I am writing this in Tennessee, having flown in from the South while my lovely bride drove down from the North to meet me.  The first thing I did when she picked me up at the airport was to crack the suitcase and the gun case therein, and load up a .45.

I hear people complain about TSA in regard to flying commercial aircraft with firearms, but honestly, I’ve found TSA a vast improvement over the mishmash of security we had at airports prior to 9/11. 

Here is an excellent article on the topic by Greg Ellifritz. After flying with guns for half a century or so I can tell you that his advice is absolutely spot on.

Recently retired from a distinguished career in law enforcement Greg is now teaching full time, including – indeed, focusing on – law-abiding private citizens. I’ve known him for a decade, participated in his training, and can tell you he’s spot on with that, too.

If you can’t train with him, you would be wise to at least follow Greg’s blog. He’s one of the best in the self-defense field.


  1. Arrive early. Have a printed copy of TSA/airline firearm regulations. Ensure that firearm/ammunition is packed per those regulations. Quietly advise the ticket agent that you need to “check a firearm.” Be pleasant, calm & follow their instructions. If they request you to do something stupid, ask for a supervisor. All airports do things a bit differently. Don’t fly with anything you’re not willing to lose/replace. Enjoy.

  2. Hah! I am TSA approved precheck! The FBI, CIA, DEA, and KG used to Be all have dossiers on me! When I got my congrats letter they said all was okie dokie but if I brought a grenade or gun on board I ‘might’ lose my privileges!

    Might… sure… just a misunderstanding officer. Darn grenade got stuck in my billfold somehow!

    But I know well the law…. and I stay away from NY airports if I check in my gun before traveling!

    • Don’t go near any New Jersey airports, either, even on a conexion. I’ve read keep-you-awakw-at-night tales of diverted flights, forced overnight stays, arrest in the morning when checking in because you are in possession (yes, in your checked luggage you were FORCED to take in hand) of firearms and HOLLOW POINT defensive ammmunition. Each individual item is its own separate felony.
      Its all about two things: WE own you, so get usedto it, thing one, and the Benjamins, thing two.

      • Tionico,

        You are correct. I live 45 minutes from Newark Airport. I have read the same true stories you have read. I think one poor victim was flying from VA or UT to a pistol match in MA and got abused by the government. New Jersey is a slave state, not a free state. Governor Murphy truly believes NJ has the best ideas when it comes to how gun laws should be. He thinks the free states have the wrong ideas. The legislature just passed some more unconstitutional gun laws last week, or they at least passed in one house. Stupid voters are the problem. Many or most of the citizens of NJ are not patriots.

      • Yes.

        And don’t forget the dreaded ‘high capacity magazine’ (or ‘clips as they may be inclined to call them). Another ding on the ‘accidental’ felony wrap sheet.

  3. I learned almost the hard way about the actual case I used one time.Had two handgins inside a factory plastic clamshell case, chain wrapped in a cross formation and padlocked where the ends met the straight section. I opened it for the TSA dweeb who was pretty well nuts… swab checked everything, found “explosive residue” on most items, yeah, wherever did THAT come from, dummie, but I kept my cool. She bailed for break, a nice enough man playe substitute. whew!! After he was all done (no more swabs) he asked me topack it all up again, which I did, and re-locked the chain. I left it there on the table, when he picked it up and began torturing the case. He ws finally able to jam the chain aside just enough to squeeze one index finger past the “jaws” of the case. NOPE CAN”T TAKE THAT ON THE PLANE. Thinking he would present me with two unacceptble options, (leave the gun wiht him, or miss my flight) I unlocked the chain, shuffled stuff inside again, replaced and locked the chain, and this time it was tight enough he could not squeeze his finger inside.

    Out waiting for my flght I tried imagining now the goon’s being able to painfully squish one index finger inside the shell of the case could possibly pose any practical danger to anyone. What, a baggage handler targetting MY suitcase, openong ot, finding that case at random, figuring it MIGHT have a gun inside, trying to access it to enable him to shoot up his fellow workers out on the tarmac…. thankfully they called for boaring and thus ended the mental gyrations.

    There are two rules about this stuff:

    you MUST obey all the rules
    There ARE no rules, and WE make them.

    Adventures in Barmeyland…….

    • I had a really positive experience at JAX a couple years ago.

      I was at baggage check with 5 bags: two personal, two were packed with multiple guns and parts (handguns, rifles, muzzleloaders) and one compound bow case.

