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November 25, 2008

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Bourjaily: Flying with Guns

Many years ago, my dad flew to Wisconsin on a hunting trip and carried his O/U onto the plane in a takedown case. He and the stewardess had the following exchange:

Her: “Is that a gun?”
Him: “Yes.”
Her: “It’s not loaded, is it?”
Him: “It’s not even put together.”

Then, because it was the 60s and air travel was way better then, she probably brought him a martini. I can promise Dad was wearing a tie, too, because flying was a big deal and people dressed for the occasion.

Today, flying is as glamorous as riding the bus and you can’t even talk about carrying a gun onto a plane. Surprisingly, I have no personal airline horror stories about checked guns. In part, that’s because I fly out of Cedar Rapids, a small airport where people are used to seeing guns among the checked baggage.
One day last year I came home late from somewhere in a downpour. At the carousel, all the bags, including my duffel, came off the plane dripping wet. Everything arrived except my gun case. I waited. The other passengers took their bags and left until it was just me standing there. The carousel stopped. I was looking around for the lost luggage agent when a very wet baggage handler walked in with my gun case tucked under the skirt of his plastic poncho. “I figured there was a gun or camera in there so I wanted to bring it in to you instead of throwing it on the carousel where it might get wet,” he said.

I love the Cedar Rapids airport.

I will have to rely on all of you for airline horror stories. I don’t have any . . .yet.


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Wow, that was an amazing act of understanding and human kindness I had read in a long time. Brought a tear to my eye.

You know you're a gun nut when a story like that chokes you up and brings a tear to your eye. :)


This is not a horror story, just riduculous. I checked in my broken apart o/u shotguns at the airport a couple of years ago. In the case, I had my travel gun cleaning kit that contained a 2oz. squeeze bottle of gun oil. Once on the plane, I was summoned by the attendant to produce my key for the lock so that TSI could dispose of the oil tube. Seems to me to be a little too cautious.



If DEP worked for TSA, he would probably confiscate your gun oil as well - but for different reasons.

SD Bob

My story is not about a gun but a .300 win mag bullet! A lifelong friend was getting married and the ceremony was in Florida. I purchased tickets for my wife and daughter and on the cold February day of departure I managed to forget to pull the "lucky" cartridge out of my coat pocket? When my jacket went through the x-ray machine it was obviously noticed and when the cartridge was extracted the lady held it by the base high above her head as if she were Indiana Jones and let out quite the scream. The airport went quiet and there I stood the center of everyone's attention. I thought I was going to jail!


I was flying to South Dakota from Atlanta in October 2001 (3 weeks after 9/11) for pheasant season. Got a lot of stares when me and my hunting buddy walked into the airport each carrying a gun case. No problems whatsoever checking the guns through, unfortunately I forgot to remove the key for my suitcase from my pocket as I walked through the metal detector. Ended up getting delayed by 30 minutes as I was patted down by a TSA angent with a National Guardsman with a M4 looked on.

Dave Petzal

God, where do I begin? OK, this happened to a friend of mine who checked in a compound bow at South African Airways at JFK.
"What's in the case?" asked the SAA lady.
"A compound bow," saith my friend.
"Is it loaded?", she asked. She was not kidding.


Fellow in front of me at airline counter was checking luggage which included a shotgun in a locked hardcase - packed per airline regs.

Counter agent asked for the key to open the case and inspect the contents. Agent took out the gun and looked in the barrel from the muzzle end - didn't check safety, didn't open breach, didn't have a clue.

Chad Love

Never had a problem with a gun, but I did get into quite the insult smackdown with an American Airlines counter lady one time at the Little Rock, Arkansas airport.
The two-piece rod I wanted to carry on the plane could be used as a weapon, you see, and I was going to have to check it, and by the way, since you have to check that seven-foot heavy-action trigger-grip assault rod instead of carry it on, you're now over your checked baggage limit and that'll be an extra $50 please.

Sometimes I think it's a blessing that I'm way too poor to go on fishing and hunting trips that require airline travel. I don't think I could handle the stress.


A guy on one of the message forums had an absolutely horrific experience with Northwest on a trip to South Africa to bowhunt. He flew from Minneapolis (I think) to Washington, DC, and then connect to South African Airlines for the flight to Johannesburg. Apparently, his bow never made the trip from Minneapolis to DC. He spent the entire safari sitting in camp because NWA effectively refused to admit any wrongdoing, would not look for it, and therefore did not send it on to S.A. I think it took him nearly a month before he even got the bow back. NWA only went as far as to say sorry, to fire a ticket counter worker, and offer free flight vouchers for their airline. He lost everything that he spent on the safari itself.

Happy Myles

Memorable experience on departure for a 27 day trip some years ago.

Airline computer indicated I'd already disclosed dimensions of rifle case, how much it weighted empty and full, rifle and ammo inventory copies of rifle permits. Info the airline required well in advance. also acknowledgement they allowed firearms. However, their computer showed me traveling with rifles from L.A. to Paris, but without rifles from Paris to Banqui. It did show me me returning from Banqui to Paris, Paris to L.A. with rifles. Thereupon, they refused to let me take my rifles period. I argued the line had obviously neglected the one leg of the journey. How could I go part way with firearms, than not for a leg and still be expected to return all the way with them? I was told Air France doesn't make mistakes. Actual words of a supervisor.

