We are often asked what type of gun case and lock is required to fly with a firearm. As of the date of this article the TSA definition for traveling with a firearm on an airline is that “The firearm must be in a hard-sided container that is locked. A locked container is defined as one that completely secures the firearm from being accessed. Locked cases that can be pulled open with little effort cannot be brought aboard the aircraft.” This wording has been recently changed from simply that the gun needs to be in a hard case that is lockable, to a better description of the quality of gun case that is acceptable.
The new definition eliminates most of the cheaper gun cases that are better suited to storing a gun or transporting it to the local gun range. Most inexpensive gun cases are too easy to pry open, and are not designed to keep someone out of the gun case. We have always believed that the definition of an approved gun case does not meet our definition of a recommended gun case for flying. If you combine the cost of the firearm to the cost of the trip you are taking, and add the incalculable cost of a ruined trip if your gun was to get damaged, it is always better to buy a more durable gun case for air travel. Brands that we recommend are SKB or Kalispel Style gun cases.
The lock that is required for a gun case when traveling by air has also changed several times over the last 10 years. Years ago, any simple lock would suffice. Then the TSA changed the ruling that the lock had to be TSA approved. This rendered any current gun cases obsolete since most did not have TSA locks. After several years of the TSA approved requirement, the definition has now changed to “The firearm must be in a hard-sided container that is locked” which does not require a TSA approved lock. However, the laws state that “TSA must resolve all alarms in checked baggage. If a locked container containing a firearm alarms, TSA will contact the airline, who will make a reasonable attempt to contact the owner and advise the passenger to go to the screening location. If contact is not made, the container will not be placed on the aircraft.” And, “If a locked container alarms during screening and is not marked as containing a declared firearm, TSA will cut the lock in order to resolve the alarm.” This ruling in effect mentions that TSA will cut off the lock if they need to gain access to the case. We have had reports from travelers that their TSA locks were cut off. So depending on the airport, having a TSA approved lock does not necessarily guarantee that your locks will not get cut off. We recommend keeping a spare set of locks in your gun case so that if your locks are cut off, you have a spare set to re-lock the case and be able to get home. Many travelors have had to scramble to buy locks at their destination in order to be able to bring their gun home with them on the return trip.
No matter which gun case you ultimately choose, be sure to buy one that will not only meet the guidelines, but will also protect your firearm from damage during the trip. Many top end gun cases cost between $200 to $300. In relation to the total cost of a trip, it is cheap insurance to be assured that your firearm will arrive undamaged and ready to go.