Tak­ing your guns with you when you travel isn’t as dif­fi­cult as you might think.

By Mike Sear­son

Many states honor con­cealed carry per­mits is­sued in other states. Due to mis­in­for­ma­tion and the spread­ing of un­for­tu­nate anec­dotes, how­ever, the ma­jor­ity of con­cealed carry hold­ers do not re­al­ize how simple it is to fly with their firearms to other states that honor their per­mits.

Re­cently, I was talk­ing with a few fel­low gun own­ers about air travel and the trans­port­ing of firearms. I was sur­prised at how some of them thought that fly­ing with firearms was more of a has­sle than it is in reality. For decades, fly­ing with guns has been part of my way of life when trav­el­ing from point A to point B, whether to at­tend a trade show, go on a hunting trip, take a class or sim­ply to visit fam­ily and friends and want­ing the se­cu­rity of my carry guns.

In short, it is about as dif­fi­cult or com­plex as you want to make it, so I put to­gether the guide­lines with some tips to make your next flight as safe and as con­ve­nient as hu­manly pos­si­ble. The most im­por­tant thing is to en­sure that your firearms and am­mu­ni­tion are le­gal in both your point of ori­gin and des­ti­na­tion.


You have ba­si­cally two routes you can go here as far as a con­tainer.

Ei­ther use a ded­i­cated hard-sided con­tainer for firearms or, if fly­ing with a pis­tol or two, place the pis­tol case in­side an­other piece of checked lug­gage.

When I fly, I al­ways go with the first op­tion. You may think that this only makes sense when trav­el­ing with a long gun and us­ing a $300 wheeled and lock­able ri­fle case—and that cer­tainly is an op­tion.

How­ever, I found a case that fits not only my needs for fly­ing with a few hand­guns, but also for trans­port­ing other valu­ables I do not trust to the good graces of a part-time bag­gage han­dler. It is the Pel­i­can 1510 Carry-On Case, but do not let the name fool you. Your firearms must travel as checked bag­gage. Pel­i­can calls it that as it meets the max­i­mum dimensions for carry-on bag­gage with most com­mer­cial air­lines: 22 x 13.81 x 9 inches (55.9 x 35.1 x 22.9 cm).

The interior gives you 19.75 x 11 x

7.6 inches (50.2 x 27.9 x 19.3 cm) of se­cure stor­age space, and the case can be or­dered in a va­ri­ety of col­ors (black, OD green, desert tan, or­ange, yel­low, red, gray and green). Ad­di­tion­ally, you can con­fig­ure the interior to how you want it. Most shoot­ers opt for the foam con­fig­u­ra­tion and pluck out the shape of their firearm(s).

I find this waste­ful and rec­om­mend ei­ther the com­pany’s Trek Pak Divider sys­tem or the padded di­viders. This al-

lows me to use a sec­ond in­ter­nal pis­tol case with my firearms and gives me plenty of room for other items I like to keep un­der lock and key, such as cam­eras, night vi­sion, ther­mal im­agers, ri­fle parts, sup­pres­sors, am­mu­ni­tion and cus­tom knives.

That is the sec­ond ben­e­fit of fly­ing with a firearm. Be­cause it is trans­ported in a locked case, you can place other valu­ables with it for their pro­tec­tion. Pel­i­can’s 1510 case is small enough that it is easy to get around, thanks to its strong polyurethane wheels with stain­less steel bear­ings and re­tractable ex­ten­sion han­dle. The case is also big enough that a bag­gage thief can­not se­cret it out of a se­cure area within an airport. The pad­lock in­serts are re­in­forced with stain­less steel hard­ware, and if you use qual­ity pad­locks, your guns and gear will usu­ally ar­rive safe and sound. If you think this is too much lug­gage to haul around with your other bags and are just trans­port­ing a hand­gun or two for con­cealed carry, you can place


a small locked pis­tol case in­side an­other piece of lug­gage. The pis­tol case must be locked, but the outer case can­not be. In my opin­ion, this still leaves your pis­tol case open to theft as some­one can reach in, re­move the locked case and get it to a lo­ca­tion where it can be pil­fered or (if the case is small enough) stolen out­right.



