Gun and Planes Stories
Not with a firearm and/or ammo unless you really don't have a choice. Things may change over time, but as of March 14 (Seattle to Orlando via St. Louis) and March 19, 1998 (Orlando to Seattle via St. Louis) things were a hassle. I let them keep 18 rounds of 9mm Corbon ammo to avoid the hassle on the return trip (part of the problem was my fault and I knew better). Here's the story...
I showed up at the check in counter with my wife and three kids
and all our suitcases. I brought my 9mm handgun and one loaded magazine
(18 rounds of 115 grain Corbon). I didn't bring any boxes of ammo like I
usually do because I wasn't planning on doing any shooting on this trip. I
gave the agent our ticket information and told her the usual story, "I have
a firearm in my suitcase and need to sign the declaration for it."
She asked if I had any ammunition for it. Yes. How much and what
type? 18 rounds of 9mm. Is it in a separate bag? No, but I
can put it in a separate bag if you want. She requested that I do so.
I moved the magazine from my suitcase (in the locked hard plastic gun case) to
rolled up in some of my wife's socks in her suitcase. The agent filled out
a form (F-917) which was entitled: "MANIFEST OF DANGEROUS GOODS --
NOTIFICATION TO PILOT IN COMMAND" and disappeared for a while. She
came back after a while and had me sign the form. She told me the
hazardous material has to be approved by the captain. It had someone
else's signature, my seat number, and "18 rounds of ammunition
mentioned." Nothing about the firearm. She asked which bags had
the firearm and which had the ammo. I told her and she moved them to a
separate location from the kids suitcases. I kept expecting another form
or something for the firearm -- nothing. After she told me we were all
done I finally asked if I had to sign something for the firearm. "No,
I'll take care of everything." When we arrived in Orlando my suitcase
(with the firearm and no ammo) had the form attached to the side of it saying it
had ammo in it. As it came around on the carousel I saw lots of people
looking at it. A "steal me" sign I told my wife and kids.
The Brady Act (see http://www.atf.treas.gov/firearms/bradylaw/shippers.htm)
was supposed to prohibit that. I checked as soon as possible that my gun
case was still in my suitcase and that it still weighed approximately the
correct amount. It did, then I checked for the loaded magazine in my
wife's suitcase. It was there too. Okay, not a big problem then.
As I thought about it more I realized that they probably hadn't violated the
letter of the Brady Act. There was no tag on the outside of a bag
declaring a firearm inside the bag. Just a declaration of ammo on a bag
that contained a firearm and no ammo. Stupid, but probably not criminally
In St. Louis we missed our connection to Seattle because we were late getting out of Orlando due to bad weather in both the St. Louis and Orlando. As we were trying to get rerouted I had the opportunity to look over the shoulder of an agent as they were working on our tickets. There was a big note about declaring the firearm in Orlando, disposing of the ammo, I claimed I had brought it with me and declared it on the first flight but that that no form 917 was filled out. [sarcasm mode ON ] Just what I want. Everyone that has access to a computer terminal in the TWA system to be able to know which suitcases have firearms and/or ammo in them. [sarcasm mode OFF]
After getting back to Seattle I found TWA's web site and found this (http://www1.twa.com/passenger_services/ps_baggage_info.html#firearms dead as of Jan 2001 see update below) relating to firearms:
January 3, 2001 update
The link mentioned above is dead. I found this new link: http://www.twa.com/customer_info/passenger_services/baggage.html and it says:
[Followed later by the same section as was on the old page mentioned above.]
It doesn't say the ammo must be in factory boxes. The magazine should have qualified. 11 pounds (Form F-917 says 5 KG) of ammo is not near enough for an IPSC match. Horizon Air's limit of 50 pounds is much more reasonable.
I must complement TWA on the wonderful efforts they went to make up for the missed flights (thank you Amy, Melanie, and all the others!) and the 12 hour delay getting into Seattle. None of which was within their control. They were wonderful under some very stressful situations with some very unhappy passengers (not us -- we were tired and stressed, but not unhappy with TWA about it). But I won't be flying with them again unless I have to or their firearms/ammo policy is more friendly.
Several things are at issue here:
On March 21, 1998 I sent TWA the following email message. Perhaps this will encourage them to change their policy.
On March 22, 1998 I received the following from TWA.
