The Guardian Broadcast
"Providing Concealed Carry & Armed Self-Defense Wisdom."
A podcast by Patrick Kilchermann, founder of the Concealed Carry University.
"Traveling with a Firearm – Contending with the Bureaucratic Circus"
One of the most common apprehensions of the armed lifestyle is facing the dreaded TSA and their endless rules and regulations regarding flying with a firearm. In this episode, Pat will share a very amusing story about this that is full of useful tips.
Listen using the audio player above OR read the text transcript of this podcast below.
Note: 100% accuracy on text transcription is not guaranteed.
Recently I received a question: “Pat, is it worth taking your gun when you travel on a flight? I travel 6 or 12 times per year, but only for a couple days at a time. I never take my handgun because it just doesn't seem like it's worth the effort or stress. What do you think?”
OK, I want to answer this guy’s question, and I want to share what is my most hilarious and exciting story to do with traveling with a handgun on a commercial airline. You won’t believe it, because it took me a couple years to fully process everything that had happened.
My answer is: absolutely. If it's legal to carry concealed in your destination, take your gun! This is far more common than you would ever believe, and for the most part the airlines are perfectly accustomed to people flying with a gun. Especially for your first few times, you may feel very awkward about it, but people do it all the time. I've traveled with large groups to shooting courses where each person is checking a couple handguns and a rifle – nobody freaks out. It’s more work for bureaucrats, so you might get some irritated looks as people have to put their coffees down and get out of their chairs, but that’s about it.
For me personally, having the security of my firearm when I'm away from my home area is important to me. Whether I'm staying in a hotel or if I'm doing a bunch of driving, or travelling around an unfamiliar city, I feel better in all of these situations when I'm armed. We've got to remember that criminals are good at profiling, and there's a reason why tourists are the ones who get robbed instead of locals.
Now: I’ve got a story for you.
Back when I was an operations officer and vice president with the USCCA, I flew quite often, always taking my handgun. And somehow, I don't remember what the occasion was on this particular trip, but it was one of the times when my wife traveled with me, because the destination was beautiful – Nevada I believe. While I met with various people throughout the day, she would enjoy a nice hotel stay and seeing the sights. And as usual, I took my pistol!
Well! The trip was doomed from the start. We were supposed to fly out of Lansing, Michigan, but our flight was cancelled. They bumped us to Flint, which was about an hour east. However, it was snowing hard, and it was doubtful that we could make it there with the little time we had before the flight took off. But the ticket agent told us: if you can’t, just continue on to Detroit and we’ll get you out. Well, through a harrowing journey in my trusty Land Rover Discovery, motivated by avoiding the only city in Michigan worse than Flint itself, we made it to Flint and were walking into the airport 15 minutes before our flight was supposed to leave. However, the ticket agent looked at us as if we were crazy. “Um… you can’t board that flight. You have to be here no less than 45 minutes before departure.” I couldn’t believe it. “Then why would your agent in Lansing even suggest this?” She had no answer.
So, we drove another hour into Detroit. However, the storm had gotten much worse, and that time we blatantly missed our flight. So, fast forward a night in a hotel in Detroit, and we left the next day uneventfully. HOWEVER, the one detail I’ll throw in: As we grabbed our bags to head into the Detroit airport, I grabbed my pistol case and my wife said: “you’re still going to bring that?” “Yeah, why wouldn’t I?” “I just feel like so much has gone wrong already.” I said: “Well, then maybe I should have brought more ammo.” She grinned, we went in.
The TSA officer took and inspected my trusty blue Smith & Wesson pistol case with its paddle lock, opened it, verified that the pistol was unloaded, but then threw a red flag: “You can’t check the pistol with loaded magazines, even if they’re not in the pistol. The ammo has to be in a factory container.” I’d known of that rule but had simply forgot. I said, “Ahh, shoot. I’ll have to take it all the way back to my vehicle, huh?” He smiled, “Sure… you could…. Or….” I smiled back: “What?” He said, “Well, I mean I also shoot 9mm… and these look like some nice hollow-points. If you wanted to give me a gift, you could save yourself a walk…”
It really was about $50 worth of hollow-points, but any time I can step outside the bureaucracy of commercial flight, I do it. I said: “Merry Christmas!” and watched the middle-aged man expertly eject 30 black talons and drop them in his pocket. He locked my case back up, and we were on our way.
