Flying with a Firearm and Airline Travel Tips by Deviant Ollam - ITS Tactical

Shop the ITS Store!


Flying with a Firearm and Airline Travel Tips by Deviant Ollam

By The ITS Crew

We’ve had a few requests for information on flying with a firearm since our article a few days ago on Breaking Into a Suitcase with a Ballpoint Pen and What You Can Do About It. We couldn’t think of a better source than someone who’s already put together some very extensive and fantastic information on this topic.

Deviant Ollam is known well in Locksport circles and frequently gives talks at conferences like DEFCON and Black Hat. In the video embedded below he goes into physical security and applying it to flying with a firearm. The information he presents is how to work the law in your favor and always fly with a firearm in every checked bag you have.

This will require you to provide your own locks that only you have the key to.  There also won’t be any visual indicator of any kind applied to your hard case that contains your firearms and they can’t be opened by TSA or airport personnel without you being present.

One thing to keep in mind is that even when you’re flying into a non gun-friendly state, you can use this method if you’ll be renting a vehicle and driving to another state that is friendly. The safe passage provision of the Firearms Owners Protection Act  states that it’s legal to travel through these states with firearms, provided they’re properly cased and unloaded. Certain states have ignored this though and the NRA currently has details on a H.R. 4269, a bill that would put a stop to this. The only exception to this is NFA weapons (short barreled rifles, etc.) which requires you to file  Form 5320.20 with the ATF.

Here’s a few pointers from the video above:

  • How do different airlines rate? Deviant goes into this on his Website with a fantastic Airline Report Card based on his experiences. He even has accounts of both his and other travelers accounts of flying with firearms and encourages everyone to submit their experiences with a questionnaire.
  • Ammo is legal to fly with by policies can vary between airlines. Check here for ammo information on each airline.
  • Use hard cases that can be locked with good padlocks or puck locks. Some recommended padlocks are the Abus Diskus 20/70  ($33),  Abloy 341 ($50),  Abloy Puck ($110), Abus Granit 37/60 ($100) and the Abloy Protec 362 ($265).
  • A locked case inside of a standard suitcase is not a good idea. The airline could tell you that since the “locked” case is the interior small case, the larger suitcase must be locked with TSA compliant locks. If you do use this method, ensure that the inner case is unlocked so that you can use your own locks.
  • Keep a self-addressed stamped USPS Flat Rate Envelope with your travel belongings. If you encounter a banned item you forgot was with you it’s better to mail it back to yourself than surrender it to TSA.
  • You don’t have to use lethal firearms to use this method.
  • Here’s a downloadable legal sheet with the TSA rules that you can print out, laminate and keep with you when you fly.

Are you getting more than 14¢ of value per day from ITS?

Thanks to the generosity of our supporting members, we’ve eliminated annoying ads and obtrusive content. We want your experience here at ITS to be beneficial and enjoyable.

At ITS, our goal is to provide different methods, ideas and knowledge that could one day save your life. If you’re interested in supporting our mission and joining our growing community of supporters, click below to learn more.


  • mattkoyak

    I admit, I haven’t watched the video yet, but this made no sense to me:

    “A locked case inside of a standard suitcase is not a good idea. The airline could tell you that since the “locked” case is the interior small case, the larger suitcase must be locked with TSA compliant locks. If you do use this method, ensure that the inner case is unlocked so that you can use your own locks.”

    If the small case is unlocked the big case needs TSA locks? If we’re not suppose to lock the small case, and we cannot lock our big cases with anything other than TSA locks, what’s the point? Where do our own locks come into play?

    • Matt, I’ll admit that can sound confusing when read at first glance. What this means is that if you choose to use a locked interior case, the TSA could come along and not allow you to use your own locks on the exterior hard case, saying that “your locks” are on the interior. The TSA approved locks are typically cheap and can easily be bypassed. By not locking the interior case it would allow you to use your own high security padlocks on the exterior hard case and not deal with any issues that may arise. Hope that helps and thanks for the question.

    • mattkoyak

      I guess where I’m getting hung-up is on the locking of a suitcase with anything BUT TSA locks. I didn’t think you could do that.

      So what you’re saying makes sense – no internal lock needed if you have your own lock on the external. OR TSA lock on the external and your own locks on the internal… right?

    • You’re required to use your own non-TSA locks on luggage containing firearms you’re declaring. It’s actually their policy.

    • Why would it be such a big deal to have the exterior case locked with TSA locks?

      When a hard sided cases goes through security (and likely to the bag throwers below) a hard sided case with real locks screams guns or something else expensive. Half the time I don’t even have to tell the TSA it contains the guns, they ask. Which is why whenever it is possible I use a smaller case inside a normal suitcase that is locked with TSA locks. To the people handling the bags it looks like just about any other bag that goes through the airport. The Gray Man approach.