----From: TWA Airport Services[SMTP:TWAAPS@twa.com]
Sent: Sunday, March 22, 1998 1:07 PM
To: Joseph K. Huffman (Volt Computer)
Cc: VonWolfseck, Lothar; Hamm-Niebruegge, Rhonda
Subject: RE: Questions from www.twa.com Thank you for your note. I apologize for the difficulties you recently experienced when traveling with your checked weapon. I will share your note with our Regional Director responsible for our operation in Seattle. While our policy is clear, it would appear that our agents were not aware of the correct policy. Our Director will contact you regarding this issue.
And on April 7th:
Sent: Tuesday, April 07, 1998 1:48 AM
To: Joseph K. Huffman (Volt Computer)
Subject: RE: EMAIL JOE,
I APPRECIATE YOUR COMMENTS. WE HAVE AN ONGOING TASKFORCE THAT EVALUATES OUR POLICIES TO ENSURE WE ARE CURRENT, COMPETITIVE WITH THE INDUSTRY AND APPROPRIATE. THE LACK OF THE TRAINING ON THE AGENT IS AN EASY FIX FOR TWA AND WE WILL ADDRESS IT. I WILL PUT YOUR SUGGESTIONS ON THIS MONTH'S AGENDA FOR TO ENTERTAIN YOUR SUGGESTIONS. AGAIN THE FEEDBACK IS APPRECIATED. THANK YOU
RHONDA HAMM NIEBREUEGGE
This was sent to me by a friend.
From: James Flippin
I recently traveled to Orlando on United for a trip mixing business and vacation time. For the vacation side of the trip, I traveled with my shotgun as Florida is a major center for clay target shooting. Not having traveled with a firearm previously, I called United to make sure I understood the process. During the conversation, I was told that the insurance maximum was 1250.00, but I could purchase additional coverage at the rate of 5.00 per 100.00 coverage.
The replacement cost for the equipment I was taking is approximately 1500.00 for the shotgun, 300 to 400 in necessary accessories, and 300 for the case meeting airline standards. This is not a collector or antique firearm, rather one useful in formal competitions.
During ticketing at Seatac, I requested the additional coverage from the ticket agent. He had no idea how to get the additional coverage. After some 10 minutes, he asked his supervisor about it and was told that United did not offer such coverage. I mentioned my phone conversation to him with no effect.
This greatly concerns me. I take a great deal of pleasure in shooting various forms of the shotgun sports and it would be a serous blow to have my shotgun either damaged, lost or stolen without the ability to replace it with an equivalent weapon.
I would suggest that I am not the only person in this situation. I would further suggest that some additional information should be made available to your ticket agents so that they may better serve those who chose to fly United.
Another United story -- forwarded by an acquaintance.
A warning to everyone who flies with guns: United Airlines puts a row of seven "Fs" under your name to indicate you have firearms in your case. YES, it is illegal, but they do it.
I just flew from Washington, Dulles International (IAD) to Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport (LAS), and back.
I declared my unloaded guns, as required, filled out the red tag, and put it in my luggage as required. My flying companion had checked in before me, and they taped the red tag to his luggage tag. The girl who checked him in, heard me say it was illegal to do, so they retrieved his bag and moved the red tag inside.
Upon my arrival in Las Vegas, I noticed my luggage had been opened (my nylon wire tag was gone). My guns were inside a locked metal box inside the luggage, so I opened the luggage. My guns had been moved from their location at the bottom rear of my luggage, to the top front. Obviously someone got scared, or put off by the locked metal box. It is easy to stuff a gun into your pants, but a large box is another matter. I got lucky, my guns were not stolen.
My return flight was without event.
Last night I was having dinner with a friends, one asked me what airline I took out to Front Sight. I told him United. He works for the government, in a three letter agency, and he told me the only time they have guns stolen was when they fly United, and it was because United puts a row of "Fs" under your name on the luggage tag. He jokes with me all the time, and we have a running joke about TWA (The Worst Airline) which I won't fly, and he loves. I thought he was pulling my chain.
I had not yet thrown out my luggage tags, so I had a look, and sure enough, my ammo bag, and my bag with guns had seven "Fs," and the other bag did not.
I immediately called the airline, and they did not know. They put me in touch with a baggage manager in Illinois, and he did not know. They would not let me talk to a check in person.
Today, I drove to Dulles, baggage tags in hand, and asked to speak with the Station Manager. I spoke with Carol Tumas, Service Director. I asked her what "this" meant, while pointing to the "FFFFFFF" under my name. She said, "First Cla----, er, Firearm."
