Traveling With Ammo: South African Air's New Rules Lead to Confiscation

Hallgeir Gravråk

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Anyone who has flown with a firearm recently knows what a hassle it can be. In addition to governmental restrictions, airlines can create their own set of rules pertaining to guns, from complete prohibition to offering an additional checked baggage allowance, classifying firearms cases as “sporting” equipment. South African Airways is a major carrier for the Africa market, but their in-house rules defy both logic and standard airline practices meaning the traveling hunter is very likely to lose his or her ammunition.

Every air carrier that allows firearms as checked baggage requires ammunition be carried in a separate-from-the-gun, hard-sided, locked container…every carrier that is but South African Airways. If connecting from the SAA hub in Johannesburg, be it a domestic or international connection, SAA will remove ammunition from the passenger’s hard-sided, locked, non-gun case and placed in a plastic bag. Yes, a plastic bag.

Though the SAA plastic bag is of some heft and my own bag-o-bullets only tore on one of our connecting flights, the issue is not even the obvious lack of security of the container. The issue is SAA’s refusal to conform to well-reasoned and established standards of the rest of the airline world, which leave traveling hunters and shooters in an impossible situation.

Unless you are based in a hub city like Atlanta, New York, Washington D.C. or others, international travel almost always requires a connecting flight. Rather than collect and recheck bags at every connection along the way, the airlines have created this wonderful system of checking bags through to the passenger’s final destination, meaning once luggage is dropped off in Dallas, Denver or Detroit, said bags should appear on the carousel upon arrival at Johannesburg, Jacksonville, or Jalalabad. (well, perhaps not Jalalabad) Unless you are connecting to a different airline to travel on to another destination in Africa, the problem is not traveling to Africa. The problem arises most often on the return trip.

To be clear, passengers flying only on South African Airways should have no issues, unless of course the hunter/passenger’s plastic bullet bag breaks in transit. The real issue is when initiating a flight with SAA that connects to another airline, such as Air Namibia, Air Zimbabwe, LAM, or Delta. Here are two real-life scenarios that occurred on our last Africa trip:

Traveling from East London to Johannesburg on SAA, we were scheduled to connect on Air Namibia in Johannesburg to Windhoek, Namibia. We had to collect our gun cases and separately-bagged ammunition at JNB and recheck with Air Namibia. The firearms were no problem, but as Air Namibia would not accept a plastic bag of bullets as checked baggage, we had no choice but to re-pack our gear and convert a carryon to a checked bag to transport our ammunition. This may not seem like much of a problem to some, but as we were traveling with a great deal of delicate camera gear, firearms, and a one-year old baby, it was a difficult trick to pull off…and that was the easy leg.

Our return journey to the US from Windhoek Namibia on SAA is where the ridiculous nature of the airline’s policy was on full display. As expected by now, the ticket counter agent insisted on putting our ammunition in plastic bags. Then things became inexplicable. Rather than allowing the option of collecting and rechecking our ammunition into one of our locked, hard-sided cases as is required by our international carrier Delta, SAA required the plastic bag containing my bullets be checked through to Atlanta. Really? Sending unsecured ammunition on a flight to the United Sates? I can only imagine the laughter of the TSA and Delta baggage handlers as they threw my expensive boxes of .375 H&H into the “not suitable to fly” hopper, or whatever they do with clearly inappropriate packaging.

Why am I sharing this? My purpose is not to highlight the arrogance and/or ignorance of South African Airways corporate policies or try and dissuade you from choosing SAA as your air carrier. You can make that judgment for yourself. The reason I am sharing is to make you aware of this new issue SAA has recently created and the best way to avoid the problems we encountered.

Avoiding SAA is not the solution. They dominate the market in southern Africa and often they are the only carrier to many destinations. Flying SAA without other carrier connections should alleviate the issue, although I do not know how SAA deals with ammunition on their long-hauls to New York and Washington. But what if you prefer flying Delta, or can only get to Maun on Air Botswana? The answer to this and the integrity of the plastic bag issue are both resolved by taking along a small, hard-sided, lockable ammunition box.