      The thing to remember that Deviant Ollam’s perspective is of someone that travels with so much computer equipment that he can’t carry it on. Thus he uses the firearm rule to allow him to use real locks on his hard sided cases. So unless you are packing something expensive beyond your gun (which you are securing to your case to the frame of the bag) using normal TSA locks work well enough. If the bag thrower rifles through your bags, he ain’t looking for cloths, and he is going to be looking for something he can quickly grab (which is why you cable lock your gun case to the frame).

      I travel pretty regularly with guns myself, both on non-gun related trips carrying my defensive guns in my suitcase, and for training/competition where I bring multiple guns in a dedicated hard sided case.

  • “There also won’t be any visual indicator of any kind applied to your hard case that contains your firearms…” this varies by airline. Some, like Delta, do place a bright orange card on the case.

    I travel with guns 200+ days a year. I can add the following tips. Go to a site like and review the laws of the location you’re travelling to. This can help avoid headaches. I use two automobile style locking cases with a cable, such as I loop the cable around the frame of the suitcase to avoid someone just jacking the case from my luggage. One holds my two pistols, the other holds loaded mags, knives, and other defensive items. I use a magnetic clip like to attach the airline card and additional info right to the outside of the case. This helps when the luggage gets tossed around.

    • They’re adding tags to the exterior of your luggage Pat? I’ve never had that happen to me and I thought it was a law that they couldn’t add visual indication of a firearm being inside a particular suitcase to make it stand out from others. Thanks for the comment.

    • XPO172

      ” the other holds loaded mags, ” American Airlines won’t let you travel on their planes with loaded mags in checked baggage. It’s one of the details where they are different then the TSA policy. They may not even ask to see them, but if they do, they’ll make you unload them, so be prepared.

  • Rob Robideau

    I have flown with handguns on >5 different airlines and none have ever placed any external visual indicator on the bag. Mostly just red or orange cards inside the bag so other TSA personnel know that the bag has already been checked.

    Pat, are you talking about the card in the luggage?

    I like the idea of the magnetic clip to keep the card with the pistol case to make sure it is easily seen/found.

  • straps

    There is a factor to consider, and that is the procedures enforced by the TSA at a given AIRPORT.

    I flew from Oakland Airport on the west coast (cheap and easy to fly out of) to Orlando via Southwest. Checked in 2 hours early to ensure no mixups. To say they don’t see many (legal) guns there is an understatement. But the Southwest staff conducted the inspection discreetly.

    Then it got weird:

    My hard case was taken, WITH THE LOCKS UNLOCKED, through a locked door to a windowless area that I could not access or view for the TSA final inspection. I was suspicious but the Southwest clerk said all was well. I got to my destination. No hard case. I had selected a flight that would entail NO CHANGE OF PLANE, and Southwest had NO WAY of tracking my hard case. Unsure if that’s one of the areas that Southwest economizes or if my hard case had never left the airport. NO GOOD INFORMATION–ON $4K+ of guns (my wife and I were traveling to a Carbine/Pistol course–yeah I married well). Attended the class with rental guns (which–ICW the lack of sleep–SUCKED). Next day a phone call from a cheerful Southwest clerk offering my case, an apology and a $20 discount on a subsequent flight– all for not one but two sleepless nights.

    Flew back home out of Orlando. Check-in flawless. TSA did their thing and DIRECTED ME TO LOCK MY CASE FOR THEM RIGHT THERE. Happily uneventful trip home.

    So yeah, airlines are a factor but TSA procedures that are allowed to vary from airport to airport can cause a great deal of grief. If you have a choice of airports in your region, some research could be helpful. And maybe getting some kind of assurance from an airline employee (or a counter manager) that your case is locked up and prepped for launch, not awaiting inspection from someone who’s on their own freakin’ program…