Before it was over, she had a baggage supervisor and a UNITED security person there and they said they "were required to push the button," on the terminal that printed that on the tag. They have similar keys for heavy bags, and live animals.
Currently, Ms. Tumas will be contacting their legal department on Monday, and will be getting back to me. In the mean time, I would not fly United, my favorite airline, with firearms until they remove the "STEAL ME NOW" letters from the bags.
Ward W. "Chip" Fetrow, III
Just Say No to Gestapo Tactics http://www.freespeech.org/justsayno
I traveling on NorthWest (July '98) with happy results. The usual stuff applies, firearm must unloaded in a locked case in checked luggage. Ammunition must be in factory carton or secure rigid container.
The good stuff is that up to 55 pounds of ammo per person may be transported, and it can be in the same bag as the firearm.
From: David Gehl
Sent: Thursday, July 28, 2005 1:49 PM
Subject: Guns on Northwest Airlines.
I read all your stories about airlines and guns. I have never flown any airline with a gun except Northwest. Every year since the towers in New York were attacked I have gone deer hunting in NY over Thanksgiving. I bring my shotgun with me. Fly from San Francisco to Elmira, NY with a short lay over in Detroit. I have never had a problem. Which surprised me because I booked my first flight as soon as I could after the towers were hit.
Official rules for traveling with firearms on Alaska or Horizon Air as of April 17, 1998. Some fairly new policy changes are rather obnoxious. My email letter to them follows these rules.
FIREARM DECLARATION TAGE *T-68*
AMMUNITIONS, ALLOWANC AND PACKAGING
HORIZON AIR -
INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS -
------------------------------- END OF TEXT ---------------------------
SEA.SEA54GS 2345 17-APR-1998 4FB412
Also, I asked the ticket agent to print out the rules. I discovered that apparently you believe that machine guns, short barreled shotguns and short barreled rifles are illegal. This is only true in some states. In Idaho and Nevada, for example, they are legal. Again, is this policy really necessary?
Also, of possible interest to you is the web page I maintain for people that travel with firearms. See http://personal.palouse.net/joeh/pages/GunsPlanes.html
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
On January 2, 2001 as I was checking into the Pullman airport to fly to Seattle the ticket agent (Heather) told me they have a new policy. The tag goes on the outside of the suitcase instead of the inside. I informed her that was illegal as of the Brady Act of '93. She expressed some surprise and as we discussed it she agreed to show me the letter they received regarding the new policy. After reading it again she realized that it was not quite as she remembered it and that my concerns were probably addressed. The tag is to be signed by the passenger checking the luggage that contains the firearm, put in a plastic sleeve and attached face down to the outside of the luggage. I did more research on it the next day and found information on the ATF web site. The Horizon/Alaska policy of putting the tag face down supposedly prevents the general public from knowing what that little tag really means and complies with the ATF interpretation of the law. This information has been send back to the Pullman office. See Brady restrictions on identifying luggage as carrying firearms for more details.
I am disappointed in this change.
As we were going through security in St. Louis on March 20, 1998 I got to experience a new piece of new technology designed to screw up your whole day. I escaped with only about a two minute delay, but if things had gone a little bit wrong I could have spent a great deal of time there while my flight left without me.
My carry on bag went through X-ray just fine, and I went through
the metal detector without a beep. But another security agent grabbed my
bag from the X-ray conveyor belt before I did and asked if she could do a random
check. "Sure", I said. I could have refused but then they
would escort me and my bag from the secure area And since my plane
and family were inside the secure area I really didn't have much of a choice.
I expected the usual hand search, but this was different. She put on a
special white glove and ran it over all the surfaces of the bag, inside and out
of every pocket and every side. She explained that it was a test for
residue for explosives. I told her, "You know, you just might come up
with something. I reload ammunition and it's possible some gunpowder
residue might be on the bag." "Well sir, if it does you are
going to be here a LONG time. You don't put the gunpowder in the bag do
you?" "No. But it has been in the same room as the
gunpowder and I have handled the bag after handling the gunpowder. And
another thing, I just sent off for a license to manufacture high explosives, and
I already have all the chemicals. Some of which have been near this
bag." "Well sir, if it comes up positive they will have to do
all kinds of checks before we can let you go. You will be here a LONG
time." By this time my wife and three kids are clustered around
waiting for her to finish her test. I'm thinking, "Great! They
probably are sniffing for nitrogen based compounds. Smokeless powder is
nitrocellulose and the double-base powders have nitroglycerin in addition.