      One case, metal, was 2 lbs over limit. The woman checking the bags in said I could repack right there if I could get it down to 50lbs by transferring something to another case. I got it to 50.25 lbs and she checked it without additional cost. I used to love Southwest. I only had to pay for one bag! And regular rate. Plus she never called TSA or other security to check the gun cases.

      Similar experience in Las Vegas (if I recall correctly). No TSA or other check when checking a handgun, just a quick look by the baggage check agent.

  4. Knowledge of the process with respect to how it is intended to work and how it actually does work are both critical. Policy (law) and practice: often in synch, but not always.

    I always take hard copies of the “rules” as they appear on the TSA and airline websites and have both sets ready for display. In my experience I have seen variability in knowledge of the process by airline personnel. I assume the same for local law enforcement and TSA- so I also go “armed” with information from the relevant sources. And, I arrive early.

    Three weeks ago I flew from Rochester, NY to Fort Lauderdale. 5 am flight and the airport is busy but relatively quiet. The Delta agent in Rochester lacked experience with the process for checking a firearm: “Hey Ed, this guy (pointing to me) has a firearm!”

    That’s helpful. I started to glance to the side to see if others had…yep…people heard him. Rather than duck- my reaction was a sheepish “aw shucks” smile. I remained calm and thankfully so did everyone else. Fortunately, flying with firearms out of Rochester, NY is much more common relative to the rest of this state.

    Long story longer- it took 30 minutes for me to check the firearm b/c the gentleman needed on-the-job training. And, I needed to go to a private downstairs location to meet with a TSA official. And just to top it all off, while waiting for her- the inexperienced and clueless but very pleasant Delta agent went on to ask me why anyone needed an “assault weapon.” I was checking a single handgun and not a long gun. But OK, if you mean the AR-15 it’s not an “assault weapon” AND it’s not about a need- it’s about a right.

    Finally, I always over-pack “out of an abundance of caution.” I put the ammo in its own hard-sided locked gun safe. I do not trust airline agents or even some TSA officials to understand the “rules” for the ammo and do not want my property confiscated. I have never had a problem. But unfortunately, while doing my best to avoid any problems due to the ignorance of others (those in authority, no less) I am also doing my best to incur additional baggage fees. In the end, I don’t mind throwing money at certain kinds of potential problems.

    Does any other subgroup of citizens in this country, other than law-abiding gun owners, need to do more to protect themselves from legal jeopardy just for exercising a Constitutional right?

  5. I’ve never had a problem flying with firearms, only encountering different procedures depending on location. Years ago when living in RI, TSA would take me and my bag in back while they searched and swabbed my suitcase. I would think they should be more concerned with someone who is hiding something, not someone who lawfully declared a firearm. Anyway, I never argued, just let them do their thing and I was on my way without a problem.

    • Been there, done that in RI a few times.

      Thankfully, we are no longer residents. And especially so given the recent change in laws. I have friends in RI who are not happy with the nonsense in that state.

      Dad always had a security clearance. Always owned guns. I couldn’t loan him a handgun without a FFL and 7 day wait involved. Each way.

      And the infamous police chief who ignored the RI Supreme Court on multiple occasions regarding concealed carry applications. Screwy liberal state.

  6. Having carried many firearms on the airlines, just last week I was carrying two handguns in the lock box and once we did the security dog and pony show with the TSA guy in an off the beaten path the airline agent, who had to escort me to the previously mentioned TSA check area, casually mentions that “all of you gun people are so easy to deal with compared to what I normally see during the day”.

    Yep, we’re the good guys!


  7. After carrying the same TSA approved pistol case for two decades, I discovered it no longer qualified. I purchased the case pictured , several years ago and no problems. In fact some TSA agents engaged me in polite conversation.

  8. I frequently fly between Portland, OR and Boston, MA. Neither of these airports is known for friendliness toward gun owners, so years ago I left a pistol and a couple of holsters at my daughter’s house in New Hampshire. When my son-in-law passed, I began carrying his Sig P320 instead of my own (he had good taste in guns). On my last visit my daughter asked me to take his 41 mag Blackhawk home and keep it for his son (who just turned 6). I could not find a TSA case that would fit that huge gun and still fit inside my suitcase, and she had 25 lbs of 41 mag ammo.
    I always have a copy or two of my C&R FFL with me, and this Blackhawk qualified by virtue of its manufacture date. On the morning I flew home I had a N.H. gun shop ship it to me, and I shipped the ammo UPS. There was some expense involved in all this, but as my wife said, “It’s cheaper than a divorce.” Two days later I had the revolver and ammo in my safe, and a happy wife.

