwing away my ammunition and that this was a ridiculous statement and I could not believe that she would even suggest such a course.
At this point I was starting to worry about missing my flight and decided to relent and allow them to check my gun case as a second piece of luggage. I told the agents that I felt this way of transport was much less safe than how I had originally packed the firearm. I also informed them that I would never fly with their airline again (I'm sure they care).
After all of the disagreements were out of the way the process went pretty much the same as it had in Dayton. The agent had me sign a red tag again and place it inside the gun case. Once both my gun case and my suitcase were closed back up the AirTran agent actually walked with me to the TSA screeners and told them herself that I had a firearm and ammunition in my bags. The TSA screeners asked me to wait and were obviously confused as to why the agent felt the need to inform them herself. Once they got to my bag the head TSA screener at this screening station immediately noticed that my gun case was separate from the rest of my checked baggage and asked me if I was sure that I wanted to transport it this way. He pointed out that the gun case would be much safer in a regular piece of luggage so that people (baggage handlers) would not have knowledge that I was transporting a firearm.
At this I threw my hands into the air and explained to the screener that I had just spent the last 10 minutes trying to explain the exact same point to the AirTran agents. He conferred with his colleagues and was obviously uncomfortable with the firearm being transported in this manner. The screener then asked a TSA security guard to go and speak with the supervisor at the AirTran ticket counter to try to get them to change their minds. I could see the faces of the AirTran agents and the supervisor and they were obviously upset that someone else was now arguing the same point that I had argued only minutes before. The security guard returned from the counter and told us that AirTran would not reverse their position. The screener was still not uncomfortable with this so he asked a TSA security guard to carry the gun case to the plane so that it would not be handled by baggage handlers. I thanked the TSA personnel for being understanding and headed off to the security checkpoint. My gun case and my suitcase arrived in Dayton without incident.
My complaint here is that AirTran's policy is ambiguous enough that their employees feel that they can interpret it in different ways. AirTran needs to review the wording of their policy and decide if they want to allow passengers to check their baggage in the manner in which mine was packed or if they always want their customers to have to check two separate bags when flying with a firearm and ammunition. If the answer is the latter then they can count on never seeing my business again. I find the TSA's policy to be completely adequate in protecting passengers from any danger from firearms and see no reason for AirTran to add their own complexity to traveling with firearms.