All good recommendations...
If you have not already read it, you may be interested to check out Importation or Transiting Procedures Through Countries with Weapons & Ammunition by clicking here. Lots of valuable information listed by country.
I have been guilty myself of doing it, but anyway wanted to share the below information with all of you.
Special Notice from the Central Firearms Control Register: The issuing of the SAPS 520 is a free service and the South African Police Service in an effort to control bribery asks hunters NOT to pay anybody involved in handling firearms from the time of arrival in South Africa right through until you receive your firearms and permit from the SAPS. Clients that are paying the various airline staff, security staff, or porters involved are actually perpetuating this problem. Please note however that there may be a handling fee charged by airlines and/or security companies for the handling of handguns, and some airlines have started charging a handling fee for all firearms. We suggest checking with your airline with regard to any official fees that may be required.
Contact information for the Central Firearms Control Register:
Central Firearms Register
Private Bag X 811
Pretoria, South Africa 0001
fax (27) 012.3536041
One thing I always do before bording the international leg of a trip is to have an agent check the transfer of my bags to the international flight. Lufthansa and United have, in my experience, been really professional about it. I travel internationally a lot, business and hunting, and have yet to have a lost bag when I took the time to have someone verify/confirm transfer.
I use the agents in the Red Carpet Lounges (United) and Lufthansa's Senator or Business lounges. They will take the numbers from the tags and confirm that the bags are being transferred to the correct outbound flight. It's a computer entry/querry drill, but seems to work.
After having bags and guns on many occasions lost or delayed by several airlines, there are a few things I do now that has reduced the problem. Or at least makes it less painful and a higher chance of getting your bags.
Try to get as many "direct" non-stop flights as you can. Recheck your own bags at each change. Sorry, this is a major inconvenience, but when you claim your bag at each stop and recheck it, you know where it was last!!! Otherwise you will get a song, dance and run-a-round from the airlines telling you anything they want about where your bags got lost or delayed and how long it will be before you ever see them again.
If you re-check your bag at your international departure city, that only gives them one chance to lose your bag, at least before you get to your first international destination. Still happens, but you eliminate the bag transfer problems that so many airlines cannot get fixed. Also request that you have special handling of the gun and have the check-in agent call for an airline porter to "hand carry" your gun to the airplane. Most will do that for you when you request it. And yes a little tip to the guy "hand carrying" your bags will help. With doing so much traveling, I do get to see the same handlers several times each year, and they do appreciate it and will take extra care to get your gun on board.
The handlers in JNB will actually solicit you for a tip to make sure your gun gets on your next connecting domestic flight. (sometimes that feels like a threat that if you don't tip them, your gun won't make it). But if you do tip them, make them come back to you and let you know your gun is on board, and they will do that for you. You don't have to tip them, but for me and as much as I travel with guns, it is worth a couple of dollars for that extra service. By the way, when I have done this in JNB, I have never had my gun lost or not make it on the plane, so at leasts for me at JNB it works. I know I will get some of you that say we shouldn't have to tip the gun handlers, and you don't have to, it is my choice to give them something for extra service to notify me that all is good!
I have also requested at the business lounges to have my bags reconfirmed on the flight. Sometimes that helps, but does not always work either. On a flight with British Airways from Seattle to JNB (with a stop in London) the lounge agent came back to me that it was confirmed that my bags were on board. I really needed them to get on the plane as I was doing a layover in London for a couple of days and had to have a bonded courier collect my gun on arrival and hold during my stay there. When I arrived, there was a message waiting for me that my bags were not going to arrive and that they would be on the next flight from Seattle the following day. At least I didn't have to watch the empty carousal that time, but did have to make arrangements with the Bonding agent and myself to meet again the next day at Heathrow. Not the thing you want to do and waste your day in London. And adds a couple hundred pounds (even more in dollars) to your trip for taxis and parking and extra fees to the gun agent. The bags did arrive the next day and I was actually glad I had the extra day in London to get them sorted out there.
