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Transporting a Rifle on a Airplane


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Hi All, Any recommendations, brands, etc. for a carrying container for checking in as baggage a rifle?


In addition, I am checking thru a collectible Winchester and I am concerned about how much scrutiny I might get when checking. I don't want it to become a theft target. Anyone have any experience that they can share? Is it as simple as checking thru skis or something more rigorous?


Thanks, Tom

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If you can, ship it via UPS.


David, Why UPS? Do you think that's safer? I don't want to risk losing control of it but again, the minute it gets "checked" I don't have it anymore.

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+1 on getting it shipped.


Nowdays "customer service" is totally nonexistent even as concept to pretty much all of the domestic airlines.

No matter for what reason I ever need to deal with those people it's almost invariably an aggravating, unpleasant experience.

Seems that any situation, where the "customer service agent" (hah!) actually needs to do some work, will make them give you $hit.


Just for that purpose alone, I'd most definitely get it shipped.


Oh, and I trust UPS way more than the airline luggage handlers who can do what ever they want with no traceability or real responsibility for the checked-in items.




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+2 on UPS (always by AIR not ground, there are often way fewer handling points in the air path than the ground path) - much better accountability and tracking - with the proviso that the closer you get to Christmas, the riskier it gets as the shipping companies start to ramp up for busy season with temporary (untrained/uncaring)seasonal staff....

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I've traveled with handguns in the last few years and it wasn't a big deal.


Follow the airline's rules on the matter (check their website and/or call). Usually you just need a hard, locked case, of course, it needs to be unloaded, etc.


You'll need to declare the firearm when you check in (I just say "I need to do a firearms declaration when you get a minute.") and the ticket agent will need to verify that it is unloaded, etc. I had one agent get all strange about that (she did her job, but just acted really bizarre) but usually they're fine.


To be safe, I'd leave yourself extra time in case they decide to subject you to more scrutiny, but you should be fine.


That said, airport security and the TSA being what they are, I'd be more inclined to ship anything that's collectible/valuable.

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I send my pistols through regularly. First, since s**t happens, I'd always want any valuable weapon insured. If your homeowners policy doesn't cover it, most travel insurance policies will cover it. You should check the airline's website for their instructions, but in a nutshell, the requirement is that you have to "declare" the fact that you're checking a weapon.


You'll probably do some preliminary paperwork at the ticket counter, then take it to a special TSA area, where they'll look at the gun (which must be in a hard case with at least one padlock, and determine that it's unloaded and that any ammo is packaged appropriately. Different airports look at that question a bit differently, but if you have any ammo in either the factory's paper/cardboard box or another suitable ammo box they're generally happy. They'll ask you to stand by while they run it through the x-ray machine, then give you the thumb's up when it passes through.


From that point on, it's treated like any other luggage. My strong preference is to have the hard case inside another piece of luggage, so that it's not evident that a weapon is being transported. If you do that your chances of a loss/theft are no greater than with any other piece of luggage . . . which is to say, not great.


My personal feeling is that your chances of having the gun stolen are greater if you just send it through in a hard case that's obviously a gun case, but the overall chances of theft are fairly low. I have seen UPS and FedEx beat the crap out of some packages, and I've had items disappear in shipping through them as well, so nothing is 100% safe.


It's not as easy as going to your local FedEx or UPS facility to ship a firearm either. I haven't done it, but some time ago I looked into it. I believe that FedEx requires that the sender and the recipient both have to be a licensed FFL holder, collector, or law enforcement agency, while UPS might accept shipments from a private individual to one of the above. I don't know that the information is up to date, but there's a summary here. The one time I contemplated doing this, I decided it was too great a hassle and used the airline--in fact one of the FFL holders I was talking to in order to set this up actually suggested that I do that, and avoid the hassle and added expense (shipping plus fees to FFLs at both ends). I've used the airlines it a few times now and haven't had any problems, but there's always some degree of risk.


Anyway, the bottom line is this: You can ship through FedEx, UPS, etc., but it will certainly be much more expensive and likely involve finding an FFL holder at both ends to facilitate the shipment. My guess is that it's somewhat safer, but gun thefts from airline baggage, while they occur, aren't as rampant as some news sources might lead you to believe. You have to consider how much expense and trouble it's all worth to you. If this is merely a nice collectible but not terribly valuable I'd go with the airline. If it's a super valuable item, I'd suggest the extra work that it takes to go through UPS or FedEx.


One final note: make sure that you follow all state requirements for transporting a firearm in your state as you're taking it to the airport (if that's what you decide). You're likely to have someone check to ensure that you have the appropriate license/ID for your jurisdiction.

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If you can, ship it via UPS.

You want to check the laws on this but in the past both sender and recipient had to have a Federal Firearms License (FFL)or you are breaking federal law which gets you in deep doo doo.

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(I just say "I need to do a firearms declaration when you get a minute.")

Yes, a much better way of phrasing it than "I have a gun." :grin:


Yeah, that's what I'm getting at.


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In this case it will be pretty obvious what you’re transporting with a rifle case. The rifle should be a little more secure in that it is not as easy for the baggage handler to walk off with unnoticed. The last time I transported a rifle via the airline the case had several noticeable dents. What started out as a brand new aluminum case looked 10 years old by the time the trip was over. After that I loaded everything up in the car and drove.

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If using the airlines, put the rifle in a soft case and then put the whole thing in one of the plastic hard cases. Two padlocks are better than one, you can often get a set of keyed alike. They are really cosmetic anyway as they are only meant to keep from making a thief out of an honest man. Airline insurance is fairly cheap, $1.00/100 declared value over $1200 as I recall. I don't know about other airlines as I always transported my guns on Delta but, get the value over $5000 and the package gets special handling. Signature checks at each waypoint and a special container/compartment.


No FFL requirement on either end for a long gun, should you decide to ship. Hand guns are different but, as I recall, only the recipient needs an FFL and then only if there is a sale involved. Used to be UPS was the only approved carrier for this but that might have changed. I am not sure of the legality of shipping the ammunition in the same container.

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I'd say just wave it in the air when boarding and your transport will be securely taken care of......




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I've been very happy with a Starlight case (SC-061352) equipped with the wheels and handle kit. Bought one Feb '07 with the above options and the internal foam kit for $225 USD and would gladly buy again -- it's a great case. Prices vary, so shop around. A case can be reused or sold so it's relatively cheap compared to potential damage to the contents.


I've also used a golf bag shipping case: hard sided with multiple locks. Easy to buy, looks nothing like a gun case and has plenty of space inside -- and can be used to ship clubs on your next vacation. But I prefer the Starlight case.


TSA seemed perfectly at ease with either case, and so far only one counter agent has appeared taken aback, but she recovered nicely. Visual indicators of an empty breech are best (remove bolt or break down action or insert orange plastic plug, etc), otherwise TSA will remove and inspect the weapon -- don't know about you, but when someone else is handling my weapons I'm afraid they'll damage them!


Last shipped a firearm in Apr '08 using my local dealer, and it had to be received by a dealer (FFL to FFL). I paid standard UPS rates plus a $35 dealer charge and it STILL worked out cheaper than the excess baggage fees the airlines wanted. Tracking number the whole way, insurance was easy to select, was low hassle as I wasn't trying to catch a flight at the same time -- definitely recommend this route for ease and peace of mind.


Good luck!

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