  9. Mas, Welcome to Tallahassee. May I ask if you’re here for an event I don’t know about?

  10. In Greg’s linked blog post he writes, “I carry pepper spray in my checked bag on every trip I take.”

    Just about every airline prohibits this, even though the FAA does not (with some restrictions). I fly Southwest or American and that’s about it. Neither allows pepper spray in your checked bag. I know that Alaska and Frontier allow it. Anyone fly with pepper spray? I’ve never tried to sneak it through, I don’t know if you even can.

    • I virtually always Cary it in checked bag. Never thought about it.

      Recently, I found I had it in a carry on bag. After I got to my destination!

  11. I print out a copy of the actual law pertaining to traveling with firearms and hílite the important parts. Once, in Raleigh, I had to show the TSA supervisor the law and advise him that he was violation because of his request for the gun box combination. Problem solved.

  12. It looks to me, from the article you’ve linked, that even someone with LEO credentials needs to be extra careful and provide lots of Plan B (extra locks, links to show TSA agents, etc). That’s the horror of this kind of thing – ordinary people can’t carry if flying without taking a lot of risk. Sad but true. It’s a good breakdown of how to do it, but it seems to be really risky without being a LEO or ex-LEO.

  13. Question for Mas: Would either of the following scenarios work if one were diverted unintentionally through a gun-hostile jurisdiction?

    Scenario One: I would refuse to take possession of my checked luggage. Instead, I would insist that the airline keep it and get it to my final destination (treat it like they would a lost bag). If asked why, I would explain that I had no intention to bring it into that jurisdiction or otherwise to violate any law by possessing it in that jurisdiction.

    Scenario Two: Just leave the bag on the carousel and file a claim for lost luggage when I get to my next (gun legal) destination. Best case: they will “find” it and forward it to me at home.

    I figure it is better to risk the loss of a couple thousand dollars’ worth of gun(s) than my freedom plus many multiples of that in legal fees–and the gun is likely forfeit anyway.

    But, hopefully, the recent SCOTUS ruling will make NYC revise their laws in this regard. If I have a Constitutional right to Keep and Bear Arms, then NY, NJ, DC and CA must have a reasonable mechanism to accommodate that right. Constitutional rights ought not disappear when one crosses a state line.

    • Use scenario one. Two would require you to lie since you know where it is and it is not lost. It would also require you to abandon it where it could be stolen.

      • Sound counsel. I wouldn’t consider lying. Thanks for pointing out my sloppy wording. I would have had to report it as unclaimed (not lost) for the real reason that I had done so…with a significant chance that, if they hadn’t already started the process of returning the luggage to my home airport, the airline might well absolve themselves of the responsibility or they might hand it to the police. That’s why I figured in the high likelihood of “writing off” the gun and luggage.

        Good point about the very big negative of leaving the gun open to theft if left on a carousel. That is sufficient reason not do do so. That risk would be reduced if the airport held such luggage in their baggage office, as some airports/airlines seem to do, rather on the carousel. But, with all those complications regarding scenario two, scenario one seems far better.

        Also, do you know if the horror stories about folks being arrested under such circumstances are standard operating procedures for NYC and DC airports? Or, are those the exceptions, with a more reasonable approach being the norm for such clearly unintended “violations” by rerouted/forced layover travelers?

        By the way, does LEOSA imply an exemption to state magazine restrictions since it requires certification with a service-type weapon? It’s not mentioned in the text of the law and is not relevant to me anyway…just curious.

      • Jeff, I can tell you from personal experience they’ve been arresting people for felony illegal possession of handguns in NY airports; I have no personal knowledge of the NJ situation.

        LEOSA authorizes possession and carry to current/retired officers who meet the qualifications, but while they CAN carry hollow points in NJ under LEOSA, they CANNOT carry higher capacity magazines unless they are on official police business. NJ recently lost a case where they had arrested an officer who was carrying under LEOSA; Federal law trumps state law in that respect.

  14. Touch wood, I have never had a problem flying with firearms. I agree that it is more consistent now than before 9/11, although there are some minor differences between airlines. I have also had to educate a few ticket agents on the process.