I went without my rifles, borrowed a battered .375, and had a great successful trip. However on the way home had to convince officials at each airport the reason I was not returning with firearms was because Air France wouldn't let me take them to begin with. Until they checked by computer I'm sure they thought I had jungle fever.


I too have flown out of the Cedar Rapids airport multiple times with no problems. The staff I have dealt with was very speedy and knew what they were doing. They didn't even blink an eye when I told them I had a firearm to claim.


I suppose bad stuff happens, but I'm just not seeing it... at least not as far as travelling with my firearms.

I fly regularly out of the SF Bay Area, either San Francisco or Oakland, with firearms of one sort or another. While I can attest to the ineptitude of some officials regarding proper firearm safety, I have yet to run into any issues as far as what I'm carrying and where I'm going. This has likewise been the case in many large airports from Houston to DFW to Atlanta... and countless small airports as well.


Oh, and of course now that I've posted this, I'm sure I've doomed myself to airline hell when I take the rifle back to NC for my Christmas deer hunt.


Reward enough for flying wit hthe French and South Africans

Scott in Ohio

I travel much less than I used to but my most recent experience traveling from Phoenix to Detroit was surprisingly smooth. Checked gun at Phoenix airport, made flight and waited by carousel in Detroit, but no gun. After all passengers had all gone I nervously went to lost/oversize luggage counter and spoke to employee who immediately produced my gun case. The guy was very nice and he said that he never placed guns on the regular carousel where folks could mess with them. I happened to be wearing a jacket and tie and the guy was surprised I was the owner.

Phil, like you I love small airports. The Toledo, Ohio airport has cut down drastically on the number of direct flights available in the past few years but it is a breeze and true pleasure to fly out of and into.

Scott in Ohio

By the way Dave P., this was after reading several of your comments about baggage handler apes. The rifle was a pre-64 Winchester gift from my uncle and I was a nervous wreck about it gettng damaged en route.


When my kid was 3 or 4 years old my family was flying out of Billings, MT airport. As they ran his minature fanny pack through the x-ray machine I saw one inspector buldge his eyeballs out and summon another person to look at whatever he was examining in the machine. Turns out it was my kid's fanny pack complete with a water pistol and about 40 empty .357 mag cases. They quickly opened the pack and then informed me that I would have to relinquish the weapon and ammo to them. I explained that I didn't even know the kid was packing. Consequently he was forced to fly unarmed.

Dave Petzal

Some vignettes: 1973, MSP, I watched a Northworst ramp ape throw my gun case literally end over end. Denver, I think the early 90s, I saw a terrified kid and a hysterical mom placed under arrest by some kind of female security agent (this was pre-TSA) because the kid was carrying a plastic flintlock pistol; La Guardia, 1983, I was checking in for a flight to Augusta, where the SS had just arrested some idiot who was stalking President Reagan. The ticket agent asked me if I "...was going to Augusta to take a shot at the President." I smiled sweetly and said, "Get your supervisor over here." We had a nice talk.

Riecke Baumann

Air France was super re rifles, 9/08. Houston to Paris, to J'berg, returning through Paris, Amsterdam, Detroit, and Hst. Unfortunately, no one told me that Amsterdam required a transit form. (They loaded the guns without the forms.) Dutch police held the guns, but were really nice, and immediately accepted my e-mailed application.

The problems arose with KLM cargo, NWA, and Continental, all in Hst, who ran me in circles, misled me about procedures, did not answer phones, and charged me $50 for the shipping. What a deal.

Good thing I had the US Customs forms with me.


Jim in Mo

Yea, ain't that a bitch when they think they can say anything they want and its ok?

Eldon  Dickens

No airlines stories; rarely can afford to fly anyplace. However, when I was in high school, I went on my first deer hunt in the badlands with cop friends from Minot, ND. I took the train from Fargo to Minot and back with my 7x57 M93 still in mostly original condition. It was in a cloth case my mother had sewn up especially for it. The rifle went in the overhead rack above my seat. I don't remember anyone blinking an eye.
Unfortunately, for some bizarre technical reason I still do not understand, deer season was not an excuse for missing school -- in North Dakota of all places!! -- even though my non-hunting parents heartily approved and wrote a letter in advance to the school. Had to sit in detention with the other miscreants, much to my teachers' surprise.

Times have not changed for the better. We are not a more liberal, more understanding, caring, and sensitive society. More political correct and paranoid, but none of the rest.

Jim in Mo

Eldon, stick around on this site, good story.


This isnt a gun/air transport problem but in the 1988 I took my sister to the airport for her annual get warm flight to Florida. She checked in and was told the knitting needles she had in her carry on could not be allowed on the plane and her bags were checked. She handed them to me and went to the waiting area to be called for her flight. The same agent that told her she could not carry them asked if I wanted to wait with her. Without having to go through the scanner I carried not only her knitting needles (which I gave back to her with a flight attendant wattching) but I was supposed to meet with friends for a deer hunt after I dropped her off,so I was in hunting clothes and had my 44 mag in a shoulder holster, with ammo in my coat pocket sitting in an area for cleared passengers only.


I flew back from Canada this year and a couple of hunters were checking their guns at customs. Upon checking one of the firearms, the agent found a live round in one of the rifles (which had the bolt removed). Upon further inspection, he found about 5 rounds between the two hunters. I havent figured out how the live round stayed in the chamber when he removed the bolt.


Strangest thing I saw was Anchorage TSA having babies because I slipped an Ulu I bought for my parents in my fanny pack. However, the folding buck knife in my pocket was OK.

This was pre 911.

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