Though it does add unnecessary weight in the checked bag, if South African Airways insists on removing bullets from checked baggage, at least they can be transported in a manner that complies with the rest of the international airline community. It is a simple fix, but problems are hard to fix if one does not know they exist. As of this writing, nowhere does SAA’s USA or South Africa website make any references to the need to remove ammunition from checked bags. I suppose it is such a new policy they have not had a chance to update their website?

Traveling the world with firearms is always a challenge but knowledge of the rules, no matter how nonsensical they are, is the first step towards insuring a problem-free experience. As they say, knowledge is power. If you have a friend contemplating a trip involving South African Airways, do him or her a favor and pass the knowledge along.
 

Philip Glass

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Everyone should be aware that you must have a good, hard side, lockable ammo box placed in your checked baggage when departing the US. When making a connection SAA may make you take the ammo box out and check it separately. Hence the reason for the lockable (I use Pelican) box.
Credit should be given to Steve Scott for writing this piece in the Outfitters wire.
Philip
 

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I just got back from Namibia two weeks ago. I had my ammo in a hard locked case in my duffle bag. I flew Delta from Atlanta to Jo'burg and overnighted there. Then took SAA to Windhoek. The ammo stayed in my duffle. However, flying out of Windhoek on SAA, I had to take the locked ammo box out of the duffle and check it as a separate bag. Z
I thought this was going to be the last time I saw that box, however, it showed up in Atlanta at the Customs office where I collected my rifles. Before checking it back in for the flight home, I put the box back in my duffle. No issues.
That being said, I was prepared as I had read (here on AH.com) that this "could" occur, so I had a bag tag already on the box and my address written on the box as backup.
 

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............... It is a simple fix, but problems are hard to fix if one does not know they exist. As of this writing, nowhere does SAA’s USA or South Africa website make any references to the need to remove ammunition from checked bags. I suppose it is such a new policy they have not had a chance to update their website? ...............

It has been that way with SAA for years.
When you start out you fly under the departing countries/airlines rules.
Leaving RSA no Ammo inside checked bags.
No notice, no information, etc. Just a surprise at OR Tambo on the way home.

My buddy used a small thin steel cash box for his ammo in 2011. It locked, was light and was protected by cloths etc in his checked bag. On the flight home it had to be removed from the checked bag. Really?!
The scary part occurred when he arrived at the home airport and watched this container of live ammunition come careening down a ramp into the carousel and break open. Couldn't imagine live ammunition and moving machinery being a safety issue?

I had a pelican 1200 case.
Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 9.06.00 AM.png

A little extra weight but I'm safe from this scenario.
 

sierraone

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It has been that way with SAA for years.
When you start out you fly under the departing countries/airlines rules.
Leaving RSA no Ammo inside checked bags.
No notice, no information, etc. Just a surprise at OR Tambo on the way home.

My buddy used a small thin steel cash box for his ammo in 2011. It locked, was light and was protected by cloths etc in his checked bag. On the flight home it had to be removed from the checked bag. Really?!
The scary part occurred when he arrived at the home airport and watched this container of live ammunition come careening down a ramp into the carousel and break open. Couldn't imagine live ammunition and moving machinery being a safety issue?

I had a pelican 1200 case.
View attachment 240370
A little extra weight but I'm safe from this scenario.
I have the same. I requested one of these for Christmas 4 years before I went to Africa for the first time. I knew I was going, just didn't know when. Now it's been to S. A. twice and Alaska once!

An additional comment for those who may not know. If you are flying domestic in the U.S. you can carry ammo in your rifle case. No need for the additional case unless you just choose to use one, or carrying a lot of ammo.
 

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It doesn't sound as if anything has changed. When I leave the U.S. my ammo is in a plastic box with a TSA lock on it and stowed in my duffel bag. If I travel internally in SA, the box is removed from my duffel bag. If I transit SA on a non-SAA airline, the box stays in the duffel bag.
 

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Nothing has changed, in Europe we are used to it, ammo has to be in a separate locked case.
 

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Much ado about nothing here...it's the way it's been for as long as we've been going.
 

