How To Run The Airport Gauntlet

posted on March 9, 2010

There is one person who holds your destiny in the palm of his or her hand. This person controls your future, or at least your immediate future as you leave for your safari. The airline ticket agent is the ultimate gate keeper because he or she alone can determine how your gun case is checked. I’ve had a few agents who knew the correct procedures, but the vast majority are totally ignorant of how to check a firearm for international flights.

An American Airlines agent at LAX once told me flat-out that I couldn’t check a firearm, period, if I was connecting in London. (This was before American did in fact stop accepting guns for flights through the UK.) I patiently explained that, well, yes it is permitted if you notify the Ground Security in London that a firearm is checked aboard the flight and send a telex to confirm the luggage tag details and which luggage container the gun case is in.

The ticket agent looked skeptical, but she diligently punched keys until the rules came up on her computer screen and, by golly, yes, you’re right, you can check a gun through London. I reminded her that the gun case must have both the “Unloaded Firearms” declaration put inside and also a “Special Handling” red tag on the outside. She poured over the rules some more and, yep, there it is… a “Special Handling” tag is required.

On another occasion I was flying out of Las Vegas for Cameroon and the ticket agent said that I must have a “gun license” for my destination. Huh? Of course this was total nonsense, but rather than argue with her, I smiled warmly and said, “Oh yes, I have it right here,” and produced the Temporary Import Permit form that I had filled out ahead of time (it’s not a “license” at all). I could sense that the woman really had no idea what a “gun license” looked like so if I had anything resembling a government form, it would suffice— and it did.

The lesson in these two examples is two-fold. First, you need to be prepared to take charge in a subtle and friendly way so that you can steer the conversation toward what you know is the correct approach. Second, you need to read the ticket agent and decide if she’s someone you can reason with or someone you’re better off accommodating.

Finally, if you’re just not getting anywhere, ask to speak to a supervisor, but in the most obsequious and charming way you can. You definitely will catch more planes with honey than vinegar.


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