  • Mark W

    Do NOT travel (airport) FROM NY state if you are not a NY resident. Recently, flew from Houston (never had an issue in Houston flying with firearms) to Boston then drove to fly out of Syracuse. Well, they don’t care about whatever you read online at whatever .org website, they will take your guns. I followed every rule I read about the cuckoo gun laws of NY but they still took my weapon. I travel with a soft case, and the locked small case inside (have been doing that for years) and I keep picks, gun, holster, knife, mags in that hard case. They took that case and the separate case for ammo also. Took it all. You guys have no idea how that felt. To live in this country, and have your weapon taken from you after having honorably served, family of police officers, taken care of many police officers’ families (I’m now a nurse) that was a feeling I never wanted to feel. Apparently, uou have to have each weapon registered in NY with permit and if no permit, which you cannot get unless you are a resident, they WILL take your weapon. I still have yet to get any of my items back. It has been 3 weeks and I have already paid their local FFL to accept it and ship it back home to my FFL and they have yet to release it to the local Syracuse FFL. Of course they keep giving me the run around about processing this and that, I have just now succomb to the idea that my weapon and kit are gone. Sad. The entire taking my gun interview, I was threatened no less than a dozen times that I was going to go to jail, I will be lucky to ever see home, how serious they take “gun crimes” that I was apparently committing and most of them were just little angry pricks. So, stay out of NY when flying with a firearm. Sure, I could take legal action, but I feel that would cost more than replacing my weapon. Spoke with the TSA and they seem to think that NYPD law trumps TSA rules, so I just hope some assclown NY cop loves his new throwdown gun. I have actually thought about reporting it stolen to try and prevent them from selling it, but it’s probably too late for that.

    • Mike

      Sounds like they are in violation of the Firearms Owners Protection Act. I would seriously look into it and possibly hire a lawyer.

    • XPO172

      Where did they encounter the firearms? As you declared them at the airport? That really sucks, but your advise is solid. Stay out of NY AND DC with your firearms. AND if you can, stay out of those places all together.

    • This is absolutely illegal and incorrect. If your firearms were unloaded and locked (and any ammo was locked up separately from the firearms) then you were traveling in absolute compliance with the Safe Passage provisions of the law.

      Please contact an attorney and begin legal action against the officers and the department who confiscated your firearm(s). Who was it, by the way? State Police? Local Police? Airport Police (often some division of local Metro)

      Did you get names? Did you get a property ticket? Did you speak to a supervisor? In what manner were you detained, where and for how long? Do you still have copies of the arrest or detention report? Do you have everyone’s name involved?

      I am so sorry that this happened to you. You have the support of many people who would like to see it all resolved properly in your favor.

      – dev

    • Thanks for your input Deviant and I’m sorry this happened to you too Mark. Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.

    • Tyler

      That seriously sucks, sorry to hear that it happened. Maybe consider writing your congressperson/senator, their congressperson/senator, mayor, governor, and chief. Try to bring as much heat and attention as possible on them.

    • Matt

      This is not the first time I’ve heard this. There are several cases out there:

      Revell v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 10-236 is just one, but well known for the fact Revell got jail time. Other feed:

      This is the one that I first saw:

      It’s criminal. Not that I ever really liked NY or NJ before, but geez, I’ll never go there again if I can help it, and definitely not with my weapon. I agree Mark, you should file legal action. I would even contact Mr. Meckler — he’s had this experience, and could be helpful in both legal redress and contacts for those that can help your situation. Sorry to hear it happened to you.

    • Josh Thompson

      Sorry to hear about all of the trouble. I’m originally from East Syracuse, and I remember travelling through the airport when i was younger (too young to carry a gun) and I still had a lot of problems just getting through security (and this was even pre-9/11). Sad to say Syracuse security are just a bunch of pricks. Thankfully, I don’t have to deal with that any more, of course i’m not much better off now (I’m stuck in Illinois)

  • Mike

    Good info. Thanks for the post.

  • JBGleason

    Gents, as a former Federal Agent who flew all over the country with two large pelican cases full of firearms, ammunition and tactical equipment rest assured that the only rule is that there are NO RULES. TSA is so bipolar (sorry for the offense to bipolar people) that I have had multiple rules thrown at me in the same airport, same airline, same shift of TSA personnel on the same day (we would fly in and out commercially to multiple locations in a single 24 hour period). Keep in mind that I was a credentialed federal LEO with a TS clearance flying armed and still had problems with the M4 and breaching weapons in my locked Pelican. It got so bad that I started taking my M4 broken down and concealed onto the plane with me. Which was actually a TSA violation because I would put it in the overhead bin and it was technically “out of my direct control”. The best advice I can offer is to print the TSA regs direct off of their website and keep them with you. Of course, I had TSA personnel who wouldn’t even abide by their own regulations even when I presented them. As an absolute last resort, if things get crazy (guy with the incident in NY style) ask for the Ground Security Coordinator. This is the last line of authority so be aware that whatever this guy/gal says is going to be the rule that day. No guarantees though, I once had to call for the GSC when the agent didn’t want to let me check any of my ammunition although airline policy and TSA regs allowed it, the GSC showed up and her first words were “whatever this agent has decided is what I am going with.” I guess she didn’t feel like earning her supervisor pay that day by actually making a decision. Of course, in my unique situation, I completely blew their mind by packing my ten magazines of ammo into my backpack and carrying it right onto the plane.

