How to Fly with a Firearm
A quick reference for traveling with a firearm on domestic flights. Note, this guide does not address international travel. The guide is only intended to explain the process of how to legally fly with a firearm within the US. Always check local, state, and federal firearm laws.
Unload Your Firearm, Release Magazine, and Store Ammunition SeparatelyThis goes without saying, but you would be surprised how many people forget to unload their firearms. When traveling, your gun should be unloaded, with the action locked in the open position. Similarly, the breach must not contain a cartridge. Make sure the magazine is released, and kept separate and apart from the gun. The magazine must not contain cartridges.
Ammunition must be stored separately in a container. I recommend storing and traveling with ammunition in its original packaging. I would not store loose ammunition in a ziplock or other bag. I recommend an ammunition holder like this:
Securely Encase and Declare Your FirearmOnce you have unloaded your gun and properly stored the ammunition, you must now lock the gun, magazine(s), and ammunition in a hard sided case. TSA regulations require that all firearms--rifles, pistols, and shotguns--be transported in a HARD sided case with a lock. I recommend something like this:
You may use any type of lock, from a luggage lock to a master lock. Make sure that you do not disclose the combination to the lock or relinquish the keys to anyone. Theft of firearms does occur, so get a good lock!
The locked case cannot be carried onto the plane. Again, this may seem obvious, but it happens all the time.
You must notify the airline agent/employee that you intend to check a firearm. The desk agent will hand you a Firearm Declaration Form that you must complete before the airline will accept your checked firearm/luggage. Once the form is completed, you will check your firearm as you would any other piece of checked luggage. It is advisable that you place the hard case into a piece of checked luggage, as opposed to simply checking a gun case for the world to see.
As an aside, while it is not required, it is good practice to print a hard copy of the TSA and individual airlines' ammunition guidelines, and carry them with you on your person. I have received numerous calls from individuals who are told by ticketing agents that hollow point ammunition is not permitted in checked baggage. TSA does not prohibit traveling with hollow point ammunition.
Retrieve Your FirearmThe hard part is over! After the flight, you will retrieve your checked luggage containing your firearm at the baggage claim. Simple, right? You do not have to tell the airline that you have retrieved your gun/luggage. Upon returning home, you will undergo the same procedure above.
***UPDATE: As of April 25, 2017, Delta has changed its luggage retrieval policy. You must now retrieve you luggage from a baggage service office. The author of this guide anticipates other airlines will follow Delta's lead. This guide will be updated with any additional information.