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Will Your Firearm Go Hunting With You this Season? Or Will the Airlines Eat It?

Jun 27, 2012

Traveling with your hunting firearm gets more difficult every year, thanks to ever-changing airline policies and government agency regulations. Right now thousands of hunters are either finalizing travel plans for this fall or are about to get on a plane for the African safari season this summer. The question is: will their guns get to their final destination with them? Or will the airlines refuse to check them through?

I ask this question because several airlines recently gave hunters a devil of a time checking their firearms through to their hunting destinations. See our Email Extra Bulletin from June 25: United Airlines Refuses to Check Through Firearms to International Destinations, or the June issue of The Hunting Report, for the details on what happened.

Based on more feedback since I wrote those stories, it seems that it’s not just United, and the problem does not affect only international destinations. I’m learning that United and American Airlines are basically refusing to check through firearms when any second carrier is involved. So, if you fly American to connect with Alaskan Airlines, you’ll have to claim your bags (with your firearm) and recheck them onto Alaskan Airlines. If you fly on United to connect with Lufthansa, you’ll have to recheck your bags with Lufthansa. That’s all there is to it, and yes, if your layover isn’t long enough, you will miss your connecting flight. And in typical fashion for airlines these days – they don’t care, and there is no accountability for ruining your trip.

Why this sudden problem checking through legal and declared firearms? Both airlines have pointed the finger at TSA, claiming a new regulation was been passed this March or April (they can’t decide exactly when). Neither airline nor TSA has any mention of this regulation or policy posted on their websites. And when I called TSA last week, their public information officer said he was going to have to “look into it.” The list of regulations must be long because I’m still waiting seven days later to hear back!

So what should you do if your hunting travel plans this season have you connecting from one airline to another? Here are some tips to ensure your firearm makes it with you:

1- When you make your travel arrangements tell the reservationist that you will be checking a firearm and ammunition as part of your baggage. Ask if there will be a problem checking the firearm through to the connecting airline.
2- Fly the same airline to your final destination, if possible. Realistically, however, that may be unlikely due to the way airlines operate these days.
3- If you must connect to another airline, arrange your travel so you have at least a three-hour, preferably four-hour, layover so you have enough time to claim your bags and recheck them with your second carrier should you need to.
4- Anytime you do connect to another carrier alert the check-in agent at the gateway that you have firearms and ammunition as part of your checked luggage that should be transferred onto your connecting flight.

I know it’s a pain, and it will lengthen and possibly complicate your travel. But if you don’t want the stress and anguish of a nasty surprise and last-minute rush, this is what we need to prepare ourselves to do. One booking agent I spoke with recently told me he has traveled this way for years. He never checks his guns and bags all the way through. This way, he says, he has a better chance of arriving with all his belongings at his final destination. And if his gun or bags don’t make it, he knows exactly where things went wrong. The airlines cannot point their fingers at each other and play pass-the-buck. He says it actually gives him peace of mind.

Travel has changed a lot the last few years, and the environment continues to change. Travel for hunters in particular gets more and more difficult every year. I have said in that past that continuing airline problems with firearms and trophy shipments are among the biggest threats to hunting today. That’s because I have seen so many hunters get frustrated enough that they don’t want to travel to hunt anymore. That makes the anti-hunters very happy. Let’s not make them happy. Go hunting! Just be prepared for the challenges. – Barbara Crown.

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