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Safe and Legal: The Complete Guide To Flying With a Gun [2023]

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Christy Rodriguez
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Christy Rodriguez

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After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a cer...
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If you’re overwhelmed with the thought of traveling on an airplane with a gun, you might be surprised to know that it’s actually quite simple to travel with a firearm if you take the time to plan ahead.

As long as you’re well-informed of the requirements to safely and legally bring your firearm onboard, it doesn’t have to be complicated!

We’ll discuss which firearms are allowed on planes, how these items should be transported, all of the requirements so that you can appropriately check your weapon at the ticket counter, and best practices to expedite the declaration process.

TSA Firearms Policy

If you’re wondering whether you can bring a gun on a plane, the short answer is yes — with some caveats. If you’re traveling within the U.S. and are at least 18 years of age, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows travelers to transport unloaded firearms and/or ammunition in approved containers in their checked luggage only.

Bottom Line: Airlines typically defer to the rules of both TSA as well as the state/country you’re visiting.

Weapons TSA allows to be transported in checked luggage include:

  • Handguns
  • Pistols
  • Rifles
  • BB guns
  • Starter pistols
  • Compressed airguns
  • Firearm parts — including magazines, clips, bolts, and firing pins
  • Replica weapons

Hot Tip: Empty gun holsters and rifle scopes are allowed through TSA checkpoints in your carry-on and/or checked luggage.

Can I Be Armed on an Airplane?

Unless you belong to one of the groups listed below, you can’t bring your firearm on an airplane. These groups include:

  • Trained, authorized air marshals
  • Members of law enforcement who have passed the TSA Law Enforcement Officer Flying Armed Training Course
  • Commercial pilots who have passed the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program and been granted specific authorization

For more information, see the TSA’s website for law enforcement.

TSA-approved Storage Carriers

Case Club 1 Pistol Waterproof Case
All locks must be secured per the TSA. Image Credit: Case Club

The weapon must be secured in a container that prevents it from being accessed. The TSA says: “Locked cases that can be easily opened are not permitted. Be aware that the container the firearm was in when purchased may not adequately secure the firearm when it is transported in checked baggage.”

Be sure to remove all magazines and confirm also that there are no rounds chambered within your gun. In addition, all locks must be secured. For example, if your storage container has 4 locking points, all 4 need to be secured with a lock.

When choosing a TSA-approved case for your weapon, know that the TSA allows you to pack multiple guns into the same hard-sided case, however, this may not be true for all airlines. Be sure to confirm your airline’s rules before picking out the best case for your needs.

TSA-approved Travel Cases for Handguns

TSA-approved Travel Cases for Pistols

Hot Tip: Replica firearms must also be placed in your checked luggage, but do not need to be declared.

TSA-approved Locks for Firearms and Ammunition Cases

If your case does not come with a combination or other lock, you can purchase the locks you need separately. Keep this key on your person at all times. In this instance, you do not want a TSA-approved lock as you do not want anyone accessing your weapon except for you.

Per Title 49: Transportation, Part 1540 – Civil Aviation Security: General Rules, Subpart B – Responsibilities of Passengers and Other Individuals and Persons, 1540.111 (c) (iv), “The container in which it is carried is locked, and only the passenger retains the key or combination.”

Here are a few recommended options:

Weapons Not Approved by TSA

Per the TSA website, there are certain weapons that would not be permitted in either checked or carry-on luggage, including flare guns, flares, gun lighters, gunpowder, and rocket launchers.

TSA Ammunition Policy

If you are wondering how to bring ammo on a plane, the rule is the same as firearms. Ammunition is only allowed in checked luggage, not in your carry-on. Ammunition must also be declared at the airport check-in counter.

Ammunition must be stored in either its original packaging or in a TSA-approved container. TSA notes that this container must include “a fiber (such as cardboard), wood, plastic, or metal box specifically designed to carry ammunition.” Ammunition cannot be loose in your luggage.

Shotgun shells of any gauge and ammunition of .75 caliber or less can be packed in this smaller ammunition case and then placed into your firearms case.

