Originally published at Notes from the bunker…. You can comment here or there.
So every schmuck with a keyboard will tell you how to deal with the TSA when it comes time to slide the gun case across the counter and onto the conveyor belt at the airport. This is just such a post, but with a twist – theres some freaking hard-earned experience backing this stuff up. I’m assuming you know the basics. They are, briefly:
Unloaded gun in a locked airline-approved hard case
Make declaration at gun counter (”Hi. I need to declare unloaded firearms.”)
Receive declaration tags, sign ‘em, put them in (or with) case
Lock it up
Theres some minor variation in there but thats about 90% of it.
What I’ve learned is that no airport does it the same way as other airports, which is a bit odd since it should all be uniformly the same across the board. Allow me to give an example:
I get to the airport here in Montana. In my duffel is a locked Pelican case with a couple Glocks in it. I tell the chick behind the counter that “I need to declare unloaded firearms”. She gives me the orange tags to sign. I sign em, she countersigns, I open my duffel and put them with the gun case. I then take my duffel over to the x-ray machine where retards from the TSA ask if I have any guns or film in the duffel. I say yes and they do a double take since the answer 99.9% of the time is no. I tell ‘em theres unloaded guns in a locked case and theyre declared. They x-ray the luggage and their little software program beeps a couple times as it recognizes the outline of a couple G19’s. TSA goons open the bag (Im standing there and they ask me for the key) and I watch as they open the bag and confirm theres a gun case and declaration tag. I watch to make sure they lock the whole thing up again, it goes onto the conveyor and I head to the security screening area and then to my gate.
Fairly simple stuff, although when this was a free country it was alot easier.
Flash forward to checking guns through at the Minneapolis airport 6/11.
I do the declaration song and dance and an exceptionally rude and incompetent Delta/NWA employee gives me a declaration tag. For the sake of argument we’ll call this particular shining example of asshattery “S. Bradford”…after all, that was the name on the little man’s name tag.
I sign the declaration tag and stuff it with the luggage and prepare to drag my duffel to the x-ray machine. Bradford tells me to give him the bag and that it is to be put on the conveyor belt behind him and that Im not allowed to lock it. How many things are wrong with that sentence? Guns in luggage? That mofo gets locked and only the passenger has the key/combo…says so right there at the ticket counter in fine print. We ask Bradford if he’s sure this is the right way to go..normally we escort it to the x-ray machine so the TSA thugs operating it don’t sprout wood when they see guns in the luggage and think theyre about to become heroes. Bradford assures us, in an amazingly rude and patronizing way, that mere civillians like us don’t know the rules (cause, hey, we’ve only been travelling with guns for about 20 years) and he’s the expert. (An expert, by the way, who had to try six different check-in terminals to find where the declaration tags were kept…not exactly an old hand at this gun check-in thing, methinks.)
I say to the missus “We’re gonna see that bag again real soon.”
Duly chastised by S. “Respect mah authority” Bradford we go to our gate. And, exactly as I predicted, when we get there we get the “Will passenger [name] please report to the gate attendent.” I roll my eyes, I know exactly what this is about. Bradford’s inability to know how to do his job is about to make our trip alot more annoying.
We go to the counter and identify ourselves. Some tall NWA/Delta employee says to follow him please, theres a problem with our luggage. I said “Theres no problem. I know exactly whats wrong. We’ve got a buncha guns in our bag and the guy at the check-in messed up.” We quickly walk along the terminal to some unmarked doorway. Tallguy swipes a card through the reader and theres two suits standing there. TSA supervisors or somesuch. They say they need us to open the gun case for inspection. We’re whisked down a flight of stairs to what looks like a parking garage but is actually where all the luggage is transported to, by conveyor and chutes, for inspection and x-ray. I ask where the guys are who dont speak English and steal luggage. Theres a polite snicker. I then ask if this is where all the Northwest pilots hang out drinking between flights. Im told, no, thats in the bar upstairs. As we are ushered along we tell the guy that we tried to explain to Bradford that we needed to take the duffel to x-ray but noooooooooo he knew what was best. Polite small talk ensues. We’re asked if we are military. I say no, she’s a cop and I’m a talented amateur. We get to our destination – three TSA goons huddled around our Pelican case like its the ark of the covenant. I open the case, the inspect, I lock the case, I lock the duffel bag and we’re escorted back to the terminal. About a half dozen times, various TSA goons said “Its not your fault. You did everything right. Its the fault of whoever checked you guys in.” I helpfully volunteered it was S. Bradford and might they please go kick him in the nuts or something.
So. Let me tell you what I’ve learned. (And this was not my first rodeo as far as TSA thuggery goes.)
First – Obey the rules. If you don’t pack the goodies the way theyre supposed to be packed you have absolutely zero right to complain. Yeah, theyre absurd rules. Yeah, they protect no one. But if you wanna bring the hardware home you gotta pack it to their satisfaction. More importantly, if you want to be able to vindicate yourself against these morons you must be in the right.
Two – Make a note of the name of whomever checks your guns. Can’t stress this one enough. When we hand over our boarding passes and ID at the ticket counter we always make a note of the name of the person who gives us the declarations, signs them, and takes our bags. Always. Thats why I can say “S. Bradford” and not “some rude NWA scumbag”. You dont have to be obvious about it, but make damn sure you get their name and remember it. Tell it to your travelling companion in case one of you winds up in a cell and is incommunicado.
Three – Serious locks. Not the ‘TSA approved’ lock that they have a key for. Not the key that came with your Doskocil case. Get a six pack of keyed-alike Master locks. Lock the gun case. If the gun case goes in your bag, lock the bag too. If they give you crap about it gently remind them that the rules say guns go locked and that only the passenger has the key. They should know that…unless theyre S. Bradford of the Minneapolis terminal.
Four – Contingency plan for being detained. In this instance the gun case was in the missus’ name. If they were gonna slap the bracelets on anyone, it woulda been her. Me, I would have stood off to the side and watched them take her away. Why? Because if we’re both holding down a bench in the TSA lockup whose gonna act on our behalf? If you can swing it, make sure your traveling companion knows that one of you needs to stay on the outside to help the one on the inside.
Five – This is overkill but it beats sitting in a cell for six hours with your hands cuffed behind your back: get a declaration tag for each gun. The tag clearly says it is for declaring “Unloaded firearm(s)”. See that little (s) on the end there? That means that one tag covers all the guns in that one gun case…one or six, it covers them all in that one case. If it didnt why the optional plural? But play it safe and say you want one for each gun. The check-in clerk will say you only need one. Politely, but resolutely, say youve had problems in the past where someone insisted you needed one for each gun and youd really rather avoid that. If they refuse, when they give you the tag write something like “(4) guns per Bradford”…which is what I wrote since Bradford refused to hand over a couple extras.
Now, look, you dont have to be a dick about any of this. Be polite. These people have absolutely no motivation or reason to be nice to you. If you are a dick they can make your trip a major bummer very easily and with almost no cost to themselves. Youre in an airport with no real option for transportation and theyve been dealing with people all day. Smile. Be polite. Ask ‘em how their day is. But make sure you have enough information (like their names, etc.) to throw them under the bus if their screwup blows back onto you.
The last thing you need, especially now, is to have quality firearms confiscated and held for a few months while the poltroons at TSA/Fatherland Security arbitrarily decide if they want to return them to you or not.
Read the rules on flying with guns and know them so that when the S. Bradfords start making screwups that can put you in a cell you know how to deal with it. Serious stuff, gang.