So basically if written in 'C' this procedure would look like:
She ran what looked a lot like a vacuum cleaner hose over the glove and looked a computer monitor for a few seconds. "Nothing showed up -- you can go!" She didn't even notice the books on how to manufacture explosives in the bag. She ran her gloved hand right over them.
If SEATAC gets one of those machines I'll take the time to make them wish they had never thought of such a device. Every time they test my bag I'll make sure it tests positive and if they don't resolve it in a reasonable period of time (like about 10 minutes) I'll make sure a lawyer makes claims for my lost wages and rebooked ticket costs. After a few weeks I think they should get the idea...
April 1, 1999
Seatac did get an explosives sniffer and I started my tests a few months ago. I don't get sniffed every time I go through so the tests are taking some time to complete. So far, it appears that not only will a recently fired .357 case NOT set it off when sniffed directly but certain types of explosive materials (which I "dusted" my brief case with) get a passing grade too. As near as I can tell, the sniffer is box put in the security area to make the passengers feel secure. It does not appear to be a threat to gun owners.
This is something I posted to a private email alias at a company I worked for:
From: Joseph K. Huffman
I ran into a minor glitch with the airline (Horizon) and my firearm on Friday so I asked them for printed documentation so I wouldn't accidentally goof up again. I got the following (except their version is all upper case and I corrected their spelling -- they spell "checked" as "ckecked" in two places):
I know, some of the stuff doesn't make sense. Like "1 pistol case with not more than 5 pistols/noise suppressors/1 pistol/telescope/sol pistol tools". I assume ASA 5.00 is some sort of spec for strength. OAL probably means Other Airline.
The ticket agent asked to see the firearm this time (first time in at several dozen flights). She noticed that I had a loaded magazine in the case. Not acceptable, she wanted the ammo in original box. Although it seems a case could be made for a magazine qualifying as "securely packed in fiber, wood or metal boxes". Some manufactures of ammo have the rounds just lying loose in the box, so it would seem the magazine would be better than that, but who needs the hassle?
This morning on the way back, I was chatting with the security agent at the X-ray machine in Pullman and he said that if they catch you with ammo going through security it's not too big of a deal. Assuming you don't have a gun, it's "just hazardous material" and we'll make you check it with your baggage after we contact the security consultant. But if you did like Sally Struthers did a while back and bring a toy metal gun, he was required to call the police who had to come out and check it out. Major delay...
Also, after reading this I noticed that it was ambiguous whether the declaration had to be put inside the outer suitcase or in the inner handgun case. Most of the time I just put it in the big suitcase, sometimes (maybe 1 out of 10 times) they make me put it in the inner case.
From: Joe Huffman
Ammo through airport security. Been there done that -- more than once. Not a REAL big deal. They just take it from you and search the rest of your carry-on a bit more carefully. Of course I was apologizing like crazy, and one time it happened my 9 year-old daughter was holding on to me like she was afraid they were going to drag me away. But that probably didn't make a difference. It was just a couple of loose rounds in my fanny pack the times they caught me with live ammo.
I fly twice a week and almost always have a firearm in my checked luggage. Last night at SEATAC the ticket agent commented that he hadn't seen me for a while, he just started working nights again -- you have a firearm in your luggage, right?
On the Pullman, WA side I get to know the security agent fairly well. Usually only about 10 to 20 passengers at that time of day -- I asked him about ammo. I explained that once I arrived at my destination and, much to my horror, noticed that I had a fully loaded 15 round magazine in my fanny pack. I had gone through San Francisco security with it. He said that ammo is just considered hazardous material, not a security threat, and they would either ask you to go back and put it in checked luggage or leave it with them.
