This brief article was intended for publication in AI before their recently announced closure. As you may know if you’ve read my earlier articles or book, I travel quite a bit to hunt. This is not as easy as it once was … following are some hints and advice on how to get from point A to point B with minimal angst when travel plans call for air transport.
I take my rifles with me quite frequently when traveling. This is of course, pretty easy when taking off on a road trip; throw them into the cargo space and hit the road. The complexity increases though when I’m going to fly to my destination. In the good old days, pre 9/11, I did not bother to declare my airguns when checking my bags and never encountered any problems. But recently the rules have changed; and air arms are now viewed in the same light as traveling with firearms. But before getting on to the topic of checking in at the counter, let’s take a quick look at how I pack the guns in the first place.
An observation made in passing is that people can get nervous when they see a guy walking through an airport or hotel lobby carrying a rifle case. You can get by with this in Utah or Colorado during deer and elk season, it’s an altogether different story when you’re walking through the lobby of the Hyatt in San Francisco or Chicago attired in a business suit. In the past I have used the traditional rifle case, which works well but is not very subtle. For several months now I’ve been using a new set up, which protects my guns very well, is easy to move around, and has the added benefit of being discreet. Walking through the local sporting good store one Saturday morning I spotted a hard sided golf case made by Doskocil (Golf Guard), which is a company specializing in high impact molded plastic containers for the sportsman. As a matter of fact, I had a number of their rifle and pistol cases in use at that very moment. As I glanced at the bags, it occurred to me that it was about the right size to fit a couple of Doskocil rifle cases (Gun Guard). So I went bounding over to the gun section and grabbed a couple of standard rifle cases to see if it was a fit, then headed back to the duffers gear. The golf case perfectly housed two rifle cases, so I bought it and headed home with my newest acquisition. Now my wife doesn’t mind me buying a new gun or accruements every now and again, but she has seen me golf and thought my newest purchase was a terrible waste. Ah, but that one spontaneous action has made my life as a highly mobile hunter so much easier! The great thing about this setup is that a) the built in wheels really make it easy to run through the airport, and b) during transit nobody has any idea I’m traveling with my guns – as I look like just another business traveler planning to sneak away for a little golf. Security and airline agents tell me all the time this is one of the coolest setups they’ve ever seen – and the whole thing cost under $100.00 including the rifle cases.
OK, now here is the fun part, I’ve got my guns packed and have made it to the check in counter at the airport. The first thing you’ll find if you do this a lot is that there is not much consistency in the rules; different airlines and airports handle checking air guns in different ways. But as a general rule of thumb these days, the majority of airlines now will handle air guns just like a firearm. My first step when getting to the ticket counter is to declare the presence of airguns in my golf bag, which I must admit will raise an eyebrow occasionally. Next you will be asked to open the case, and you may or may not have to show them that the gun is unloaded. Some agents don’t even want to look at it; others want to examine it closely. You will have to declare that it is unloaded and uncharged. Next you will be given an orange firearm transport card which you sign, date, and place in the case. The case is then closed but not locked, and sent to the security baggage check. The airline might ask you to standby until the bag is cleared – but often they won’t. Like I said up front, they change from place to place, day to day. I’ve probably been on 10 flights this year with my guns and it’s never added more than 20 minutes to my travel time. If you’re tempted to argue the process or voice your frustration over the minor delay – don’t. These people are only doing their jobs in a difficult time, go along with it and eventually you and your guns will get to where you’re going … then the fun starts!