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Navigating the Alligators     By Karen MacNutt

She scanned the crowd for his face. He must be there, she pleaded to herself. It had been so long since she had seen him, since she had held him. There. Oh! There, in the sea of faces. Was that him? Her hand went up. She started across the waiting room. "Oh Jack," she said in a whisper. It was him. She cried out for all to hear. "OH! HI JACK!!" ... There was a deathly silence as airport security teams swung into action ....

There is no humor in airports.

Seemingly innocent things can get you into a lot of trouble. With a little planning, and attention to detail, you can avoid the alligators of air travel. Sportsmen will be pleased to know there have been few changes in the rules governing the transporration of guns and ammunition by air since 9-11. Any gun being transported must be placed in checked through luggage. It must be in a hard-sided, locked case for which only the passenger has a key or combination. The gun must be unloaded and the case should not be marked as containing a firearm. Ammunition may be in the same box but not loaded in the gun. It should be securely packed. The gun and ammunition must be declared to the carrier. As rules differ among airlines, you should check while you are planning your trip so that you will know what you are required to do. You do not want to be wandering around an airport with a gun not knowing where to go.

You may want to re-enforce your gun case's lock with cable ties, banding or by wrapping duct tape around the case. Case locks are not very secure and baggage handlers can be rough. There should be nothing pressurized in the gun case such as spray solvent. Before you band or otherwise secure the gun box, make sure the carrier does not want to first inspect the box. Under the new rules governing scanning luggage for explosives, all bags are supposed to be left unlocked so that scanners can check the case. This is contrary to the rules on firearms transportation, which require the bags to be locked. You may want to have the bag pre-screened and sealed by airline or other officials rather than just giving it to the regular baggage clerk. When in doubt, lock the bag. It is then their responsibility if they force the lock.

Try to make the gun case uninviting to thieves. "Big" is harder to walk off with than "small." Make the case easily identifiable so that you can find it quickly if it comes through the normal baggage claims process. Some airlines will require you to claim your firearm from the baggage office rather than place it on the baggage carousel. As with all bags, make sure your name and address is clearly marked on the outside of the box or case.

Try to book direct flights to minimize the chance your luggage will be accidentally off loaded. Make sure you arrive well before flight time so there is no problem with your luggage making your flight. Check with the airline to see how early you should be at the gate and then give yourself an extra half hour. It is much easier to walk around the airport with your luggage safely checked in than to be running around the airport at the last minute trying to find some supervisor to sign off on accepting your gun case.

If you have connecting flights, make sure there is enough time between flights for your luggage to be transferred. With airport security now checking all luggage, you should check with the carrier to insure there is enough time to transship your luggage from one flight to another.

Make sure you know the gun laws governing all communities you will have to travel through on the way to your final destination. For example, if you lived in Southern Maine, and you wanted to go to Fairfax, Virginia, you might get a flight from Logan Airport to Baltimore-Washington Airport. You would drive through Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts to get to Logan Airport in Boston and Maryland and possibly the District of Columbia to get to/from the Baltimore-Washington Airport in Maryland to Virginia. If you violate the laws of any of these localities, even inadvertently, you could be in deep trouble. For this same reason, you should never claim your checked-though firearm at an airport where you are trying to make a connection. Because you have declared what is in the case, a police officer could arrest you the moment you take possession of the case if you are not properly licensed in that state. Require the airline to deliver the firearm to the destination you have contracted with them

You may want to have added insurance on your gun case as there a $200 limit of liability for bags lost by airlines. This is by internaonal treaty.

The big change since 9-11 is an expanded concept of what are "weapons." If you are a frequent flyer, you have already adjusted to this change. What follows is directed at the less frequent flyer. If you have any questions about what you can cannot bring on an airplane, ask your carrier long before the date you will be traveling. Better yet, ask them about restrictions when you are still planning your trip. Some airlines might have more restrictive des than others.

Items that you might scoff at as being weapons are now contraband in carry-on luggage. For example, golf clubs and ski polls now must be checked through. Just about any item that has an edge or a point is likely to cause problems. This includes any kind of knife, no matter how small or any razor cutting instrument (box cutters, Xacto knives, etc.), metal or pointed scissors, swords (even if ceremonial), most tools (including screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers), chemical spray (pepper spray, Mace, spray paint or other items that security might feel uncomfortable with), stun guns, solvents, flammable, strike anywhere matches, or chemicals that might be considered dangerous, and any other item that might be considered a weapon, including kubatons.

Do not try to be "cute" with security. You may be able to sneak that throwing star necklace, push knife belt buckle, or other "executive" weapon though. It is more likely that you will be caught. The item will be confiscated. You will be barred from the flight and possibly charged with a crime. The security people have a job to protect you. Help them.

The Transportation Security Administration has a partial list of things you cannot take on flights available on its web site at www.TSATraveITips.us. Other items not allowed in carry-on luggage include, hand grenades, fireworks. dynamite, gas torches, night sticks, brass knuckles, crowbars, cattle prods and firearms and ammunition. One might wonder what kind of trip would occasion someone transporting such items in their carry-on luggage, but sometimes "joke" gifts can cause problems. If you buy a friend a hand grenade paper weight, expect to have trouble flying home with it.