Another (set of) time(s) I had a dummy .50 cal BMG round in my carry-on luggage. It didn't have a primer and you could shake it and tell it didn't have any powder in it. I was taking it home to give to my Dad. I meant to put it in my checked luggage but forgot. Didn't remember it until I had gotten back to SEATAC with it still in my carry-on bag. Hmm... twice through security and they didn't notice. I wonder what security would say if they saw it? I stopped at security on my way out. I pulled it out explaining that I made a boo-boo, were they interested? The guy looked at it, all sealed up in a clear plastic wrapper, shook it, said, "Naw, it's a dummy." Let me put it through X-ray and take another look. He did, and said, "There's nothing in it, so it isn't a problem." Fine, so I ended up taking through security several more times, each time forgetting to leave it at home for my Dad and bringing back to Seattle. Then about the fourth or fifth time through SEATAC security they wanted to search my carry-on. Fine. He searched and searched.... I finally asked, "What are you looking for? Maybe I can tell you where it is." He said, "He [the X-ray tech] said there is a bullet in here. Is that possible?" "Yeah, I suppose it's possible. I don't think there is, but there could be." I had completely forgotten the .50 BMG, I was thinking 9mm. The X-ray tech came over, reached in, pulled out the .50 BMG. I started explaining it was a dummy, security had told me it was okay only a few weeks earlier, etc., etc. Another couple security people came over. They weren't talking. Just looking at it. I started looking at my watch, if I ran, I could probably make it back to my vehicle, dump the .50 BMG, run back, make it through security, and still catch my plane. I offered to do that. Silence. Oh, shit. Now what?
"Is there a problem? If you let me go now I can take it back to my vehicle and still catch my plane." Silence for a few seconds. Finally, "I think that would be the best thing sir." I think those people just have a tough time processing information any faster than a 1MHz Z80. Heavy sigh, run, run, run, and I catch my plane. The next week I put it in checked luggage and remembered to drop it off for my Dad.
Another time I went through security just fine, sat on the plane, then looked through my fanny pack for something -- "Damn! Did it again." 17 rounds of 115 gr. Corbon 9mm in a mag. What's wrong with security? I'm not sure I like this... I arrived at SEATAC and stopped at security as I was leaving. I explained that I accidentally made a boo-boo. Were they interested in this security failing? His eyes got big and he told me that if I would explain what happened he wouldn't charge me with anything. I'm pretty sure he thought I had a gun because when I reached into my fanny pack he seemed a bit on the panicked side of normal. I slowed WAY down and carefully showed him the magazine. He relaxed a little and said yeah, I shouldn't have had that, but he wasn't particularly interested in pursuing it further. But if I wanted to, he would bring his supervisor over. I told him that it wasn't that big a deal to me either. I just thought they might like to know. He suggested I be more careful in the future and I went on my way.
If you were to have even a toy gun in your carry-on stuff it's an automatic call to the police. No explaining to the security guard will make any difference. They are required to call in the police and you get to explain to the police. The Pullman agent said had to do that to Sally Struthers (a former TV star -- the one that played "Meathead's" wife in All In The Family many years ago). She had a small toy gun, made out of metal, in her purse for a present for someone. The Pullman police got to listen to her explanation before they could let her put it in her checked luggage and catch the next flight.
Someone said something about lack of sense of humor in the security guards. I have to agree, I have been tempted to ask the guy at Pullman if he was born without a sense of humor, or if they surgically removed it for this job. But I know there is no way he would get it...
Lots of other airline-firearm stories, but those are the best of them. And I still have another 189 IPSC list messages to read so those stories will have to wait for another day.
I was taking a class to become a NRA firearms instructor and needed a firearm to demonstrate safe handling techniques. Because I was going be standing in a front of bunch of people "waving a gun around" I took the cylinder out an old "beater" gun to use just the frame as a prop that was obviously safe. I put the cylinder in a pocket of my tote bag so it wouldn't get lost.
A few nights later (January 30, 1998) I decided to take my tote bag on the plane and read the assignment for the next class. I removed the carrying case with the frame (forgetting it was just the frame and not the complete gun) from the tote bag, looked around for magazines and ammo and went through security and got on the plane with the tote bag. After I got in the air I discovered the cylinder. Security overlooked it as it went through X-ray.
On the way back the tote bag went into my checked bags.
From: Joe Huffman
Actually I HAVE had them lose my baggage that had my gun in it, three or four times now. But it was just an old Ruger P89 with a couple of high cap magazines -- $300 max. And I always got it back within 12 hours.
The worst time was when they 'lost' (they forgot to put it on the truck that went out to the plane, the woman that did it apologized in person the next time she saw me) it on my way to Seattle. They found it just after the plane took off and put it on the next plane. But I couldn't wait around in the airport for three or four hours so they offered to bring it to me. Fine, but the company I work for has a no guns policy. Not even locked up in your trunk (don't get me started...). I can't have them deliver it the door step of an empty apartment. Hmm... I told them to deliver it to work anyway. I called the gun club president (this company has a gun club) and asked him some "hypothetical" questions. He was also on the safety committee and offered to ask the appropriate person some "hypothetical questions" without mentioning who it might be that needed to know the answer in a hurry. They suggested that the best route would be to have it delivered to security who would hold the suitcase until I got off work for the day and then I could pick it up as I left...
