Gus the Glock and I went on our first flying adventure together. And by “together” I mean I was comfortable-ish in the cabin and Gus was cold, naked, and alone in a hard-sided locked container inside another hard-sided locked container in the cargo hold. In case you’re new here, Gus is my concealed carry firearm, a Glock 43.
I’ve heard the stories – flying with a firearm can be complicated. It seems like everybody has a different experience each time they fly, dependent upon the airport, airline, state, what mood the airline representatives and TSA agents are in that day, and the list goes on…
I found it super helpful to chat with others about their experiences (and read blog posts and watch IG videos) so that I could have an idea of what I might face while flying with a firearm. So I shall share mine as well, and hopefully someone out there might find this helpful. This is based on my experience with Delta Airlines, flying from Portland, Oregon (PDX) to Atlanta, Georgia (ATL) and back, along with a few tips I learned from others while doing research.
Research the Rules
Before I got Gus ready to go, I made sure to look up the TSA rules, as well as rules for the airline I was flying with, for both firearms and ammo. I took a screenshot of all the rules on my phone so I would have them handy in case I ran into any issues at the airport. I also looked up the gun laws in the state I was traveling to. I knew that my concealed carry permits would allow me to carry in Georgia, but laws can vary vastly from state to state and I generally prefer to remain a law-abiding citizen.
For this trip, I used my GunVault NanoVault 100, which is sized for subcompact pistols. It comfortably fits Gus and a couple magazines and doesn’t take up much space in my bag. I unzipped the lining of the suitcase and wrapped the security cable around the frame and then locked it inside the case. I don’t think this is required, but it may prevent Gus from just wandering off on his own. I put my carry ammo back in the manufacturer’s box, which conveniently fit inside one of my boots. I knew there was a reason I kept those darn things!
Packing Pro Tip: pack stuff inside your shoes. It will change your life.
The Airport Check In Experience
Once I arrived at PDX, I went straight to the bathroom. That’ right, I had to pee. I know from years of experience that if I have to pee, any situation that I embark on is going to take massively longer than it should, I’ll be rushed and impatient, I’ll be rude to the people helping me, and I’ll probably end up peeing my pants before I finish my task. I wanted to be in a good state of mind through this process and if it took longer than expected, I definitely wanted to be prepared. Check and check.
Next, I headed to the check-in counter and let the representative know that I had a firearm to declare. She had me open up my suitcase and gun case to verify that the firearm was unloaded, but without actually handling the firearm. I signed the Firearm(s) Unloaded declaration and placed it on top of the gun case. A normal checked bag tag was placed on my bag along with a second bag tag stating “do not place on the baggage carousel belts”. I was then directed to take my bag to a TSA agent at the oversized baggage check.
The TSA agent almost seemed surprised and impressed that I had a firearm. Maybe that’s a perk of being female, or maybe it was because I was being super friendly. I’m not always this way (hello, resting bitch face and snark), but when I’m approaching a situation that could easily go wrong if I’m a butthead, I try my hardest to be nice. It seemed to pay off this time – the agent and I had a great time chatting as he was inspecting my bag.
He instructed me to open my bag and unlock the gun case, and then not to touch anything while he completed the inspection. He searched and swabbed my entire bag and was extra careful about putting everything back as he found it, which I so appreciated. Since my ammo was in the manufacturer’s box, he didn’t even need to touch it. I was then instructed to lock my gun case, place the Firearm(s) Unloaded declaration and a TSA inspection sheet on top of the case, and lock my bag. I waited for my bag to disappear from view before I walked away, and I held off on going through security until the Fly Delta app notified me that my bag had been successfully checked.
Note: Delta, along with many other airlines these days, have baggage tracking available on their apps. You will be notified to the status of your bag: when it’s successfully checked, on the plane, off the plane, and arrived at baggage claim. This is a great feature and certainly provides some peace of mind, but it is still a manual process that requires human beings to scan your bag as it moves throughout its journey. For that reason, it’s not 100% reliable and there are situations where baggage tracking won’t be complete. But for this trip, it served it’s purpose and gave me the info I needed.
All in all, my first experience checking a firearm was smoother than my favorite Pinot and took less than 20 minutes. But to be fair, PDX is a very easy, small airport and it was not busy at all for a redeye flight.
The Airport Pick Up Experience
Upon arrival in Atlanta, I picked up my bag at the oversize baggage area. The attendant thoroughly checked my ID and made sure the numbers on the bag tags matched. Much to my surprise, my bag was wrapped in zip ties when I received it. I hadn’t heard anything about this previously – apparently it’s a semi-new thing. And these weren’t just your standard zip ties. They were industrial strength zip ties. Even at home with kitchen shears that are made to crush chicken bones, I had a hard time getting through them.
I was leaving the airport to spend the day by myself in an unfamiliar area, so I definitely wanted my concealed carry on me and I didn’t want to wait. I locked myself a bathroom stall, managed to get the zipper open on my suitcase, and slipped a hand inside to get to my knife. Thank goodness I packed it in an easily accessible location! I was able to saw through those zip ties and get into my suitcase.
Lesson learned: I’ll remember to always pack something to cut zip ties with in my carry-on bag in the future. Nail clippers, trauma shears, or scissors that are less than 4 inches from the pivot point can be packed in carry-on baggage according to current TSA rules.
The Return Flight
My return flight was a slightly different story. I was expecting my experience at ATL to be more lengthy and complicated given that it is a such a huge, busy airport, but it was actually much easier. I went straight to the separate check-in counter for oversized and specialty baggage, and again told the representative that I had a firearm to declare. I signed the Firearm(s) Unloaded declaration, just like before, but I wasn’t asked to open my suitcase or gun case. All I had to do was slip the declaration inside my bag near the gun case.
I was then directed to the oversize baggage check area. This time, I was not asked to open my bag and there was no inspection like before, the TSA agents only ran my bag through an x-ray scanner and made sure my bag was locked before they sent me on my way. Again, I waited until my bag was out of sight until I walked away, and waited until I got the bag check notification from the Delta app before I went through security. It took less than 10 minutes overall from the time I walked into the airport to the time my bag was checked. Impressive.
The bag pickup process was pretty much the same at PDX as it was at ATL, zip ties and all! Overall, the entire experience of flying with a firearm was relatively pleasant, even if the trip itself was not. I’m looking forward to many more adventures with Gus!
Have you traveled with a firearm before? Tell me about your experience in the comments!