The trip was uneventful. At our destination, I popped into Walmart and bought some cheap Winchester jacketed hollow-points and carried those during our stay. I saved the factory box, and before walking into the airport, unloaded my mags and refilled the factory box. And when I checked my pistol in Nevada, there was no problem. The TSA checked my pistol case, checked the lock, and we were on our way back to Michigan.
However, we had to connect in Chicago. Now I’ve got another word for Chicago, but I’m not going to say it here. And there was something strange with this flight that required us to land in Chicago, collect our baggage, and then re-check in as if we had just arrived at the airport by car. So, again we went through the paces.
However THIS time, when we stepped up to the TSA table, the lady working was not exactly a ‘friendly.’ I laid my suitcase down, unzipped it, and the pistol case sat locked on top. This lady picked up the pistol case and unclipped the two latches, while leaving the paddle-lock in place. Then she began REEFING on the case! She worked her fingertips into the ¼” space the paddle-lock allowed for, and pulled and pulled and pulled, while shaking. Then, the tip of my GLOCK’s slide poked out through one of the sides. She dropped the case into my bag.
“You can’t fly with this.”
“Someone could get this gun out even though it’s locked.”
“Who’s going to get my gun out? One of your employees?”
“It’s policy. This gun case is garbage because it doesn’t prevent the pistol from coming out even though it’s locked.”
Now, next to this tall lady was a shorter, older, and MUCH more friendly woman, also a TSA worker. She looked at me with sympathy but didn’t say a word. I challenged the taller lady: “Oh, try to get the pistol out. There’s no way.”
“Maybe not for me, but if I can get it this far, someone else could get it the rest of the way.”
“Well sure, but all cases can be opened. These aren’t safes – you throw any case on the ground enough, or even with a razor blade, you can probably cut the sides off these.”
But she wouldn’t budge. Now I pride myself on my patience. I don’t think I’ve ever raised my voice at anyone in my entire life. But still, I was frustrated, and I think it was obvious. “Okay, listen to me. I’ve checked this pistol in with this EXACT case… in Detroit, and then in Nevada. The TSA agents there never said a word about it. So either this case is FINE… or those TSA workers are either TERRORISTS, or they’ve committed a crime. Now which is it?”
Her face became red. “This pistol case isn’t getting on a plane.”
“Okay,” I said, folding my poker hand. “So where’s the $100 pistol case you want to sell me.”
“We don’t have any pistol cases here.”
This is when a bad feeling began to set in. “Okay….. well…. We’re just connecting… I don’t have a vehicle here, and our flight leaves in 2 hours. What do I do?”
But now she really wasn’t in the mood to help me. “If you come back here with a TSA approved case that actually works, then you can fly. Now could you please step aside so I can help the other people in line?”
My wife and I stepped back. We had to think and act fast. First option – ditch the gun and fly home – it was only $500. Nah, we can’t do that, obviously – someone might get hurt with it. So, I needed a new pistol case. Option 2 was get one fast and get here to make our flight. Option 3 was to lose a ton of money on the flight, spend an expensive night in Chicago, and spend even more for last-minute tickets back to Michigan tomorrow. At that point, it had never occurred to me to just rent a car and drive home, which I ended up having to do on another cancelled flight from this airport a couple years later, but still – that wasn’t an option in my mind on this day.
So, we jumped into action. We had to find a new pistol case. My wife, ever the voice of reason: “Wait, we’re in Chicago, is it even legal to have your pistol in your suitcase?” And me, ever the anti-bureaucrat and despiser of authority: “Man, screw these people.”
We ran outside, hailed a taxi. “Where’s the nearest Walmart or gun store, we’ve got to get there fast!” Unlike the movies, this taxi driver wasn’t in the mood for anything adventurous and didn’t like us from the start. “You want me to take you all the way to Walmart? That’s a 30-minute drive!” I quickly did the math: We had to check in 45 minutes before the departure time. If it was a 30-minute drive each way, that would give us about 8 or 10 minutes inside Walmart to get a case and get back in the taxi.
“Is it exactly 30 minutes?” “Maybe more, if traffic is thick.”
“Okay, listen. I’ll pay whatever fare you give me, and I’ll give you an extra fifty bucks cash if you can get me to Walmart and back to here in 40 minutes.” Now where I come from, people like making deals and earning money, but this guy seemed highly agitated. But: he took off, and I must admit, he kicked butt. We were in and out of traffic like crazy, and while I’ve never known a cabby to take it easy on disc brakes or to give much consideration to the drive train of a vehicle, this guy took the abuse of a Crown Victoria to new heights.
About 28 minutes later, he was parking at the door of the Walmart. “If you’re not back here in 10 minutes, I’m leaving.”
“Our bags are in your trunk! What the hell!” He shrugged, so I threw the guy a $20 without checking his reaction. “WAIT FOR US.”
Then, Mandy and I were off. We literally ran through Walmart, winter coats on and all. Arrived at the sporting goods aisle. WHERE’S ALL THE GUN STUFF??? No pistol cases. I don’t know if that was a Chicago thing or just our luck, but we found an employee. “Quick! We need a hard-sided case that we can lock!” He said, “Hmm, I don’t know about locking, but follow me…” Somehow, we’d found the most helpful Walmart employee ever.
She led us to a section with bags and suitcases, and there was a thin, aluminum case. It was designed for small musical instruments or something, had two flimsy latches, and NO space for a paddle lock. However, it had an integrated handle, and if something could be wrapped tightly around the handle…. “Quick – ma’am – where are your bicycle locks?” She told us, and I threw a thank-you her way as we sprinted back to sporting goods. Pouring with sweats beneath our heavy peacoats, we both hit our hands and knees and began pulling bike cable locks off, trying to find one whose ends would fit through this small handle. We found one! Would it work? Who cares – my watch says we’ve got 2 minutes to get back into the taxi or else our plan is foiled, so this is our only shot. We sprint to the self-checkout lanes, thank God there’s an empty one, we check out, and run to the taxi who has managed to wait for us, still comically parked rudely in front of the sliding entrance door.
I tell him: “Quick, pop the trunk!” He grumbles but opens it. I grab my pistol case, and then jump back in the taxi. “Okay, let’s go!” I shout, and adding just for fun, “…and don’t look back here, for the love of God.”
He glanced back as I opened my Smith and Wesson pistol case revealing the GLOCK, grumbled something else, shook his head, and kept on driving. I really didn’t care at that point.
We had a 30-minute drive to figure out how to lock the case, and we needed every second. The whole time, the taxi is jostling around and revving and spiking the brakes, and I think Henry Ford would have been very proud about the abuse a Crown Vic can withstand. Certainly my Land Rover never had it that rough, even off road on the rocks. My hands were scraped and bleeding from trying to bend the aluminum case to use up the slack of this bicycle lock around this tiny handle. And in the end, after all the effort, the case really wasn’t much more secure than the hard-plastic pistol case that had cause so much trouble. I had no idea what to expect.
The driver slammed to a halt in from of the airport. He told me the fare – which I couldn’t believe – but I tossed him the rounded-up cash and the fifty dollars I’d promised. He didn’t even thank me. Probably to this day he’s still sitting in his recliner trying to figure out how I took advantage of him.
There was a short line, but we made it to the ticket counter 48 minutes before our flight departed. I was sure they would say we were too close, but she let me through. “You guys cut it close! Okay, go see the TSA table for your firearm inspection. I swallowed hard.
We get to the table, and now the grouchy, tall lady is gone. The only worker there is the shorter, older woman. She looked at us and smiled. “Oh wow, you made it back.”
We were still breathing hard. “Yes… yes, we made it back. Now let’s see if my new case will pass your rules.”
She smiled and let out a breath, barely even glancing at the pistol case, as she dropped in the TSA card and began zipping up my suitcase.
“Ohhhhh,” she said. “Reva was just in a bad mood. Your other case was fine, so I’m sure this one is too. Have a nice flight.”
This has been another Guardian Broadcast. Take care, have a safe week!