How Much Ammo Can You Fly With?

The TSA doesn’t note specific limits for the amount of ammunition you can bring but states that it limits it to a reasonable amount for “personal use” during a trip. However, per the Federal Aviation Administration, “international (ICAO/IATA) regulations and some airlines in the U.S. limit this to 5 kg (11 pounds) gross weight per passenger.”

TSA-approved Ammo Boxes

How To Check Your Weapons/Ammunition at the Airport

  1. Declare your items. Once you arrive at the airport, you must head to the agent at the check-in counter of your airline and inform them that you’re traveling with firearms and/or ammunition.
  2. Fill out and sign a Weapons Declaration Card. This card differs slightly for each airline but will contain your flight information, contact information, and an acknowledgment that you are adhering to the rules. A copy will be given back to you and you should place it inside the locked hard-sided case which contains your gun and/or ammunition.
  3. Prepare for inspection. You will be asked to open the case for inspection by the check-in agent. Open the item yourself, and be sure to lock it once the inspection is finished. Do not give your key or code combination to the agent.
  4. Pay fees. Pay any required checked baggage fees or special handling fees specific to your airline.
  5. Bring your firearm to the Oversized Baggage Drop area. A TSA agent will scan your case, and potentially inspect it again. TSA shouldn’t physically handle your firearms. If necessary, this should only be done by a law enforcement officer.
  6. Leave your case. At this point, your checked-in (and locked) weapon will be taken by TSA and will be inaccessible during the flight. You can collect it with the rest of your checked-in luggage once you land.
  7. Keep an ear out just in case. After you’ve finished declaring your firearm, it’s a good idea to stick around for 15 to 20 minutes in case another inspection is necessary. You may also be paged on the airport speaker if required.
  8. Collect your weapons and ammunition. Upon arrival, your weapon will likely end up in the Oversized Baggage area but may end up coming out with the regular luggage. Find an airline representative if you’re unsure where to look. Be prepared to show your baggage claim ticket and your photo ID, if necessary.

Southwest Airlines Weapons Declaration Card
Front of the Firearms Declaration Tag for Southwest Airlines. Image Credit: Southwest Airlines

Hot Tip: Cases should not be marked that there is a weapon inside. Per 18 USC 922, “No common or contract carrier shall require or cause any label, tag, or other written notice to be placed on the outside of any package, luggage, or other container that such package, luggage, or other container contains a firearm.”

State Gun Laws for Travelers

If you have questions for a specific state — such as “Can I travel with my gun to Florida?” or “Can I fly out of California with a firearm?” — you probably already know that each state has different rules and regulations regarding weapons and ammunition.

Because each state is different, we recommend thoroughly researching these rules for the destination you are visiting before your trip. Don’t forget to look into any places you have a layover as well.

Here are some good resources:

Traveling Internationally With a Gun

If you plan to travel internationally with a firearm in your checked baggage, you must take some additional steps.

  1. Check the U.S. Department of State’s website for any relevant notices for the country you are visiting.
  2. Check the International Travel Country Information page for your destination to check requirements before travel. The country may have its own set of gun laws and forms to fill out when traveling with a gun. Some countries require submitting forms and paying fees in advance of your trip.
  3. Fill out CBP Form 4457 before traveling abroad. Filling out this form for guns and ammunition will expedite your trip through customs when returning to the U.S. (this form is also available in the Customs office at the airport).
  4. See the airline policies and procedures below before you book. Some airlines don’t allow firearms/ammunition on any international flights.

Custom Form 4457
U.S. Customs & Border Protection Form 4427. Image Credit: CBP

Hot Tip: Don’t forget about connecting flights. You must also adhere to the local gun laws of every place you land.

U.S. Airline-specific Gun Policies

To make it more complicated, each airline has its own slightly different gun policies. These differences typically relate to how many firearms are allowed per case, the maximum amounts of ammunition allowed, and how to check/retrieve your guns and ammunition. Be sure to read the fine print before you head to the airport.