With the usual crew at Pullman the person behind the counter says, "Good morning Joe. Do you have your usual toy and a tag for it?" I answer yes and don't even signed another orange "HORIZON FIREARMS(S) UNLOADED" declaration to add to my collection (probably about 50 in the suitcase and another 100 at home). At SEATAC if it's someone new I say, "I have a firearm in my luggage and I need to sign the declaration for it. " If it's someone that knows me they slide one across the counter for me and ask if I need it. I sign it and add it to my collection. If they have trouble finding one I pull one out of my suitcase that hasn't been dated and tell them not worry about finding one right now -- go find them when you don't have a line of people waiting. It almost never takes me more than 30 seconds extra to travel with a firearm. But don't count on it.
At SEATAC there are a lot more people that I have dealt with. Some have been new on the job and weren't that familiar with how to deal with firearms in passenger luggage. Here are some of the other things that I have run into and how you can avoid spending the extra time at the ticket counter. All of the following stories happened at SEATAC.
I tried to explain things to one new agent who was very unsure of what to do. It only made it worse. She didn't believe me and got a bit flustered and ran off to check with someone else. I believe that if I had let her fumble through things and confirmed things when she got something right it wouldn't have taken nearly as long. Instead I tried to tell her what needed to be done and what didn't need to be done. Wrong thing to do -- guy with a gun advising her on security -- she's goes looking for help. She found someone more experienced and asked him a question. He looked up, recognized me, and said, "Yeah, just have him sign one of the orange tags, he knows what to do...". I didn't rub it in.
Most agents who don't know me ask, "Is the gun unloaded and in a locked case?" I answer yes, sign the tag, add it to my collection and we are done. A few agents have asked to see if the gun is unloaded (maybe 2% of the time). I reach into my suitcase, pull out the pistol case, set it on the counter, use my elbows to spread my coat wider so as to prevent a stampede of grass eaters if the people behind me in line see the gun, unlock the case, open the case, point the gun down, pull back the slide, point out the empty chamber and magazine well, confirm they have the usual bewildered expression, then pack everything back up. Key item to save time here is to make sure the gun case is easily accessible in your suitcase.
One SEATAC agent asked me if the ammo was in a separate suitcase. On this particular occasion it was (except for one loaded magazine in my fanny pack in my suitcase). I lied to her because I was really short on time and had to get my gun and ammo on the plane because I was going to a match. Not a good thing to do, if you lie to security it's a very, very serious. Potentially you could pay thousands of dollars, spend many years making little rocks out of big rocks, and never be allowed to legally own a firearm again. In this case I knew the rules better than she did and knew that Horizon (other airlines might be different!) allows ammo in the same baggage as your firearm. After I got checked in and the bags were on their way I told the agent that the written rules that I had from Horizon said the ammo could be in the same bag. She said they were told in training that they wanted the ammo in a separate bag so that if someone stole the bag and found the gun at least they wouldn't have ammo for it. I explained again, the written rules didn't say that. She explained again what they were told in training. I ran to catch my plane and when I came back through on Monday I stopped at the ticket counter and talked to the manager about it. He said he would take care of it.
One agent asked the usual question about the firearm being unloaded and then asked if my ammo was the original factory boxes. "Yes", I answered. This wasn't entirely true. I had some handloads in a Dillon plastic ammo case -- does that count as an "original factory box"? I didn't think it would matter -- it was safe for transport and it meet the intent, right? Either she was very good at picking up on deception or I didn't hide it as well as I thought I did. She wanted to inspect all my ammo. Okay. I open up my suitcase, making sure the sex toys and porn are buried under the clothes (just kidding) and pulled out four or five boxes of factory ammo and two plastic Dillon boxes, one about half full. I explain the Dillon cases as ammo I had assembled myself and that the cases were more sturdy than "factory boxes". She essentially ignores me and starts opening up every one of the factory boxes, sliding the ammo carrier out looking at the ammo and closing the box up again. I ask her what she is doing that for. She says, "I'm making sure it's all there so we know there aren't any loose rounds in your suitcase." I try to think up a story as she works her way towards the half full Dillon case. I can't come up with anything other than the truth, but I'm not sure that is going to be good enough. As she opens it I say "I used up part of this box at the range last night." She tries the catch on the case a couple times and says, "That's okay. The lid seems to be secure, don't worry about it." If you want to avoid this you could probably put your ammo in military surplus ammo cans, make sure they are packed tight enough they don't rattle around and I think I could have passed inspection a lot more quickly. This was a very rare event and I have only had the one agent request to inspect my ammo [This has changed as of March 20, 1998] so I don't worry about it too much. On the other hand I also make very sure that the ammo does meet the letter and the spirit of the rules for safe transport.