Because so many times my bags don't make it when arriving in JNB, I now always schedule an extra day in JNB, before heading on to my safari destinations, just to make sure the guns and bags make it. I have had delayed bags in 4 of my last 12 trips to JNB. So just expect it and plan accordingly. Don't schedule too tight. A couple hours is not enough and I would suggest a day or an overnight as most airlines don't have flights coming from the USA to JNB every couple hours and the next flight with your bags will probably be the next day or two! And many times it will take you an hour or two just to get in line at the lost baggage counter and fill out a claim. Sometimes I see so many people at the lost baggage counter I wonder if they lost more bags than made it.
Another issue about delayed or lost bags is to carry some extra clothes and gear in your carry-on. I always take my optics, camera and change of clothes in my carry-on now. If my bags are lost (not just delayed), I can still do the safari! I have had that happen with video camera gear that didn't make it to JNB and I had to rent all the equipment in Johannesburg to film the hunt. British Airways would not reimburse for the camera rentals even though it took them over a week to get my camera cases from Seattle to JNB ! I now always take a primary video camera as carry-on and the extra back-up cameras in checked baggage. It does make it more difficult traveling with carry-on, but for the many times it has saved the hunt it is worth it.
So expect your bags not to make it with you. If your bags make it, then you are the lucky one. Take what you can in your carry-on to do the safari. You may have to use the outfitters gun, but at least have some clothes, boots and optics.
Regarding the above notice from the Central Firearms Register, I find it a bit hypocritical that it is ok to PAY the AIRLINE a fee to handle your gun, but not ok to PAY the HANDLER or PORTER. That is absurd. You are paying anyway. I would rather pay the guy that actually gets my gun on board. At least he is providing an extra service. I don't know how anyone can read that notice and not laugh.
Cliff, I presume you are not recommending rechecking baggage, particularly a firearm, at an international layover?
Many times I will go to Africa by way of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is only an 8 hour flight to Africa from Buenos Aires and SAA now has direct flights from Buenos Aires to JNB. Sometimes I can save a lot of money by flying from the USA to Buenos Aries, then spend a couple days in Bs.As. and then fly on to Africa. Also I can get some wingshooting in while I am in Argentina for a few days! So that has worked out really good. Malaysia airlines was running specials all last year from Buenos Aires to JNB stopping first in Cape Town. They were selling round trip for only $380. And by stopping in Cape Town first, I didn't have the waiting to get my S. African gun permits like you will run into in JNB.
So back to your question, depending on the countries of layover, many times will recheck my guns even on international layovers.
Putting a gun into the hands of the most often times inept airline checked baggage with 4 or 5 city changes will almost guarantee that you won't see your gun or other bags on the carousel when you get there.
But rechecking all depends on your stopovers / layovers. If you are going through a country that has prohibitions on guns, then forget it. Or get a different itinerary. Last year I went to Uganda to hunt for a month and then on to Tanzania. It would have been much easier to just fly from Kampala to Dar es Salaam by Kenya Airlines but taking a gun on Kenya airlines through Nairobi is impossible. So I had to re-route my itinerary at a higher cost back from Kampala to JNB and then to Dar. And yes, I did reclaim my bags in JNB and recheck them to Dar.
It is a difficult decision to do your routing on airlines and you cannot always get the best price and shortest routing depending on the particular airlines gun rules.
Bill Quimby has it right. Plan long layovers, if you don't want to lose your luggage. And Cliff has a ton of good advice. I have seen people skip tipping the baggage crew and luggage went a missing. It wasn't hard to put 2 and 2 together.
As far as flying to South America and bird hunting and then going to Africa. That is a excellent idea! I couldn't believe how cheap the airfare was! And the bird hunting is excellent...even though I haven't had the time or money...is plain awesome in South America. Whether is dove, pigeons, or waterfowl, I know a few guys that hunt there every year, that is one trip they never miss!
The advice on this website is priceless!!!