“United States Code, Ti­tle 18, Part 1, Chap­ter 44, firearm def­i­ni­tions in­cludes: any weapon (in­clud­ing a starter gun) which will, or is de­signed to, or may read­ily be con­verted to ex­pel a pro­jec­tile by the action of an ex­plo­sive; the frame or re­ceiver of any such weapon; any firearm muf­fler or firearm si­lencer; and any de­struc­tive de­vice. As de­fined by 49 CFR 1540.5 a loaded firearm has a live round of am­mu­ni­tion, or any com­po­nent thereof, in the cham­ber or cylin­der or in a magazine in­serted in the firearm.”

On one oc­ca­sion, while fly­ing through Phoenix In­ter­na­tional Airport with firearms, a fel­low pas­sen­ger took note of me putting pad­locks on my Pel­i­can case and asked me how I was able to do that. He rou­tinely trans­ported high-end elec­tron­ics and did not trust the se­cu­rity of “TSA Ap­proved Locks.”

I in­formed him that I was trans­port­ing firearms and sug­gested he could do the same by plac­ing a firearm in his se­cured case with proper locks. He seemed hes­i­tant, but then re­lieved when I told him that TSA con­sid­ers a pellet gun or starter pis­tol a fully fledged firearm and a $20 non-gun would pro­tect his case’s other more valu­able con­tents.


As a Fed­eral Firearms Li­censee (FFL) and Spe­cial Oc­cu­pa­tion Tax­payer (SOT), I do travel with Na­tional Firearms Act (NFA) items on oc­ca­sion. Most of­ten it is a si­lencer or two, some­times a ma­chine gun or a short-bar­reled ri­fle or shot­gun. Be­cause of the FFL and SOT, I need no other pa­per­work be­yond my li­censes and forms as­so­ci­ated with the ar­ti­cles.

For non-deal­ers who own NFA items and wish to take them out of state, 18 U.S.C. 922(a)(4) spec­i­fies that:

“(a) It shall be un­law­ful …

(4) for any per­son, other than a li­censed im­porter, li­censed man­u­fac­turer, li­censed dealer, or li­censed col­lec­tor, to trans­port in in­ter­state or for­eign com­merce any de­struc­tive de­vice, ma­chine­gun (as de­fined in sec­tion 5845 of the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Code of 1986), short-bar­reled shot­gun, or short-bar­reled ri­fle, ex­cept as specif­i­cally au­tho­rized by the At­tor­ney Gen­eral con­sis­tent with pub­lic safety and ne­ces­sity.”

This does not in­clude sup­pres­sors (si­lencers) and AOWs (Any Other Weapon). In or­der to com­ply with 922(a)(4), you will need to ap­ply for and re­ceive per­mis­sion from the ATF to trans­port your NFA items across state lines prior to do­ing so by sub­mit­ting, in du­pli­cate, a Form 20 (of­fi­cially known as Form 5320.20). The form al­lows you to list up to three items and may be sub­mit­ted for a date range up to 365 days. Most NFA own­ers who rou­tinely shoot in an­other state find it eas­i­est to have ap­proved Form 20s for each of their NFA items for an en­tire year at a time.


When fly­ing with hand­guns for CCW, I take along about 150 rounds in the orig­i­nal factory boxes. If I am at­tend­ing a class that re­quires more (say 500 to 2,000 rounds), I ei­ther buy ammo lo­cally or have it shipped to my des­ti­na­tion.

Am­mu­ni­tion may be stored in mag­a­zines, plas­tic reload­ing cases or the orig­i­nal card­board con­tain­ers.

If you are fly­ing with a sub­stan­tial amount, this is where the rules of the air­lines come into play as many have spe­cific weight al­lowances for am­mu­ni­tion.


