Flying With Firearms: What you Need to Know About Flying Domestically With Firearms

If you conceal carry and travel you must know that domestic air travel doesn’t mean you need be unarmed when you get to your travel destination.  Whether you travel for work or vacation you can take your firearms with you when done legally and correctly.  I fly domestically about 5-10 times a year.  Most of the time with at least one firearm.  Sometimes for work, sometimes for training classes, sometimes for vacation.  I will try to provide some guidance to reduce some of the mystery and challenges of flying with your firearms based on my resources and experiences. 

Know and Understand the Firearms Laws in the States of Your Final Destination AND Connecting Flights

You are subject to all laws in all states that you are travelling to.  Here are two excellent informative links to help you with those laws. 

United States Concealed Carry Association

These links may not be complete information.   Be aware of the more restrictive state laws such as New York, New Jersey, and California.  If you are connecting through a restrictive state you may be subject to their firearm laws if you flight is cancelled or there is an extended delay.   If your bags get pulled off the flight and you have to transport them to a hotel this may put you in a legal predicament.  If you connect through without delay or small delay you should be okay.   

Check TSA Regulations and Individual Airline Rules Beforehand 

Go to to read the TSA regulations regarding traveling with firearms.  This will give you guidance on firearms, ammunition, cases, locks, declaration, etc.  

See the individual airlines for their rules as well.  Most airlines follow TSA guidelines but may have a slight difference in their policies.  Here are a few direct links to the major airlines firearm transport requirements. 

American AirlinesUnited AirlinesSouthwest AirlinesDelta Airlines 

Hard Sided Locking Cases and Good Locks

One of the TSA regulations is to secure your firearm in a hard sided case.  I use Pelican Cases.   There are others out there but I have found these are the most sturdy and durable on the market. Pelican Cases have metal reinforced holes for external locks, can be made airtight, and come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.    They vary from the smallest case for one compact handgun, up to a large rifle case that holds several long guns. Pelican has one for almost every need.  

I recommend that you do not put firearm stickers or any shooting associated stickers or markings on the outside of your designated hard case.  These identifying marks could catch the attention of thieves. 

I do not use TSA approved locks. These are easily opened by TSA and baggage staff with universal keys.   You are entitled to use any lock you want and I use two or more good old solid metal padlocks with keys. You can use a combination lock as well but I find keyed locks faster to open and close when needed.   I leave one key at home and take one with me one the trip.


There are two ways to transport your weapons.  First you can pack your weapon in a small hard sided case and put in inside a suitcase but you will have to open that checked suitcase and the hard sided case when you declare your weapons and/or at the TSA screening.  I usually travel with multiple firearms and equipment so I usually have a designated case outside my checked suitcase with my clothes and other personal items.   Make sure your firearms are secured in the case and don’t slide around inside.  Pelican, and most hard case container type luggage, provide a firm foam insert that you can cut with a utility knife and customize to fit snugly around your firearms to keep them stable. 

You may want to remove expensive optics from your weapons and put them in your carry-on or other checked suitcase.  You can leave them on your weapon but understand you may lose your zero and there is a small chance the optic may be damaged. 

Tracking Your Baggage

Years ago I had a suitcase full of clothes lost on a trip.  It was certainly an inconvenience and left me feeling panicked to buy replacement clothes since I was traveling for business.  I can’t imagine how I would feel if my firearms were lost.  Since that day I use luggage tracking devices.  There are several on the market at varying price points.

LugLocTracdot Luggage TrackerMynt TrackerTile Tracker 

I’ll address the advantages and disadvantages of each tracking device in a future post.

At The Airport 

Always allow additional time before your flight if traveling with firearms.  When you get to the airport your hard sided case should be locked, weapon cleared, unloaded, and magazines out beforehand.  Mags can be transported empty or loaded and ammunition should be in a secured box.  I prefer to travel with unloaded magazines.  Both can be packed in the hard sided case or checked baggage.  See individual airlines for ammunition limitations.  You must check in inside.  There is no curbside check-in when flying with a firearm. 

Upon check-in you must declare that you have a firearm(s).  I always say “I have a firearm to declare”.  I always say “declare” so it is very clear that it is being checked.  The agent will also ask if the weapon is unloaded and safe. I always say “yes, clear and safe” to make sure the agent knows I heard her.  If the agent asks to see if the weapon is unloaded call a supervisor immediately.  Never pull your weapon out of the case to manipulate it and show clear in the airport even if requested by the agent.   You may be charged with up to a felony even if the agent asked you to do so.  The supervisor should know this even if the ticket agent doesn’t.  The agent will have you fill out a short TSA form to put in the case with your firearms and tag your bag for the usual baggage identification and give you your claim check 

Here is where many airports vary in the firearm protocol.   There are three different protocols I have experienced.  Sometimes the protocol may be different for the same airport on different days.  One way is that you may be escorted with your case from the check in counter to TSA screening.  Another variation is you may just have to unlock the case and put form inside then it’s on to the conveyor belt to be screened.  The most common I have experienced is you will have to walk your case over to another screening area.  

Regardless of any of the three protocols keep your keys in your possession at all times.  This is a TSA rule “Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock.”  If the TSA asks me for the keys to unlock the case I kindly remind them of their own rule and offer to unlock it for them to inspect.  It’s up to you if you want to dispute if asked to hand over your keys.  It may delay you or you may miss your flight all together if they want to jam you up.    After the inspection, lock it back and let them take it.  I usually try watch it enter into the secured baggage area after inspection and hang around for a few minutes afterward to make sure there are no problems upon screening.  It is a precautionary step that can save you from having to come back after you have already gone through security screening yourself if there are any issues.    

You are free to go to security and on to your flight!

Hint: I always book direct flights to reduce the number of transfers and handling of my luggage.

Arriving at Your Destination

Upon arrival, when getting to the baggage claim, go to the information desk and ask where declared firearms will come out.  Airports vary in the pickup protocol.  Firearms may come out in one of three ways.  First and most simple is with the other general luggage.  They may also come out with the oversized luggage or lastly may be personally walked inside the terminal by an agent.  No matter how they come out the information desk should be able to tell you exactly what to do. Either way be prepared to show your baggage claim check and an ID to identify yourself as the owner.  Do a quick visual inspection of the exterior of the case and locks before leaving the terminal.  Do not open your weapon case in the airport or on the airport property.  Wait until you exit the property before you open the case to put on your everyday carry or open the case to inspect your weapons. 

I know this sounds complicated but hopefully I saved you some confusion regarding the whole process.  It will get easier after you complete it the first time I promise!  Happy and safe travels!!

This blog post is not to be considered legal advice. It is merely the experiences and resources shared by the blog writer in an effort to help make traveling with firearms a little easier.  This blog post contains affiliate links.