How to Fly with Firearms, Safely and Legally in the US

Heading to Alaska for a hunt? Maybe you’re traveling for a 3-gun competition. Or perhaps you just want to bring a long gun for a get-together in the mountains. There are plenty of reasons you might fly with a firearm, and it’s surprisingly easy to do, as long as you follow the TSA’s rules.


Is it legal to bring a firearm during air travel?

Yes. Of course, we’re only talking about flying within the United States. Traveling internationally with a firearm is beyond the scope of this article. Flying with a firearm is something air travelers do more often than you might think, and the TSA has detailed instructions to help make sure you’re doing it the right way. There are some key things to remember.

You have to follow local and state gun laws at your destination. Even if your firearms are legal where you live, you can’t bring them to a destination where they’re restricted or banned by state law.

You’ve probably seen the warning signs at every airport you’ve traveled through: You can’t bring your firearm onboard in a carry-on container, lest you wish to be detained. All firearms need to be declared as soon as you enter the ticketing area, before going through security. It’s best to flag down security outside the ticketing area, as soon as you step foot on the curb. They will assist you in getting your guns cleared at a separate security checkpoint, so they can be sent along and stowed as checked baggage.


How should I store my guns and ammo when flying?

Your guns need to be locked up in hard-sided cases that can withstand physical abuse and the elements outside. Padlocks work best. You don’t need to give the keys to any airport personnel. In fact, the TSA says you should never do this. Make sure no one but you can get inside those containers while you travel. If security needs to inspect your firearms for any reason — either at your departure or after arrival — they will locate you so you can unlock your guns.

It makes little sense to fly with a firearm but no ammo to shoot. You can legally transport ammo as checked baggage, too. But you can’t store your firearms and loose ammunition together in the same container. 

Doing so will result in you missing your flight, and receiving a pretty hefty civil penalty with a fine. All your ammo needs to be kept in a cardboard, wood, plastic, or metal box specifically designed for carrying ammo. Only then can it be stored in the same hard-sided container as your firearm, per TSA guidelines.

The TSA doesn’t provide specifics for what constitutes an air travel-approved gun case. We strongly recommend using a case that is made from injection-molded polymer, with steel hinges and padlock holes or key-locked latches. 


Are there limits to what ammo I can bring?

Yes. Only small arms ammo — that’s anything up to .75 caliber or any gauge of shotgun shell — is permitted. That means you can’t bring any destructive devices or ammunition for such devices. 


What’s a good gun case for air travel?

A gun case like the Plano All-Weather Series Case, or the SKB iSeries Rifle Case, is a good choice. These cases come with impact-resistant shells, water-resistant O-rings, locking latches, and foam inserts to protect your rifle, shotgun, or handguns. They are considered TSA-approved based on these features. 

Soft gun cases are never permitted for air travel.


Is there any type of firearm accessory I can bring onboard?

Typically, no. Individual firearm parts, like bolts, springs, or magazines, can only be transported in checked baggage, like your other firearms. Only rifle scopes are explicitly permitted by TSA to be stored in carry-on baggage. 


Is there anything I should do before arriving at the airport?

We recommend contacting your airline before the day of your departure to clarify what their policies are for traveling with firearms. Some airlines could restrict bringing a firearm onboard as checked baggage. Most airlines will be happy to assist by providing you with information about how to check your firearms and ammo when you arrive. 

We also recommend getting in touch with departure and arrival airport security personnel to confirm how, exactly, you should go about getting your firearms declared and inspected. Taking both of these proactive steps will ensure your travel goes smoothly, without delay and risk of a missed flight.