Some experiences I have had while flying with guns:
I arrived at the airport two hours before flight time. I had two guns, a 9mm Glock 17 and a 10mm EAA Witness. Each was unloaded and sans magazine. And each was in its own locked steel case from Brownells. I had two set of keys for the cases: one set for the TSA, if they wanted ‘em (and they would!) and one set on a keychain attached to my carry-on bag. The cases were carried in a hard-sided briefcase with combination locks, but the combos were set to “open”. I had two empty Witness magazines and three empty Glock magazines in a clear Zip-Lock bag and I carried this inside the briefcase, too.
Inside my suitcase I had a box of 10mm ammo and a box of 9mm ammo, in their original retail boxes. And these were, in turn, inside clear Zip-Lock bags.
I walked past curb-side check-in and went to the airline ticket counter. There was a line. The attendant told me that I could use automated check-in and I lifted the briefcase and said, “I have some special baggage to check in.” She nodded – she knew what I meant; people carrying guns into airports isn’t really THAT unusual. I always try to avoid saying the word “gun” or “firearm” in an airport. But four months ago the counter agent at Reagan National asked me in a very audible “stage whisper”, “Oh! Is it an unloaded firearm?” Thirty sets of eyes, some as big as saucers, swiveled in my direction.
So when I got to the head of the line I put my briefcase on the counter, opened it and unlocked each gun-box and showed her that the gun was empty (empty magazine well and empty chamber). I used the lid of the briefcase to hide the guns from view by the other passengers in line behind me. I also showed her that the magazines were empty. She filled out the little card and I signed it. She kept the original and put the blaze-orange “UNLOADED FIREARM(S)” tag inside my briefcase. She charged me $25 for the second checked bag, then she walked me around to the TSA security station and handed me and my luggage over to the TSA agent, a nice but very serious-looking young man. He put my suitcase and my briefcase on the conveyor into the X-Ray machine. He asked me to please stand nearby and wait.
As soon as the briefcase came off the line the agent took it to an inspection desk and opened it. Then he came back to me and asked for the keys. I gave him the keys and he walked back and opened each box in turn and inspected each gun. Then he closed the briefcase and put it on the conveyor to the luggage handling area. He walked back to me, handed over the keys, and said, “So, which one do you like?” I answered, “Well, the ten-mil is a heavy, all-steel gun and doesn’t really kick that hard. But compared to the ten, the Glock shoots like a .22!” He said, “Cool!” and I was on my way to the gate. The whole thing took less than five minutes.
On the way back, the procedure was a little different. I got my boarding pass from the automated machine, which also charged my credit card $25 for the second checked bag, and then I waited for the attendant. Same drill: show the unloaded guns, sign the card, put the orange tag inside the briefcase. Then the ticket agent instructed me to walk, unaccompanied, to the TSA security station, while she carried my bags somewhere else. So I went through the TSA screening routine, including a “puffer machine” that they have at Indy Airport but not in D.C. A half-hour later I was having coffee in the gate area when my name was paged. “U.S. Airways passenger Turk Turon please come to gate D-3.” The gate attendant wanted my keys. I gave her the keys and she disappeared thru a door; five minutes later she came back and said, “Everything’s fine. Thank you.” And the flight was uneventful. I got to work that morning on time!
The way I do it, with separated locked boxes and a lockable briefcase, is probably overkill, but I want to have a little extra material to work with in case I run into a steely-eyed inspector who insists that the ammo be under lock and key too. In that case I would offer to put the ammo in the briefcase and move the two gun boxes to my big rollaround suitcase. But that has never happened. Also, the blaze-orange hang-tags just scream “There’s a gun inside!” and having an outer container means that the ticket agents will put the tag inside the briefcase, where it can’t be seen. Packing the guns and the ammo in the same bag is strictly forbidden, even if they are locked within separate lock-boxes, so if you carry ammo you're going to get stuck with the “extra bag” fee.
Sometimes the TSA agent will ask if you have any ammo in your bags. If you do, they’ll want to know that it’s in its original retail box. The purpose is to prevent rounds from getting loose inside the cargo hold. I ALWAYS pack the ammo in its original boxes, just in case they ask. I have never had the TSA ask to actually see the ammo boxes, but if they did, I want to show them that I am in compliance with their rules. When I arrived in Indy and unpacked, I found that the box of 9mm had opened. This was Winchester White Box, so it was loose inside the box. But the Zip-Lock bag was still sealed, so I knew that I did not have any loose rounds rolling around inside my suitcase. Just gives a little extra peace of mind.
On my last return flight from the Indy BlogMeet, the box of 9mm took a pretty big hit, but the Zip-Lock caught the stray rounds.