One Friday, as I was driving up to the parking garage at SEATAC, I noticed a bunch of flashing lights in the passenger pickup area and it was blocked off with a police officer guarding the road that lead there. Hmm... wonder what's going on? I parked and walked across the glassed in skybridge to the terminal over the passenger drop off and pick-up area -- no cars, except for police and fire vehicles down there. Interesting... I arrive at the ticket counter and the agents behind the counter are obviously stressed and are shutting the place down and moving out -- quickly. I catch the eye of one guy behind the counter and he points me towards the gate and says, "Go through security to the Horizon Air service counter. They will check your bags and give you your boarding pass." The guy hadn't seen me enough times to recognize me as always bringing a firearm so I ignored him and went back to my vehicle. I left my entire suitcase in my vehicle (just dirty clothes to be washed and my pistol) and proceeded to my gate with just my usual carry-on reading material, Sypderco knife, etc. Everyone was really stressed out and trying to deal with whatever the problem was and still get the customers to their flights. I overheard enough to figure out there was a bomb scare. I got my boarding pass from the computer Kiosk, called my wife to tell her I was fine, just in case she heard about it before I got home, then I sat in a corner watching the action until my flight boarded.
The next Friday I got all the details from the same guy that told me to go through security with my suitcase. Someone had left a van parked, with the door locked, in the passenger pickup area. They couldn't find the owner within 30 seconds or some such short time frame and they evacuated the adjacent area of the terminal as well as blocking traffic through the area. I told the guy that I had taken my suitcase back to my vehicle rather than go through security, like he had told me, because I had a firearm in it. I asked, "If that sort of thing happened again and I really needed to take my firearm with me (going to match for example) would they be able to accommodate me?" He said, things were really crazy that night, and they were just "winging it" on a lot of things, but if I had enough extra time before my flight they probably could have gotten the suitcase and gun on board. I would have had to take the suitcase back to my vehicle (or leave it in storage downstairs -- assuming they weren't evacuated too) go through security, explain to the ticket agent at the service counter, they could then find someone to walk the bag through a different airline ticket counter, that was open, to the baggage handling area.
Moral of the story -- if you really need to take your gun with you be sure to arrive early.
Your long guns typically are not going to go in your normal suitcase. Just not enough room, telescopic sights aren't padded and supported very well, etc. This usually means a gun case -- very obvious what is in this case to thieves in the baggage handling departments of all the airports your bag travels through. Some people use a golf club case instead for this reason. Urban camouflage -- if you want to think of it that way. I haven't done that so I don't have any direct experience, but it sure seems like a good idea. Golf clubs can be expensive too, but probably are not quite as attractive to thieves as a firearm. I have traveled with a rifle several times. No problems yet. One thing to keep in mind though -- the normal baggage handling equipment, including the carousals, may not be able to handle the long case. Your bag may be at a different baggage claim location at your destination than your normal luggage ('Normal'? What do you mean? Traveling with a firearm is 'normal'!). At SEATAC there is a "Over and Odd Sized" baggage area. Skis, pets in their cages, rifle/shotgun cases, and similar items go to this area. No big deal, just don't panic if your suitcase shows up and your long gun doesn't. You might want to wait for your long gun at the "odd size baggage area", snatch it as soon as it shows up then go grab the suitcase. The gun case is probably a more obvious theft target than the suitcase.