    One TSA change has been on their on-line rules page. Used to say that the passenger had to maintain control of the key to the hard case at all times and be taken to the baggage or the baggage brought to them if TSA needs to open the bag to inspect it… Now it says “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock unless TSA personnel request the key to open the firearm container to ensure compliance with TSA regulations.” However, I also looked at the underlying regulation, 49 CFR 1540.111(c), and it has not changed – in reference to a firearm in checked baggage, it still says “The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the passenger retains the key or combination.” There is no exception in the above rule for TSA personnel or airline personnel to take possession of the key to a case containing a firearm without the passenger being present at the baggage inspection.

    Given the rule itself hasn’t changed, if a TSA or airline agent requests me to hand over my key so they can take it for purposes of opening my bag for inspection without me being present, I’m still planning to decline that request in order to be in compliance with the law while telling them I will be happy to open the bag for them if the bag is brought to me or I am taken to the bag. I’ll also have copies of that regulation with me…

  15. If that’s a TSA approved case in the photo above, the locking system doesn’t appear to be very secure.

    • Never fly through Omaha with firearms, military web gear, and a cat. Beware, also, of any large metal tooth filling that mysteriously sets off a detector. Guess who had a SWAT Team called out on him as a suspected terrorist, and had to hand carry the cat through a detector. The cat hit my right forearm with both back feet like a buzz saw, and the whole place was covered with my blood. I guess I passed the test at that point, because the agents nicely apologized and let me move along. They must have decided that the cat was not booby trapped?

      • Serves you right for carrying a deadly Assault Cat on an airplane.

        Some secret government agency is probably developing a robot cat or other small animal which can kill a room full of people with it’s razor sharp, cyanide coated titanium claws. It may also spray out poison gas and has a plastic explosive self destruction device. Airlines should start X-raying all animals just to be safe.

        Q section of Britain’s MI-6 may already have one of these robot cats made with long white hair to track down and assassinate Blofeld.

    • TN_MAN,

      Believe it or not, because of the recent NY v. Bruen decision, I am going through the process of applying for a carry permit in NJ. Frankly, since I don’t live in a city, I can honestly tell you I am more afraid of the NJ legal system than I am of any criminal. I will never have to use a gun to defend myself, but if I do, I am guilty until proven innocent. God forbid I make a mistake during the encounter, or something a prosecutor perceives to be a mistake, my life will be over.

      Maybe I’ll get the permit, but not carry until we descend into a Mad Max scenario. Of course, Without Rule of Law, no permits will be required. I really should move, and someday, I will.

      • Roger, you must escape from New Jersey and it’s hordes of government dependent zombies. One of my neighbors moved away from NJ where he had lived most of his 60+ years and although he misses his relatives and friends there, he stated he would never consider returning. I lived in NYC until my teens and visited NJ quite a few times when my parents and their friends who owned a car drove there to look at houses and shop at the huge shopping places which were like the current Wal-Mart super stores. We called NJ residents the “people across the river”.

      • Tom606,

        Thanks, Tom! In my youth, and early adult years, I chased rainbows. Because of these bad career decisions, I am low-income. I am dependent on family members to give me a good deal on rent, even though I am now working seven days a week, at two jobs. It’s not as bad as it sounds, because the work is non-physical, and I rarely work 8 hours a day, usually 6. Anyway, the day will come when moving will be appropriate, probably after my Dad passes.

        There is something to be admired about those who stay and fight. In NJ, there is Anthony Colandro and others, who believe in fighting. I admire their spirit, and hope to have some of their courage. So far, we are holding ground . . . barely. The Supreme Court has been a huge help, because federal law is supposed to trump state law, so that at least makes NJ politicians uncomfortable. It puts them on the defensive. It would be nice to see NJ cops refuse to enforce unconstitutional NJ laws. You see that. I am still a dreamer.

      • Roger:

        You have an interesting history in NJ. It’s good to be optimistic, but only to a certain extent. Stay and fight, but have your bags packed and ready to go if necessary. Be prepared to escape while you still don’t need permission from the government. However, don’t move to Hawaii, as it would be like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

        My neighbor who escaped from NJ used to train police dogs and actually knew the current liberal governor of that state. According to him, the governor is very wealthy and has a much younger trophy wife who loves dogs. My friend was hired to train the wife’s dog and made house calls to the mansion which was guarded by many security guys armed with submachineguns. Murphy is anti-gun because he is always surrounded by armed security and even when he leaves office, can afford to hire private guards to protect him and his family. He doesn’t care about the safety of the lowly peasants he rules over.

    • I believe that so called mistake was a deliberate action by some Socialist bureaucrat to give criminals in the People’s Democratic Republic of California information about gun owners so they can be victimized.

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