Report on Flying American Airlines with Firearms, Reagan National to Phoenix

Virginia Citizens Defense League member W.B. sent me this email on his experience flying American Airlines while bringing along a firearm:

American Airlines Firearms Red Tag saying “Return To Baggage Office"
American Airlines Firearms Red Tag saying “Return To Baggage Office”

Virginia – -( After seeing another Virginia Citizens Defense League member’s experience flying American Airlines in a recent newsletter, I would like to add my own, as it differs from the rosy picture they painted.

I recently flew American Airlines from Reagan National to Phoenix and back, with a firearm in my checked baggage. The experience could have been better. When checking in with American at both airports, I had to wait in the same very slow line as all the people who were rebooking flights or doing other special time-consuming things. Once I finally got to the desk, the practices diverged.

The agent at Reagan was content to have me sign the “unloaded firearm” card, place it in the bag, and walk me over to the TSA baggage inspector. In Phoenix, the American Airlines check-in agent insisted that she had to inspect my locked firearm case, and claimed that if she could pry it open enough with her hands to slip a finger inside and touch the gun, the case was not allowed. Indeed, she started prying away at my case and claimed it “technically” did not meet her unpublished standard, but I was able to convince her that since it had flown from Reagan National to Phoenix without a problem. It would also be acceptable to fly the return trip.

Sure enough, the TSA in Phoenix didn't have a problem with my case.

Arizona “No Guns” Signs

One other thing I saw on this trip is the folly of giving business owners the ability to post “no guns” signs that have the force of law. In Arizona, businesses that serve liquor may post special “no firearms allowed” signs and it's a violation of the law to simply carry a gun inside (as opposed to trespassing if you're asked to leave). This gives anti-gun restaurateurs the opportunity to make a statement, and quite a few restaurants had such signs, which are much more obtrusive than the “no guns” signs you sometimes see in Virginia. I avoided those businesses.

One final unfortunate thing was the gun ban in National Park Service buildings, which in one case effectively blocked access to armed citizens wanting to visit beautiful and historic sites. Even the privately-operated lodges and motel rooms at the Grand Canyon ban guns, which may go above and beyond the requirements of federal law.

Virginia Citizens Defense League

About Virginia Citizens Defense League, Inc. (VCDL):

Virginia Citizens Defense League, Inc. (VCDL). Virginia Citizens Defense League is an all-volunteer, non-partisan grassroots organization dedicated to defending the human rights of all Virginians. The Right to Keep and Bear Arms is a fundamental human right.

For more information, visit:

  • 19 thoughts on “Report on Flying American Airlines with Firearms, Reagan National to Phoenix

    1. Last September I shipped a rifle on British Airways from Houston, TX, through London to Johannesburg, South Africa. I will save detailed comments for a comment on a post on international shipments. But let me say that the keys to success are knowing the requirements of the US for export, the airlines for check-in, and the arrival country process. Although there are agencies that will handle this for you, it is not a difficult process to do yourself, as I did.

      Some key points are having the firearm registered by Customs and Border Patrol well before you depart, notifying the airline in advance (BA required 30 days) that you will be shipping a firearm, and having the forms required by the receiving country completed correctly. The internet has a lot of information in this regard. Anticipate that the check-in person will not be familiar with their own requirements, that you may have to repackage your ammunition to meet unwritten, but unobtrusive requirements of the airline, and that you may have to pay a small price to get through the South African police inspection. I had to buy a $20 hard case from the SAP agent into which I put the my ammo, which was in the manufacturers packaging. The case was marked Dick’s Sporting Goods, $11.99, but I didn’t make an issue of it.

      However, it took a good hour from the time I got to the check-in desk until my firearm was cleared by TSA an on it’s way to the aircraft. At my London stopover, I had to remove my ammo from my checked bag and put it into a separate BA security bag for the remainder of the flight. This happened during boarding without a hitch.

    2. I flew on Spirit airlines with a lever action rifle from LAX to Ohare to MSP. Having read the airlines rules for checking in, I felt confident it would go OK. Aside from the ticket agents who never learned their own policy concerning my “cowboy” gun and their manager who finally called the TSA agent. The ordeal took roughly 25 minutes with everybody and their brother avoiding the line I was in. Having all my ducks in a row and knowing their rules made the process go smoothly. I was more concerned about my layover in Chicago and my checked baggage making it through there than anything else. Besides, when I got to Minneapolis I got an announcement to pick up my luggage without having to wait at the carousel which I thought was a nice perk since it came out first.

    3. Why, exactly, is it a ‘folly’ to let business owners determine the rules regarding their business? If you don’t like their rules then GO SOMEWHERE ELSE and they WON’T GET YOUR MONEY. Simple enough?

    4. The problem is 2 out of 10 passengers lie about the gun being unloaded or leave the ammunition in a clip.I know I have had Military personal leave guns loaded .Just a fact not everyone is perfect .We are all human …this is why we check
      or make you open the case.