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Scratching my head here. Went to RSA in April via Dulles and SAA. Ammo in checked bag, overnight at Citi Lodge in Joburg.
Next morning, SAA to Blomfontein, RSA, ammo in checked bag with clothes, boots, etc. Gun case separate. Nine days later, return to Blomfontein airport I hear, calling Mr. Hogpatrol. Ammo has to be separate. PH intervenes, blah blah blah, OK ammo is staying in the checked bag. Fly to Joberg, check guns out of the country, ammo is still in checked bag. Again on SAA, arrive at Dulles, get gun case, checked bag with ammo, Global Entry, blow through customs, out of the airport about forty five minutes after touchdown. Been this way for a few years. NO, there was no money exchanged anywhere along the line.
Having said all that, I've seen hunters who think the world is supposed to bow down before them, hassle everyone and anyone when the best policy is to be questioning but polite and have a good line of bullshit. YMMV.
 

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While not as recent as some hunts, my last to Namibia thru Jo on SAA was in 2017. All ammo in a Cabelas plastic box with TSA locks on it, in my duffle bag all wrapped up. Went round trip with it that way, never had to check it separately. Luck of the draw sometimes.
 

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16995940_10154244404706835_5268940308952233537_n.jpg

This is my ammo box, lockable with 2 lock and room for 80 rounds 375 H&H Mag.
Back home from Jo,burg last month I had to ta take this out of checked luggage, and send it separately via Heathrow.
It came bake home to Oslo Airport Gardermoen without any damage along with my riflecase.
 

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I have the same. I requested one of these for Christmas 4 years before I went to Africa for the first time. I knew I was going, just didn't know when. Now it's been to S. A. twice and Alaska once!

An additional comment for those who may not know. If you are flying domestic in the U.S. you can carry ammo in your rifle case. No need for the additional case unless you just choose to use one, or carrying a lot of ammo.
I don’t believe you are correct as far as flying in this country with ammo in the same case as your rifle. I’ve always had to have ammo packed in my duffel separately from my rifles. Again maybe that has changed but I doubt it considering the times we live in. Also I’ve never packed it in a hard locked case. The original box has always been acceptable.
 

sierraone

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I don’t believe you are correct as far as flying in this country with ammo in the same case as your rifle. I’ve always had to have ammo packed in my duffel separately from my rifles. Again maybe that has changed but I doubt it considering the times we live in. Also I’ve never packed it in a hard locked case. The original box has always been acceptable.
Flew from Florida to Alaska in May of 2017 on United, carried one box of ammo in gun case as told to do by United.
 

Fred Gunner

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or Jalalabad. (well, perhaps not Jalalabad)

From personal experience you had best be carrying lots of ammo on your person when traveling through Jalalabad Shout-out to FOB Hughie QRF!

fredanddennis.jpg


Just so I have this straight? Flying from the USA to SA on SAA you good packing ammo in checked baggages and connecting flights if you stay on SSA? Do I have that correct? (I booked SSA from JFK through to Windhoek just this week) It's the return flight home went they remove ammo from checked bags? Do I have that correct?

I spent yesterday reading on their baggage / Firearms regulations didn't see anything about this?
 
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Last time, 2015, I had my ammo in a plastic ammo box with my padlock on it, inside my checked baggage.
TSA opened, I know this because they put a courtesy inspection note inside the ammo box and relocked it. It was a descent padlock, not a little cheap TSA luggage lock. TSA must have some master keys for locks.

In J’berg we had a connecting flight to PE and they made us pull our ammo out of checked luggage and check it separately. I was okay since my ammo was in a separate box. But here we were walking through the airport to the connecting terminal, my rifle in one hand and 80 rounds of ammo in the other, both in locked cases, but still.......
 

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So this guy failed to read the SAA policy for transport of ammo. Buhu....

I guess dropping by AH before heading out has some value!
 

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I don’t believe you are correct as far as flying in this country with ammo in the same case as your rifle. I’ve always had to have ammo packed in my duffel separately from my rifles. Again maybe that has changed but I doubt it considering the times we live in. Also I’ve never packed it in a hard locked case. The original box has always been acceptable.

Ammo in the gun case is OK interstate airline travel.

https://www.tsa.gov/travel/transporting-firearms-and-ammunition

From this page: Small arms ammunition, including ammunition not exceeding .75 caliber and shotgun shells of any gauge, may be carried in the same hard-sided case as the firearm.
 

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