Anything the security screener feels uncomfortable with, including unidentified liquids, are not going to be allowed on the flight in carry-on luggage. If you try to pass through a check point with one of these items, you face one of several possibilities depending upon the item and the mood of the official. You could be arrested and charged with a crime even if your possession of the item was an accident. ("Oh, I forgot about my Swiss Army Knife!"). You could be turned away from the flight or you could be required to "surrender" the item, which you will not get back.

I have found the easiest way to get through security checkpoints is to plan ahead. Here are some of my suggestions.

1. You can take two pieces of luggage on board. One "carry-on" and one personal such as a purse or pocketbook, camera bag, or computer. I take a knapsack or sports bag that is small enough to comfortably fit in the overhead luggage storage bin but large enough to carry my camera bag, pocketbook and lightweight, all-weather jacket (preferably one that can be folded real small). I carry very little in my purse. While walking around the airport, I have the use of my purse. When it is time to go, it becomes part of the larger knapsack or sports bag. The second bag is a very lightweight nylon bag that could be folded into the primary bag or be expanded to hold other packages that I might later want to travel with. Because the new airport security screening devices for checked-through luggage will destroy or damage conventional film of ASAIISO 800 or higher, or certain other film, or film that you want to "push process," undeveloped film should be carried in your on-board luggage. Placing such items in bags will result in the bag being opened for inspection. If you do this, you might want to note on the bag that it contains film and place the film at the top of the bag so that it can be easily examined.

2. I abandoned hard sided suitcases many years ago as being heavy and hard to handle. I generally travel with a soft-sided bag that has a zipper opening on the top (they pack better), a shoulder strap for carrying and little wheels for dragging. Two such bags can be strapped together on a luggage carrier in such a way as to make it quite difficult for a quick "snatch" thief. I paint my last name on the bag and use my office address. (No need to advertise that 1. The bag belongs to a woman, and 2. Where your empty home is.) If I am carrying the ubiquitous "black bag," I place stripes of masking tape on the bag to distinguish it from hundreds of its twins. Most of these bags have small outside pockets.

I always bring a supply of plastic cable ties with me when I travel. Those are the long, thin, self - locking plastic strips that are slotted on one end. You can buy them at a hardware store. Once the flat end is fed through the slotted end, the strip has to be cut off. They have all sorts of uses and are strong enough to hold up a car battery in a pinch.

Just before I check my bags with the airline, I place anything I will not need during the flight, or in an emergency if my bags are lost, in my checked through bags. I then seal them with the cable ties. My nail file, pocket knife, a pair of nail clippers (they will cut the cable ties better than a knife), and other such items are placed in the outside pocket of the checked through luggage so that I can quickly retrieve them at my destination without having to open the main part of the bag. I then check my bags and give no more thought to them until I arrive at my destination. That leaves me with just my carry-on bags. Under the new security regulations, checked bags are bei ng opened and searched. It is suggested that if you have containers within your bag (like a makeup or ditty bag) you use clear bags so that inspectors will not have to handle all your personal belongings. It is also suggested that you place your shoes at the top of the bag. Because the bags have a good chance of being opened, it is further suggested that you do not lock them as the locks will be forced open. 3. Just before I go though the metal detectors, I will place everything I can with the exception of cash, credit cards, identity papers and my glasses in the carryon bags and let the bags go through the detectors. When I walk through the detector, I have little or no metal on me.

It has been suggested by the TSA that women avoid wearing jewelry or hair ornaments that could set off the detectors. They also suggest not wearing undergarments that might contain metal stays. Of official note were "under-wire brassieres."

If you have computers or electronic equipment, you may be asked to open the bag and prove the equipment is working. If you have fluid in an open bottle, or one that is not commercially sealed, you may be asked to prove that it is not harmful. If you ate carrying specimens in jars, you may want to talk to the airline before you try to take them through the gate because one way of proving liquid is not harmful is to have you drink a little of it. If you have medications, they should be in their prescription bottles. If you have a heart pacer or some other medical device that could trigger the metal detectors, you want to disclose that before you walk through the detector.

You want to have your photo ID ready. It should be a government issued photo ID such as a driver's license, passport, or military ID. Once again, you should inquire when you purchase your tickets what will be required. As they are doing random checks of shoes, you should dress in such a way that you can easily take your shoes off and walk either barefoot or in your stockings through the detector if you have to.

Keep in mind as well and the new arrangements at airports also include random inspection of passengers at boarding gates-you may be subject to the whole procedure a second time. Some airlines use a ticket-marketing system and announce that passengers holding such tickets will be searched again. Other airlines take several passengers out of the boarding line at random.

Be co-operative and polite. Try not to stand out from the crowd. In short, do nothing that would cause airline security to think you might be hiding anything, fit one of their profiles, or be a troublemaker. You may want to leave your copy of Soldier of Fortune in your bag until after you get through the check point. You definitely do not want to carry your bullet key chain or copy of Home Explosives (the book on making hot Tex-Mex chili) in your on board luggage. With a little common sense, you can avoid the alligators of air travel and enjoy your trip.

And, keep in mind that alligators get around. The TSA is also in charge of security on trains, busses and some ferries in the US. While enforcement of regulations are not now as stringent on these modes of transportation as they are on air travel, they could become so at any time.


This article was reprinted from Women&Guns Mar-Apr 2003, Copyright © 2003, Karen MacNutt