Of­ten­times, ticket counter agents or even TSA agents may not com­pletely know the rules. I would ad­vise print­ing out copies of the reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing firearms from the TSA web­site as well as the air­line’s re­quire­ments for the same in ad­vance of your trip to present when dif­fi­cul­ties in com­mu­ni­ca­tion oc­cur.


It is against fed­eral law to place an ex­ter­nal marker iden­ti­fy­ing the con­tents of the case as con­tain­ing a firearm. For this rea­son, I do not ad­vise plac­ing ev­ery sticker you picked up at the lo­cal gun show for ev­ery firearm man­u­fac­turer on your travel case. It may not be il­le­gal, but a stickerless case will not scream “I have a gun in­side” and will keep an hon­est man hon­est.

Some air­lines have al­legedly been adding zip ties to cases con­tain­ing firearms. It is a mi­nor an­noy­ance at best. I have not ex­pe­ri­enced this, per­son­ally, but if you plan to take your firearm case into a rest room so you can hol­ster up be­fore get­ting into a cab or rental car, it might not be a bad idea to have a small pair of scis­sors at the ready to cut the tie.


You are all set to go on your trip. Bags are packed, firearms and am­mu­ni­tion are se­cured and you are at the airport with ticket in hand. Hope­fully you added an­other 30 to 60 min­utes of time for the ticket counter in addition to what­ever is needed to make your way through screen­ing be­fore the gate.


If you are trav­el­ling with NFA items, carry copies of the re­quired ATF forms, tax stamps and even trust doc­u­men­ta­tion re­lat­ing to those items. Yes, they are tax doc­u­ments and re­ally only need to be shown to an ATF agent, but it may re­as­sure the TSA in­spec­tor if you have them. Or you can cling to your pri­vacy be­liefs and potentially miss your flight.

As you de­clare your firearm, you will be given a dec­la­ra­tion form to com­plete and place in the case con­tain­ing the firearm. You may be asked to wait nearby for up to 30 min­utes as the bag is checked if TSA feels the need to in­spect it. If TSA does not ar­rive, pro­ceed to pas­sen­ger screen­ing and on to the gate.


When you reach your des­ti­na­tion and re­trieve your bag­gage, it may or may not come out on the carousel. Some air­ports will take se­cured bag­gage to an of­fice near the bag­gage claim or a roped off area in the vicin­ity. Claim your bags and be on your way. It is that easy.

Above: With the di­viders re­moved, you can store a fair amount of hand­guns, knives, am­mu­ni­tion and other valu­ables with the se­cu­rity of real locks. Top Mid­dle: TThe au­thor’s choice of a trav­el­ling lock­able case is the Pel­i­can 1510. It is com­pact, se­cure, rugged and does not nec­es­sar­ily scream “bag with a gun in­side.” Bottom Mid­dle:

The au­thor prefers keyed-alike pad­locks to com­bi­na­tion locks when trav­el­ling by air.

Photo Com­pos­ite: Justin Sul­li­van/Getty Im­ages

Above: The Pel­i­can 1510 is small enough to trans­port eas­ily, but large enough that no thief can sim­ply tuck it in­side a jacket and walk away with it.

Top: When fly­ing with am­mu­ni­tion, it may be stored in the orig­i­nal factory box, an af­ter­mar­ket plas­tic reload­ing box or in the ac­tual mag­a­zines. Bottom: Your carry gun can be placed in­side a hol­ster with the magazine re­moved when stored in­side the locked trans­porta­tion case.

Left: The factory case that your firearm shipped in may not meet air­line stan­dards as a se­cure case, but it can be used to safely store your firearm in­side a larger lock­able case.

Above: The air­line ticket counter will have you com­plete a firearm dec­la­ra­tion tag that goes in­side your lock­able firearm case. These tags are read by the X-ray ma­chines dur­ing bag­gage screen­ing with­out the need to open the locks.

Above: The au­thor sug­gests it’s more se­cure to use a large, ded­i­cated locked case for your guns and valu­ables.

Fly­ing with guns will be only a mi­nor has­sle if you plan in ad­vance and have the proper, se­cure con­tainer.

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