Firearms must be packed in a locked hard case and be partially disassembled for transport.
By Alex Brant of The Field
Monday, 18 February 2008
Travelling the world with your shotgun is fraught with difficulties. Here we offer you a guide to navigating the common pitfalls.
For the past 40 years I have travelled the world from Argentina to Zambia with sporting firearms.
I have never lost a gun or rifle, even though I probably average 40 check-ins per annum.
If one employs a little common sense, allowing sufficient time for foreign sporting companies to process paperwork and extra time at airports to clear check-in and security procedures, travel with one?s guns need not be unduly traumatic.
Recently, returning from the USA on Virgin Atlantic, I decided to bring some ammunition back with me. At the airport I met the duty manager who was actually quite nice and helpful but who told me I would not be allowed on the plane with my ammunition in the hold.
He had contacted the UK main office, which told him the gun had to be packed separately from everything else, in its own hard, locked container and merely being in a hard container inside a locked duffle-bag (which is how I have brought it to and from Africa dozens of times) was no longer acceptable.
Rules change. The duty manager, taking pity on me, had the ammunition locked in the airline's safe; otherwise I would not have been allowed on the plane.
Flying to Johannesburg from Heathrow last August, I was charged the exorbitant sum of £600 one way for my rifle case by Virgin. Now, here's the incongruity. I booked all my tickets over the internet from my home in Scotland. The USA has a blanket allowance of two bags, regardless of weight, plus a gun case.
Had I been coming from New York to London as a single flight and booked London to Johannesburg and return to London as a New York booking, I would have been allowed the two bags plus my gun case. For anyone considering travel from Britain to Africa with guns, the current baggage allowance of one bag with maximum of 23kg plus 55kg of ammunition is plainly insufficient.
My two rifles and their case probably touched the scales at about 30lb, which is normal. British Airways allows one guncase free.
Sir Michael Wigan, a neighbour in the Highlands who has a stalking estate, came to dinner recently. He told me American Airlines flights coming into the UK are no longer carrying sporting arms. The other USA carriers are not affected. American Airlines sometimes offers very good rates, so this is a shame. Also, American carriers tend to be lenient in baggage allowance as part of USA protocol.
Some airlines, including Flybe and Easy-Jet, are actually quite good about accepting firearms although they do have a surcharge in the £15 range to add a guncase. Some budget airlines, including Ryanair and Aer Arann which fly to Dublin and Belfast, do not carry guns. Aer Lingus is quite gun friendly.
Within South Africa only South African Airlines and its subsidiaries are allowed by law to transport guns, so if you are flying into Johannesburg or Cape Town and beyond you need to be aware of this.
You can, of course, fly to the RSA on any international carrier. You should confirm in all cases when making the booking that you are travelling with firearms and simultaneously ensure that they, too, are confirmed on the flight. To do this concurrently with Flybe requires a phone booking. EasyJet allows you to book-in firearms online.
Each airline and each airport, even for passengers travelling within the UK, seems to have its own procedures, protocols and regulations.
At London Heathrow, at least with most airlines, a company called Securicor is paged and its representative takes the guns along with the permit holder to a special screening area. Once the government official there gives the go-ahead, Securicor takes the gun to the plane.
At Heathrow permits are usually checked but, for internal flights, not the serial numbers. The Securicor person can take anything from 10 to 45 minutes to arrive, at least in my experience, and I therefore add at least an hour extra for check-in when I travel with guns.
Landing or departing from Bristol always seems to involve a police inspection to double-check licences and serial numbers, whereas at Inverness airport, while the guns are screened by machine, serial numbers are rarely, if ever checked. However, a form has to be completed at the counter.
Clearing sporting guns at UK international arrival halls is straightforward if the paperwork is in order.
If you are coming in from an EU country like Ireland, where a customs check is not required upon entering Britain, then you will have to wait for 10 to 40 minutes as a customs official has to come from another terminal or hall. This can add to delays, especially trying if catching a connecting flight.
Foreigners coming to the UK need to be aware that a European Firearms Pass is not sufficient, as it is in 90% of EU countries. You must also have a Visitor's Firearm or Shotgun Permit. Additionally, if you are visiting Northern Ireland to shoot, a separate licence from the Ulster Constabulary is required even for individuals holding resident licences issued elsewhere in the UK.
The NI licence works everywhere within the UK. If you are shooting within the EU, a European Firearms Pass - issued by the constabulary which issued your shotgun or firearm certificate - is generally all you will need to show and you must have it.
South Africa has changed from a country where customs officials would fill out paperwork on the spot for visiting sportsmen in a matter of seconds, to one where, in an ever-expanding bureaucracy, one can wait up to five hours to get paperwork completed by the police. Use an expeditor who will have licences pre-issued and meet and greet on arrival in the country. While this service costs about £50 it is worth every penny. One still needs to see the police to check serial numbers but the time required is reduced to about five minutes.
It is important if you are travelling to other countries from the RSA to make sure that you have an RSA multiple-entry permit, applicable to the entire period. It is also important to have a small amount of money to tip baggage handlers. They carry the guns from the police to the airlines and expect a gratuity. I find about £3 in the local currency sufficient.
Which brings me to my next general piece of travel advice: if at all possible, make sure that paperwork is done well in advance when travelling to any foreign destination. Namibia is the exception in Africa; there all one needs to show is a letter of invitation from the hunting company for speedy entry.
It is also important to use an appropriate hardcase when travelling. I prefer metal cases because they make it harder for careless baggage handlers to damage guns. However, there are times when weight limitations are an issue, and outstanding moulded plastic cases are also available. My favourite cases for carrying side-by-side or over-and-under shotguns come from Americase, which offers models for single and double shotguns and rifles.
If all of this seems to be too onerous, a final suggestion: win the Lottery and buy a jet.
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