Flying with a Firearm Trick (USA)

Firearm you say?

You may have heard of people flying with a firearm in their fursuit tote and wondered “why would you do this?” Maybe you’re aware of the benefits but have not tried it due to concerns about how it works. Lets examine the rules, procedures, and pros/cons to decide if this trick is right for you.

The reason some fursuiters opt to fly with a firearm is because it allows them to have their fursuit examined by TSA before their flight while they are present and then locked with real non-TSA locks. The luggage containing the fursuit cannot be opened by TSA after it is examined and locked due to containing a fire arm and it must receive priority treatment by TSA which helps safeguard against it being lost or missing a connecting flight.

 

What constitutes a firearm? What should I use?

Any gun constitutes a fire arm. It is recommended that you use a flare gun or a starting pistol for this purpose. You do not need a permit to purchase or own a flare gun and it should not cause problems at conventions. (by contrast most conventions ban actual guns)

You can buy a flare gun at West Marine. The one I use is the ORION 12-Gauge High-Performance Alerter Basic.

Note: Only pack the flare gun. DO NOT FLY WITH THE FLARES!!! Leave them home. Flares are explosives and are banned from all flights. Besides endangering lives, bringing flares on a flight is a violation of federal regulations and could result in several hundred thousands of dollars in fines and prison time.

 

What are the actual policies?

Per the TSA:

  • Declare each firearm each time you present it for transport as checked baggage. Ask your airline about limitations or fees that may apply.
  • Firearms must be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container and transported as checked baggage only. Only the passenger should retain the key or combination to the lock.
  • Firearm parts, including magazines, clips, bolts and firing pins, are prohibited in carry-on baggage, but may be transported in checked baggage.
  • Replica firearms, including firearm replicas that are toys, may be transported in checked baggage only.

What this means:

  1. Your flare gun must be in a “hard-sided” container that is checked. We recommend using an action-packer (more on this below). You CANNOT use a soft shell hockey bag.
  2. You must inform the airline agent that you are checking a fire arm when you check in.

Additionally you should be aware that airlines CANNOT ask you for a permit for your fire arm.

 

How should I pack? What should I put my suit and flare gun in?

We recommend using a Rubbermaid 1172 ActionPacker Storage Box (24 Gallon)  (We now recommend the Pelican iM2875 Storm Case) for flying with your fursuit and firearm (flare gun). Additionally you will need locks that are long enough to properly go through the handles of the action packer and prevent it from being able to be opened. We recommend Brinks 161-42401 1-9/16-Inch 40mm Solid Brass Padlock with 2.5-Inch Shackle. In order to use these locks you will have to slightly modify the action packer so the lock can be fed thru from the bottom and clicked shut at the top (up-side down). There is a small piece of plastic in the way of this but it is very easy to drill or file away this small piece of plastic. [Photos of handle modification coming soon]

Place your fursuit into the action packer. Get a black trash bag (preferably a contractor bag as they are thick and extra large. Use the trash bag to cover the top of your fursuit. Tuck the edges of the trash bag in around your fursuit. This helps to prevent your fursuit from being pinched when putting the lid on and makes it easier to stuff a LOT of fur in your action packer (I regularly fly with 2 bodies, 2 sets of paws, and 2 tails in a single action packer). It also helps to prevent questions from the airline agent when you are required to open it later. Place your fire arm (flare gun) on top of the trash bag and put the action packer lid on. Lock the lid on using your non-TSA key locks. Make sure to have the keys readily available at the airport as you will need to provide one to the TSA agent and will need to open your bin at least once for the airline agent.

 

How it works and what to expect at the airport?

  1. Arrive at the airport and make your way to the inside check in counter. Don’t use curb-side check in as they are unable to deal with the fire arm. You may want to rent/get a cart because you will have to lug your ActionPacker all over the airport.
  2. Get to the check in kiosk and start checking in. Print your boarding pass (the agent may want to look at / write on the printed copy. I have had agents get annoyed when I don’t print it).
  3. When an agent asks you how many bags you are checking or when you bring your bags to the agent to be checked, inform them quietly and politely that you are checking a fire arm.
  4. The agent will give you a firearm declaration card to fill out. Read it, date it, and sign it. Then the agent will ask you to open your ActionPacker and place the card in it with your firearm. Note: The way this actually goes down varies based on the airport, airline, and agent. I have had agents that make it a very simple process. I have also had agents that have never had to deal with a fire arm before and they call over a supervisor or another agent. Some agents will ask you to bring your ActionPacker to an area away from the check-in counter so that other passengers do not see your fire arm when you put the declaration card in it. Just be polite and go with the flow. It is smart to leave some extra time for this process.
  5. Next the agent will take any bags you are checking other than the action packer and call for a TSA agent. You may hear then radio for “hazmat” or something similar. Eventually a TSA agent will come get you and take you and your ActionPacker to a special screening area. This is where things can get weird.
  6. The policies and procedures at the screening area vary widely by airport and specific TSA agent. Be prepared to explain yourself and do not be afraid to speak up if the agent does something that endangers your fursuit. I ALWAYS show the agent a picture of my fursuit on my phone as I am walking with them and inform them that my costume is in the ActionPacker along with my fire arm. I tell them the fire arm is at the very top and my costume is under it. I tell them that it is a $3000+ costume and is delicate and ask them nicely to be careful if they have to open my tote. I also point out to them how to re-lock the locks through the handles in the event they have to open it. Some airports have very nice scanners that will just scan your entire ActionPacker. At EWR they always just scan my ActionPacker. In the 10+ flights I have taken out of there using this trick they have only actually opened my ActionPacker once. In other locations they have very old scanners or do not have scanners at all. At ATL I have had my ActionPacker opened and searched multiple times. The TSA agents swab the sides of the ActionPacker, examine my harness, and give me some weird looks. Then all is well and they put everything back. In Colorado they have the nice scanners and typically don’t have to open things. In San Francisco the TSA agent informed me that they did not have a scanner at all and proceeded to take me into a small room and take EVERYTHING out of my action packer. They manually searched my entire fursuit, sticking their hands into the paws, patting down the body, squeezing the tail, etc. I asked them nicely to be EXTREMELY careful with the head and reminded them that it is fragile. The agent allowed me to reassemble everything into the fursuit tote once it had been searched. The thing to remember here is that COMMUNICATION IS KEY. A TSA agent is trying to keep everyone safe. Their goal is not to cause a problem for you. They are really just trying to do their job and many of them are actually quite friendly. I have had many TSA agents tell me how awesome my fursuit was. The big thing here is communicating. If you act afraid it looks like you have something to hide. If you directly tell that your ActionPacker contains a mascot costume, that it is very fragile, and where your fire arm is, it will make their job easier and make the entire process go much more smoothly. Also use common sense. Don’t tell the TSA agent you are “just checking the firearm to get priority handling of your fursuit”. That’s obnoxious. Use common sense. They probably won’t ask why you have it, but if they do just explain that it’s a prop or something.
  7. After the scan or search is over the TSA agent will take your ActionPacker and have it placed on your flight. You can now proceed to your gate.

You should definitely leave extra time for this procedure. I have had this entire procedure take under 10 minutes. I have also had it take over 45 minutes.

 

International flights? Residents of other countries?

This guide is intended for fursuiters flying within the USA. The laws and policies for international flights and flights in other countries vary widely. Please check the regulations in all countries you will be flying in/through before using this trick.

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