    5. Funniest experience I had with airport security was in Frankfurt, Germany, when I was headed out on safari. For some reason they wanted to check to verify my gun (properly declared and checked all the way through!!) was unloaded, and to do this an agent escorted me to the tarmac under the plane where they’d taken my bag off the luggage truck. So I opened it up and the agent’s eyes got wide because my bolt action rifle had a synthetic stock. He asked if he could handle it and I said “sure” . . . and handle it he did, shouldering it and peering through the scope at the control tower, other airplanes on the tarmac, and whatever else he could see. I then re-cased the rifle, locked it up, and we shook hands.
      I glanced up at the gate area, and saw dozens of passengers with their nosed pressed against the glass, looking at us.
      After I climbed up the steps to the boarding area, one little old lady came to me, clutched my arm, and said “I feel safer knowing YOU’RE on the plane to protect us!”
      I didn’t feel one whit safer myself, since if there WAS a hijacker . . . I knew I’d be his first target. But . . . there was no incident.

    6. I fly a few times monthly on AA. When traveling to free America, I always bring my firearm. Over 10 years time I have had maybe 2 or 3 bad experiences. Some airports, usually the bigger ones will send you to TSA, others will ask if the gun is unloaded and secure, they look at my case have me sign the document and they send the bag on it’s way with the BSO tag.

    7. When you check a firearm you might as well put a bullseye on your “secured” case that states “please steal me.”
      Any sticky fingered dimwit can easily get a few hundred bucks on the street for your expensive firearm. Send it UPS along with your dangerous toothpaste and buy a box of ammo at the other end. Who needs the aggravation?

    8. I have flown many times with weapons. There were a few times that I had to tell the TSA agent what to do when inspecting the case. Not the sharpest pencil in the box for sure. Other times I told them that if they were going to open my case they had to do it in front of me per their regulations. They don’t like that!

      1. Your firearms case should be locked with a non TSA lock, and you should have the only key. If they want to inspect the firearm, they need to call you to unlock the case.

    9. Simple I am a gun owner and always fly alaska. If not able to fly alaska will not ever fly american airlines. Spend your money with gun friendly businesses

      1. I booked a RT flight to St. Louis Missoiry a while back, on American cause I’ve got air miles. Out was fine… back turned ugly. Checkin at St. Louis was fine…. TSA were a simple look see, in reality a joke but not offensive. THEN I was told by AA folks that since the second leg of the return was actually ON an Alaska plane, I’d have to recover my checked bag at LAX, then schlep it to Alaska where it would have to be RECHECKED. WHAAAAT??!!?? If it didn’t have the arms inside it, it would have simply been transferred to the AA bird and I’d pick it up at final destination. The first leg was delayed on the ground, then in final we got waved off first round, and had to go around again. The time between flights was already tight. I got the bag from AA bags carousel, had to find out WHERE the Alaska terminal is. then RUN well over half a mile dragging that heavy suitcase and my other junk, check in at Alaske, get told where to bring my “hot” suitcase for TSA check, wait while they got all official, THEN go through TSA one more time to get to the gate for the outbound…. they had already made last call when I approached the desk….. I flashed my boarding pass, ran down the jetway, and the door slammed close behind me and the mule pushed is away before I found my seat.

        What a ridiculous bunch of torture. This, I learned later, was a policy of ALASKA, not TSA nor AA. I’ve been mad at Alaska ever since…… stupidity cubed.

    10. Seatle airport was a blast. 3 different lines before finally being sent to TSA. Once there she never inspected my locked gun case, she only swabbed my bag and underwear for explosives residue. Make sense?

      1. Your Seattle experience was far better than my most recent. Can’t remember whether it was Delta or AA, no matter. Declared at checkin, directed to the TSA area. Some silly cutesey pie TSA agent inspeceted everything inside the offending bag…. demanded I OPEN the locked hard siced cases with the guns and ammo, separate, of course. This idjit clearly did NOT know how to handle a handgun, but oh well I knew they were both safed. She DID condesced to letting me repack them. THEN she demanded the case with the ammo be unlocked. This twit insisted in opening EVERY box of ammo, all in original factory packaging, and verifying that there were only boolits in each box. She swabbed multiple times, putting the swab into her magic box, which beeped and displayed a red light. I could not see the screen, and when I tried, she blocked my view. Each time it flashed, she swabbed somewhere else, lather rinse repeat. I asked her what it is singlaling her. SHe told me “I can’t tell you that”. I bit my lip, as she’d already taken well over an hour. She then ncalled for a supervisor, who showed up after a far too long wait. He quickly and cursorily glanced at a couple of things, told her “its fine”, walked away. SHE told me I could pack things up again, then SHE put some speclal card inside, let me zip it up and she took it. I had to RUN to make my flight, and remember, I STILL had to get ME through TSA and down the long concourse to my plane.

        What a sick charade. WHY do they insist on treating us all like we’re criminals? WE have to go through at least as heavy and invasive background check to own/carry handguns as THEY do to become a TSA dweeb.

        Are tacks dollahs hawrdly werkin……..

    11. I live outside of Atlanta and fly out of and into Atlanta-HJ-Nat.-Airport. I always bring a firearm and declare it to the airline agents, who direct me to the inspectors who will inspect my baggage.
      Without question, the process is always slower and more complicated at Atlanta than at other airports. The inspectors project the “unfriendly cop attitude” and do their best to let you know that they have power over you.
      This has never been the case at any other airport I’ve flown through. I think I know why but to say it would make me a racist.

    12. Those “no firearms” signs on the doors of Arizona businesses that sell alcohol don’t mean SQUAT unless they are posted adjacent to their liquor license. Hard to tell if it is until you are inside and find the liquor license posting though.

    Leave a Comment 19 Comments

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *