One of the most common questions asked of me is, “How do I travel with my Airsoft equipment?”
To be honest, that question covers much broader scope than it first implies, so this article will serve to cover the most important equipment and travel considerations.
I’m going to cover travel considerations, especially for air travel planning. While it should be noted that most of this information could change at the drop of a dime based on local and national laws and regulation – it is currently a comprehensive resource to help you plan your next mission to another country/ state/province as successfully as laws and ability allow.
When it comes to travel for airsoft, groundbased travel is going to be miles easier than air travel so I’m going to focus more directly on the air travel aspects, both domestically and internationally, as there are just more rules to be concerned with. Any of the best practices for air travel will still hold very true for ground travel and I highly recommend you follow them regardless.
SIZE, WEIGHT, AND COST OF YOUR LUGGAGE
The weight, physical dimensions, and the number of bags you have will be the bane of your existence when it comes to air travel. There is one thing on this earth that airlines seem to love more than losing your precious luggage, and that’s charging you an arm and a leg for the privilege.
While the specifics may change depending on your airline, the most common specifications/limits fall under these policy-averages:
You’re allowed one small carry-on bag and one small “personal item” – such as a purse, laptop bag, etc. when you fly. With the amount of stuff you’ll need to take, you’re going to be paying for checked luggage. Most airlines charge about $30 USD for your first bag and about $40 for a second one and that’s if your bags comply with the next set of rules for weight and size. You are allowed a maximum weight of 50 pounds per bag and linear dimensions of 62 inches. Past those, you’re paying more for oversized/overweight luggage – which can add almost $100 per direction of travel! If you’re over 115 inches or 70 pounds, the upper-limits, you can forget about those bags being on the plane at all.
We live in an incredibly security-conscious world these days, and that certainly has a very important place in travelling with airsoft items. And these security considerations transcend the type of travel. They are persistent concepts, regardless of whether you’re travelling by ground or by air. In terms of keeping you on the right side of the law, and even off the radar completely in most situations, these considerations need to be carefully followed before each trip.
So, how do you travel while adhering to some of the most basic security situations while traveling? Use your head and be diligent about following all applicable laws to the letter. Sure, you know your AEG isn’t a real gun, but the customer service agents or baggage handlers at the terminal won’t. Heck, even security screeners won’t know until they’ve put it through an X-Ray and even then there’s no guarantee they still won’t be confused by what they’re seeing. The best way to avoid issues is to travel as if your airsoft weapons were firearms, and that means hard-shell lockable gun cases, TSAapproved locks, ammo stored separately from the weapons, trigger locks on weapons, etc. These considerations can go a long way in ensuring you don’t accidentally surprise someone working at an airport with something they perceive as out of the ordinary or, especially dangerous. You can also go one further: declare the item as a firearm for air travel. This course of action has its own risks/rewards, but to get into the deeper concepts of security and travel with airsoft – we have to go into the specifics of law between Canada and the United States.
CORE UNITED STATES LAWS GOVERNING YOUR AIRSOFT TRAVELS
From my perspective as a Canadian player, U.S. players have it relatively easy in terms of travel restrictions and rules that dictate what you can and cannot travel with and how you travel with it. At the time of this article, as far as I know, there is really only one governing rule that you must follow as a responsible citizen:
You must have an orange tip on the muzzle. Even then, technically, that only applies to the context of display-for-sale and while in transit. Once at the AO you’re free to replace it with an aftermarket, non-blaze orange muzzle device.
I will, however, suggest you also avoid travelling with any form of mock-suppressor product if you cannot easily show it does not have foam in it.
As it stands, the U.S. federal government considers a foam filled mock-suppressor a real suppressor, no matter how useless it is on a real firearm. So avoid it if you can. Side note: don’t try to bring ITAR controlled items outside of the U.S. (US-made NODs, ballistic plates, etc.). That is a surefire way to end up having a bad day as an airsofter on the wrong side of the law.
Other than that – be smart, think ahead, and don’t break any major, obvious laws (like brandishing your weapon/equipment in public) and you’ll be fine.
But what if you’re Canadian or want to go to Canada – what about our/your crazy laws?
Good question. This is where things get tricky/sarcastically-interesting. This all stems basically from two legislation/regulatory definitions that exist in Canadian firearms law:
Muzzle velocity is the governing trait for classification as a “firearm” in any respect, without consideration of propellant or action. At certain muzzle velocities, any firearm– controlled or uncontrolled – that resembles a firearm in actual existence (ie. Replicates) is defined within Canadian law as a “Replica Firearm” and is completely prohibited from ownership, regardless of your class of firearm license. Period.
So what does that mean in terms of day-to-day reality? Let’s start with the muzzle velocity issue.
Since a firearm in Canada can be a “firearm” without shooting a projectile propelled by an explosion/gunpowder, technically airsoft weapons are considered uncontrolled firearms within certain muzzle velocity/energy limits, just like air-rifles and traditional BB guns. There is an upper and lower limit, but I’m only going to focus on the lower one, as it is what actually dictates the importation/ownership laws. If an airsoft weapon wants to remain out of the classification of a Replica Firearm – with .20g ammo, it needs to have a recorded muzzle velocity of 366 fps…or higher.
What – how does that make sense? A more dangerous item is allowed? Simply put: Yes, and it’s a result of not having specific airsoft legislation. Therefore, the law only applies to practical, not sporting considerations. At velocities lower than 366 fps, the firearm can “no longer be used for small game hunting” and therefore, must only exist to be a “replica”. Obviously – the only reason for owning one is for bank robberies [read: sarcasm everywhere]. You’re starting to get the picture.
Realize what this means: it is entirely possible, at random, that you will get to the border one day and have some border agent deny your personal property access to the country, based entirely on ignorance to airsoft and the nuances of the law. Worse yet, they could put you in jail based on his/her misinterpretation of the law entirely. Is jail likely? No, but the problem is that it’s still possible.
So how do you best avoid that outcome? Officially, there’s no right answer. That’s because there’s no specific legislation for airsoft or airsoft-importation standards, other than what is dictated by firearms law already. That said, there are some intelligent things you can do to best keep your trip running smoothly and help you in dealing with any issues at the border.
Make sure your gun is shooting above 366 fps. No, there’s no way to test it at the border, but seriously, if an issue goes far enough, do you want to be caught with something that doesn’t comply? I want to point out that most GBB pistols will never fit this bill and I suggest, where possible, you leave them at home.
Paperwork! While there is no officiallyacceptable paperwork in the government’s eyes, I can tell you from both importation and travel experience that having some form of comprehensive, clearly written and official-looking paperwork goes a long way in keeping a confused/ignorant border guard from making a hasty call. Good sets of paperwork show multi-shot velocity tests, note any internal changes to the item and some even clearly denote which laws the weapon complies with. By importation law, you must also have a Documentation of Goods for Temporary Exportation form (Y38 form) from CBSA to avoid importation duty/taxes upon your return. It just proves you left with the item in the first place.
Know the law, be able to converse about it and for the love of all that is peaceful in the world: Don’t be a jerk while dealing with agents. This alone, simply put, will make you day a lot easier (if not your whole life in general).
To touch on declarations from a Canadian perspective: it’s a double-edged sword. Since we treat firearms differently in general here in Canada than in the U.S., declaring airsoft equipment as firearms on an airline can save you some hassle. On the other hand, if questioned, it can lead to more questioning by border staff as to why you declared it as a firearm. So be prepared to deal with any subsequent outcomes of your choice. Also, just as in US travel, comply with any and all laws dictating how these items fly in and/or out of Canada.
Will the above best-practices keep you 100-percent safe and happy during international travel into/back into Canada? No. As I said, the legislation allows for a huge grey area of random chance, depending on who you’re dealing with at the border, but it’s the closest you’ll get to being completely covered.
As a last general, but very important, comment on the topic of travelling and laws/security:
Regardless of whether you’re in Canada or the United States – if you find yourself in a situation where a police officer or border security agent believes what you are carrying is a weapon, whether you’re in an airport or out in public, please treat that situation with the utmost respect and care. Realize that you are in a potentially dangerous, if not life-threatening, situation. Comply with all law enforcement immediately and carefully.
Travelling for something like airsoft can be one of the most invigorating, exciting and adventurous things a player can do, but only as long as we budget for it properly and think through our plans and actions. Spend time understanding why certain security-based decisions help you immensely while travelling. To further that, knowing the laws of the land that you’re travelling to and the land you’re returning to – and planning to operate within those laws responsibly – will be the right path to keeping the focus of your trip on how much fun an op was, rather than how little fun it was to have your airsoft gun confiscated.