As most airlines have similar policies, we’ll specifically call out anything that differs from the TSA policies we’ve noted above. We have also included the links to the gun policies for the major U.S. carriers.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines allows 50 pounds of ammunition on most of its flights. There is no limit to the number or type of firearms (e.g. rifles, shotguns, pistols) per case and different firearm types may be in the same case.

The airline also requests that you have a baggage tag inside your luggage.

Allegiant Air

Allegiant’s contract of carriage notes that “there is no limit to the number of firearms or corresponding accessories a passenger can carry in the locked hard-sided container.” The rest of the guidelines follow the TSA policies noted above.

American Airlines

There is no limit to the number of items you can carry in your rifle, shotgun, or pistol case. Different types of weapons can be placed together as long as they are secure. American Airlines specifically notes that cable locks can’t be used.

Delta Air Lines

Delta has specific information about guns and ammunition for certain countries that it flies to, notably, South Africa, the U.K., and South Korea.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier does not allow weapons on any international flights, even in checked luggage.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue says it may have pistol cases available for purchase at any JetBlue ticket counter for a nonrefundable fee of $55, but notes that quantities are limited. JetBlue does place limits on what constitutes a checked bag.

One item of shooting equipment equals:

  1. 1 rifle case containing no more than 2 rifles, with or without scopes, 1 shooting net, noise suppressors, and a small rifle toolset
  2. 1 shotgun case containing no more than 2 shotguns
  3. 1 pistol case containing no more than 4 pistols

With regards to ammunition, JetBlue requires it to be in a separate container that can be placed in the same checked bag, but is “completely separate and distinct from the firearms locked box.” Ammunition is not allowed on international flights — even in your checked luggage.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines generally follows the TSA policies noted above but also gives specific guidance for paintball and airsoft guns.

Spirit Airlines

Firearms and ammunition are not allowed on international flights.

United Airlines

Each checked bag may only contain 5 firearms, however, there is no limit to the number of cases or bags you can check (excess luggage fees will apply).

United Airlines also provides detailed guidance for firearms and ammunition for many of its foreign destinations on its website.

Final Thoughts

If you take the time to prepare before you leave for your trip, you can be sure you can have the correct storage containers, appropriately factor in extra time at the airport check-in counter, expedite your time declaring your gun, and avoid any costly fines.

It’s important to remember that when you’re flying with a gun, there are some specific rules you need to follow. The TSA, your airline, and your travel destination(s) all have policies and regulations you need to be aware of. As long as you familiarize yourself with these requirements before you head out on your next trip, flying with a gun doesn’t have to be complicated.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you travel with a concealed carry?

You cannot bring a gun with you onto a plane, except in your checked luggage. The TSA requires that weapons be unloaded, stowed in locked hard-case luggage, and declared at the check-in counter. You cannot bring a concealed carry weapon through TSA security checkpoints.

Do you need a permit to fly with a gun?

You do not need a permit to transport your gun with you on a plane, but you cannot bring it in your carry-on luggage (unless you qualify for one of the limited exceptions). Your gun will need to be in your checked luggage. You will need to declare your luggage at the airport check-in counter and sign any paperwork mandated by the airline.

Can you fly with a gun?

You can fly with a gun in your checked luggage as long as you follow TSA regulations, the policies of the airline you are flying, and local, state, and federal laws. This normally requires that guns are unloaded, locked in a hard-sided case, and declared upon check-in. There may also be limits related to how these items are packed or the number of guns/ammunition you can travel with as well.

Can I bring a gun in checked luggage?

Yes, you can travel with a gun in your checked luggage. Be sure to declare your gun at the airport check-in counter and be sure to follow all policies that we’ve noted above related to TSA, your airline, and local gun laws. If you plan ahead and know the rules, flying with a gun doesn’t have to be painful!

What happens if TSA finds a gun?

TSA may impose civil penalties of up to $14,950 per violation per person. Specific violations may also warrant a criminal referral.

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About Christy Rodriguez

After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a certified CPA.

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