One person I know waited and waited for his $2000+ worth of long guns (some being pre-ban "assault weapons") at the baggage claim area. His suitcase showed up and the carousal stopped. He waited some more thinking maybe it would show up when they unloaded the next trailer/truck/whatever. A few minutes later more luggage showed up, but for a different flight. He got really steamed -- "#@$%& Airline! I'm never flying on this airline again and they are going to replace every one of those guns!" He went to the baggage claim help desk and with his temper only barely under control explained what his problem was. The person behind the counter said, "Oh! I have those right here. They were obviously guns so we didn't want to put them out where the wrong person might take them. I announced that we had some oversized bags behind the counter but you must not of heard me." He decided maybe he would give them a second chance with his business.
Read this in it's entirety before you blow a fuse or give me a lecture.
Before I go through security I always remove the metal I can and put it in my carry-on bag. Wallet (with spare keys), change purse, Spyderco knife, tape measure, keys, wrist watch -- everything except my belt buckle, my shoes, and the metal screws in my knee. It's never good enough in Pullman, and I have to "spread-em" while the security agent passed the handheld wand over my body to confirm it's just the metal shanks in my shoes. At SEATAC about 1/3 to 1/2 of the time I can make it through without the "spread-em" procedure. For several weeks in row I noticed that when I failed at SEATAC they also would "pat me down" after they ran the wand over me. They would check my ankles and the small of my back. Hmmm... You know -- when I carry concealed I don't have anything where they are looking for it. So, the next week I wore my inside the waist band (IWB from Kramer) holster behind my hip under a sweat shirt. The agent passed the wand over me, it didn't pick up on the two brass screws (whew!) and he patted my ankles, the small of my back and told me I could go. I smiled, thanked him, and said, "You know, when I carry a weapon I don't carry it in back, I carry it over here." And I pulled up my sweatshirt to show him my holster. He jumped a little bit and his eyes got so big! He then told me, in a rather stern voice, "Thank you sir! You can go now." I went and the next week the very same agent did a much better job of patting me down. That day, of course, I was not wearing a holster.
Once at Pullman I put a box of bullets in my carry-on bag. Not loaded ammunition, just 100 9mm 147 grain Hornady XTP hollow point bullets with no powder, no shell casing, sealed in their original factory box. The security guard saw them on X-ray and dug them out. She held them up and I explained they were just lead bullets, not ammunition, as she read the label. I swear, I could have copied the entire label using my own blood squeezed out of my finger onto the carpet faster than she was able to read it. She finally said she would have to check on it. She walked over to the ticket counter (about 20 feet away) and asked. She came back and said, "Yeah, you'll have to put it in your checked baggage." Okay. The people at the ticket counter retrieve my bag and I drop it in and lock it back up. I go through security again. No problems. She apparently doesn't care about the 2000 primers (I'm joking! I don't recommend this. Strictly speaking I probably was within the letter of the law with the primers, but probably not the spirit -- I figured it wouldn't matter that much if I missed my flight while explaining myself to the police -- I didn't have any connecting flights to worry about).
The next week I put a single bullet (not loaded ammo) in my carry-on baggage. The same agent missed it. After she was done processing all the passengers for that flight I pulled out the bullet, showed it to her, and asked, "Oh, I forgot about this. Do you have a problem with it?" "No, that's okay", she said. "But last week you asked me to put a box of bullets just like this in my checked baggage." "Yes, well it just depends", she said. Her composure still seemed pretty good, so I asked, "Depends on what?" "It just depends", her voice raised in pitch just a bit and she rattled on with, "Like some people come through with a key chain made out of a bullet and I let them through, it just depends". "Oh, now I understand", I said as I smiled and walked away.
In general it is not a good idea to play games with security. As I have mentioned before these people are not appreciative of good humor. As near as I can tell they are especially selected to NOT have a sense of humor. Furthermore security is very serious business. I take security very seriously and have pointed out security lapses to the agents.
This came to me from my Norwegian Tactical Rifle Partner. The shooter involved below is his friend. No changes have been made to the letter:
Øyvind Sørgaard, sosial sec: 100556xxxxx
The latest update can be found at: http://home.c2i.net/jailbird/page1.html. Basically, he is going to be flying back to NJ soon to pickup his belongs and finish the paperwork. He has received an "administrative dismissal."
This story comes from firstname.lastname@example.org:
One flight I (JoeH@turbonet.com) was on a guy was wearing a Leatherman type tool and holster. On of the passengers saw part of it and apparently thought it was a sheath for a fixed blade knife and told an attendant. The attendant took the 'offending' passenger to a semi-private area of the plane (presumable to ask to see the tool). After a couple minutes the passenger came back still wearing the tool and took his seat.
January 26, 2006