  • Markus White

    They were Syracuse PD, however, I do not know if they were specific to airport pd only. I did receive an inventory list of contents with an official looking case number and the investigating officer’s name. The S/N of my weapon is illegible, and the rest of the contents were very generic. I.e., instead of “Glock” they wrote gun, instead of “Streamlight Protac 2L”, they wrote flashlight. In fact, the inly thing they were specific was the box manufacture of Honeywell was actually denoted.

    Yes, this all started while attempting to declare the firearm at check in. Funny, how they made a big deal about the firearm itself, but walked me about 600′ to the substation without asking if I had any other weapons or searching my carry-on. I thought that was strange. They never did cuff me, I was NOT arrested, nor fingerprinted or photographed. The TSA had several blunders of their own. The check-in lady, never asked me if I had anything to declare, never checked my ID, and barely looked at my boarding pass printed out that morning at the hotel. I tried twice to tell her about the weapon, but was overly concerned about some flight being delayed from Chicago. She told me twice to just hand the bag to the bag handler. I didn’t want to raise my voice with the allmighty “I have a gun!”, goodness no, but when the guy basically took the bag from me, I pulled it back and was like HEY! I HAVE a firearm to declare. That was one of the things they had a problem with, accusing me of trying to check the weapon without declaring it. Whatever…I felt it was a witch hunt from the beginning, and just a huge pita.

    Coincendentally, and I am being sarcastic saying that, my entire group was pulled away from securiy to be frisked and hand searched everything saying over an over that it is random. And, the bag that had the weapon in it was lost when we got back to Houston. Ironic, hu? We were flying first class (first time for that, DO IT if you get the chance!) and my bag had a huge Priority tag in it so you would think when you pay more for the ticket, they might treat the luggage accordingly? Perhaps. But it was just a crap-storm from artiving in Syracuse until we got back to Houston…where I really should never have left in the first place!! Carrier was United if anyone was asking. I will look into your above comments and that forearms act, but the damage was done, the weapon is probably gone. Yesterday and today the property division in Syracuse didn’t even answer. Magic if caller id, I guess. I did speak to supervisor after supervisior by week two, with the same run around. I hate to say it, but I don’t know what else to do.

  • Markus White

    P.s., I HATE typing on this phone! All of the mis-spellings above makes me cring re-reading it. Lol! You know what I was trying to say!!

  • Matt H

    Great post! I had no idea on any of this, I knew you could fly with firearms in checked bags. But no where near as in depth as he went.

  • Justin

    I’ve flown numerous times through airports with my weapons. All I did was stuff my AK-74 and Glock 22 in a Pelican case and put 3 locks on it. Once I got to the airport I just declared I had them, TSA came and ensured they were cleared and hand walked them to the back. I’ve had more problems getting through the security check points than my weapons have.

    • Markus White

      Justin, you will keep that record by staying out of NY! Avoid it…avoid it like the plague!!

      Seeking legal action now for my situation.

  • Jennifer

    I’m preparing to travel with firearms for the first time and looking for advice. I’m traveling from CA (out of Long Beach) to AK and am bringing two handguns which belong to my boyfriend (now living in AK). He couldn’t transport them when he moved due to Canada’s laws. Since neither weapon is registered in my name, and it’s CA, should I be worried or anticipating any problems?
    Many thanks!

    • Take a rental car to Oregon and fly out of PDX. We like guns here!
      Actually if you are having problems flying into NY and have to go there… How about flying into a neighboring state and just driving the rest of the way?

  • peter

    Actually, it’s good to check a firearm through every time you check through, provided you are going to and from gun-friendly states.

    Do you think TSA wants responsibility for a lost firearm?

  • Gray

    @peter  The TSA couldn’t care less about a lost firearm. This happened to me several years ago and both the TSA and the airline carrier denied any liability by blaming the other party. Which of course didn’t find my firearm.

  • Gray

    I travel a lot with firearms. Both the airlines and the TSA have very different ideas on how guns and ammo should be traveled with. Check the airlines because the TSA doesn’t really care as long as the case is locked. Also, if for some reason you pack a firearm in a checked bag in a locked case, the TSA will cut the locks off your checked bag to gat inside and they do not replace the locks. I worked for a major U.S. carrier for 10 years. Believe me, they will hire anybody to smash your bags when you fly. It’s almost worth the added fee to transfer them through an FFL.

Do you have what you need to prevail?

Shop the ITS Store for exclusive merchandise, equipment and hard to find tactical gear.

Do you have what you need to prevail? Tap the button below to see what you’re missing.