Recently I flew from Atlanta to Dusseldorf Germany for the ECRA 2011 meeting. In one bag I had slightly less than 5kg of loaded ammunition and a cardboard box (about 7"x7"x7") of dummy ammunition (brass cases with plastic bullets in various calibers and shapes-no primer and no powder-just plastic and brass), as well as a similar size box with among other things about 250 30-06 projectiles (no case, primer or powder).
When I opened my bag for German Customs at Dusseldorf to declare the loaded ammunition, I noticed that both boxes had been opened by TSA. All the 30-06 bullets had been removed as well as the dummies described above, about $400 in material.
The TSA Baggage Manager at Atlanta had the items removed from my bag because they thought they might have been prohibited items and they were not packed in cartridge boxes. The TSA management now admits that is a mistake and they are trying to figure out what they did with my items.After almost 2 weeks of telephone calls with TSA, and they required a lot of pushing to take my calls seriously, I have learned a few things that I could have done to prevent this (perhaps).
I should have clearly labeled both boxes as containing only inert dummy cartridges or inert projectiles that are legal to fly on commercial aircraft in checked baggage and since the items are inert they do not have to be packed in cartridge boxes.
When I checked my bag I should have insisted that it be checked at the TSA point set up for oversize bags and other special bags-specifically those set up for bags containing guns. I tried to do this and was told by the TSA person at the oversize bag point that they only did guns and did not do ammunition. TSA managers have told me this is wrong and they should have done it. If they refuse, insist that they call TSA baggage management.
I should have indicated with a large notice in the bag that I wanted to be present when the bag is screened (particularly if I was changing planes because TSA also screens bags when luggage is transferred between flights). This notice should have had my cell phone number and a specific request that I be called when the screening occurs and particularly if there is any question of the content.
If I had wanted to be particularly safe, I would have packed the dummies in plastic cartridge boxes with partitions.
The TSA baggage people have zero training on anything to do with ammunition and have no idea what they are looking at, yet are charged with ensuring the requirements to keep tracers, flares and similar ammunition off commercial flights as well as making sure the live ammunition is properly packed. They are told that if they have any questions they are to pull the items. They have also been told that because of workload (apparently they pull quite a few restricted items) they are not required to notify the passenger.
The other thing I learned from this event that the little TSA notification of inspection has a number on it that identifies the individual who inspected that bag, so save it to make sure you can follow up on any issue that occures.
I will say this, when I finally got TSAs attention (they didn’t return my initial phone calls for 6 days) they worked it hard. Some senior supervisors are involved and their customer services lady called me at 9:30PM last night to tell me that they had tracked down the individuals who had made the decision to remove the items and were hoping to locate the items for me. I know this lady had been at work yesterday at 9:15AM because I spoke with her then.
Live and learn!