My personal experiences are 4 or 5 years old, but I know that the Belts & Suspenders method is best if you really must fly an American airline on your way to a shooting match.
Lessons learned include:
- Make reservations as early as possible.
- Get an 'electronic ticket'; that assures that your reservations are in the system and WILL be called up on the computer at check-in.
- Before the flight (probably before making reservations), go to the airline's website and find their corporate regulations for carrying a firearm and ammunition in Checked Luggage.
- At the same time, go to the TSA website and get their regulations. You would be surprised at how widely these two sets of rules can vary, especially in regards to how much ammunition you can carry. No, I don't know why this matters to the airlines ... weight in lead is the same as the weight in toiletries, varying only in quantity. (Keep track of that link ... you'll see it again.)
- Print ALL of the regulations, and keep them with you when you check in for your flight.
- Call the airline, with the confirming code, and talk to a shift supervisor. You want to talk to her (it's never a 'him') to explain that you will be carrying a firearm in checked baggage, and that you want to ensure that your packing is consistent with their rules.
- During the conversation, the supervisor will be adding notes and comments to your reservation. This is important, perhaps crucial, because often the clerks at check-in are not familiar with these regulations.
- When you check in to your flight, have the printed rules handy, as well as the name of the corporate supervisor you spoke with. As you explain that you are carrying one or more firearms as well as ammunition, you may notice a growing expression of non-comprehension on the face of the counter clerk. With a smile and a lot of patience, you can walk the employee through the process. They will be reassured when you can point them to their own reservation notes and see where the Corporate-level supervisor has all the necessary information on file for their review.
- It is not required by TSA that you demonstrate that the firearms are unloaded; you may affirm that either verbally or by written document. However, the individual airline may (still) require that you demonstrate that the firearms is unloaded. It will help if you carry the firearm sufficiently disassembled that you don't have to rack the slide, or otherwise open the chamber (with accompanying threatening noise) after you have unlocked and opened the case. Remember, you're probably going through this process at the check-in counter with unaware passengers in line behind you, and on either side of you. Discretion is advised to avoid frightening people who have never seen a real, life gun.
Recently, TSA has changed their regulations.
Geek With A .45 has a summary of those changes, which include an 'advisory' (not a 'regulation') that seems to be significant ... if subtle.
I suggest that you go read his article for a full appreciation of the change.
Skeptical? Remember the link provided in point (4.) above? Click on it and read the original TSA stuff 'in situ'. It won't reassure you, but at least you will be more likely to accept that the Schizophrenics at TSA are working hard to make Air Travel with Firearms [more] ... confusing.