I have traveled with long and short weapons quite a bit. Here has been my experience.
You have to have the weapon in some sort of case OTHER than your luggage. The plastic case it came in, for example, is what they are looking for.
The magazine IS NOT adequate for holding ammunition. You need either the original packaging or one of those plastic, hard side, reloading cases that CLOSE and STAY CLOSED.
- I found this out the hardway when I tried taking my Kimber with me to Michigan. They let me keep the gun, as I had the hardcase, then they took my ammo because it was in the magazines and stored completely at the other end of the suitcase in a seperate container. It did not meet the standards for "holding" ammunition. That was an interesting discussion.
You have to declare that you have a firearm when you check in. As you are getting your ticket, showing your ID, simply state that you are transporting a firearm. There is no crime in this and there is nothing to worry about. I have done this with pistols in my normal luggage and long guns in specialized cases and no one has ever panicked or called in the SWAT team.
You will be escorted with your luggage to a special screening section where they will open your luggage and inspect the weapon and the ammunition IN FRONT OF YOU. They are NOT allowed to do it without you in sight of the luggage.
Once they have determined that your weapon is:
- In a hardside case that is OTHER than your luggage
- Your ammo is stored correctly
- and there is nothing else of concern in your luggage
They will place an ORANGE ticket INSIDE your luggage and seal it in front of you. This ORANGE ticket will declare that there is a firearm IN the luggage which would be seen if someone opened the luggage.
Because I always fly with other stuff in my luggage ( like a knife, camera or charging equipment for the laptops or whatever ) I have TSA approved locks that they will then replace on the luggage and send it on through the system.
I can't remember ever having a tag that said FIREARM on the outside of my luggage. They might have put another color tag on the handle, but I don't remember peeling off a sticker that boldly said FIREARM.
Granted, it's been over a year since I traveled in the country and could bring a firearm, but I do not recall this being the case the last time I flew.
However, if that is the case now, when they sign off on your luggage and re-seal it with their tag inside, with your "ticket" having been marked as "having a firearm" I would presume that the airline is responsible for the safe arrival of your luggage just like any other item of worth.
All told, the only time I ever had a problem flying with my firearm is when they took my ammo for having it in a magazine and that was in 2003 - so pretty close after 09/11.
If you have questions, you can call the carrier directly and get their exact criteria before you head to the airport.