Several months ago I wrote an article about flying with firearms for Lucky Gunner. I travel often and usually bring along a revolver, so I consider myself reasonably informed about air travel with firearms. I guess I’m late to the party, because I just learned of the Delta Airlines CAGPT program. If you haven’t flown with firearms in a while, you might think twice before booking a ticket with Delta. I know I’m not the first person to write about this issue, but I do have a few observations from a recent travel experience.
Delta Airlines CAGPT Program
In case you’re not familiar with CAGPT, here’s the quick rundown: the acronym stands for “Check And Give Protection To” and refers to the labels placed on luggage so categorized. Currently, when you check a firearm with Delta, your bag will receive the normal baggage tag as well as one reading “CAGPT” and “DO NOT PLACE ON BAGGAGE CAROUSEL BELTS”. Delta has also taken this a step further by “securing” bags containing firearms with zip-ties. Retrieving your bag requires a trip to the baggage office, and presenting your ID and claim check.
The Outgoing Trip
I initially departed from my home airport. Check-in and declaring my firearm was pretty much business as usual. At least at first. You know the drill, right?
Me: “I need to declare a firearm.”
Agent: “OK, no problem. Is your firearm locked in a hard-sided case?”
Agent: “Is it unloaded?”
Agent: “If you could just go ahead and sign this…”
She slapped the Delta Airlines “CAGPT” tag on the bag and explained the new requirement, making a vague, awkward reference to”…after…Ft. Lauderdale…” I could be wrong, but it seemed like she wasn’t all that stoked about the process, either. In any case, I sent a quick text to Mike Wood, letting him know I was the latest victim of CAGPT and went on about my travels.
When I got to my destination, I proceeded posthaste to the Delta baggage office without so much as a detour to the head. I was required to present both my claim check and a photo ID. Much to my surprise my suitcase was already there, well before the carousel had even started. “Ok, maybe this isn’t so bad, after all,” I thought. The Delta rep led me into a back office. There sat my suitcase, encircled with several heavy-duty zip ties. The rep removed both the baggage labels before handing me the suitcase (I don’t know why, and I didn’t even notice until I was on my way out the door). Anyway, I rolled the bag on down to the Enterprise counter.
After I got my rental car I was determined to get the zip-ties off of my bag. Though I wasn’t going to retrieve my firearm until I was safely off of airport property, the zip-ties bugged me. From a security standpoint, I was pleased to note that they had placed the zip-ties in such a way that they couldn’t just be slipped off – through the handles on the top side, and between the feet on the bottom side. If I were doing it, that’s how I’d do it.
Leaning into the cargo area of my SUV, I found that I could unzip my bag and easily get my arm in there. I always know where my Emerson is (clipped to the top of my shaving bag) so I found it quickly enough. I opened the knife and prepared to cut the zip-ties. I pulled the whole mess taut, and… It just popped off. No muss, no fuss, and no need to have even bothered fishing out the knife.
The Return Trip
While my initial flights seemed to pretty much follow protocol, the return trip was much more interesting. Work wrapped up a little early for me and I ended up with a day off. My plan was to turn my rental car in first thing, check my bag, then take public transportation downtown for a few hours. I arrived at the airport roughly eight hours before my flight and proceeded immediately to the ticket counter. Things were going great until I indicated that I had a firearm to declare.
As it turns out, you can’t check luggage containing a firearm more than six hours prior to a flight. So what did the agent have me do? Since my car was turned in and I didn’t fancy dragging my suitcase all over hell and half of Georgia, there wasn’t much I could do. So I was invited to sit in the ticket area for two hours with my un-zip-tied suitcase. That’s right – sit in the very location that this policy is designed to prevent people from being in.
Upon landing back at my home airport I had to go the baggage office to retrieve my suitcase. A couple things happened a little differently this time, too. First, I didn’t get my bag any more quickly than anyone else and ended up standing down there for a good half an hour. Next, I wasn’t required to present identification. The agent just checked the code on the baggage tags with my claim check. Finally – and the most significant difference – I was allowed to roll my suitcase right out the door…without zip ties.
Let’s quickly recap: my bag was zip-tied once and NOT zip-tied once. I was required to present identification at one arrival destination but not the other. I was required to sit in terminal for two hours with the bag unsecured prior to flying. Which brings me to…
The Bottom Line
The Delta Airlines CAGPT policy doesn’t really accomplish anything. First, it’s not effective at anything except inconveniencing individuals traveling with firearms. Second, as I learned on the outgoing trip, zip ties don’t really secure the bag. Even if they did, during my return trip I was required to sit in the ticket or baggage area for two hours with my bag unsecured. Finally, the policy doesn’t seem to be universally enforced. In a mere two trips I had two vastly different experiences.
The Delta Airlines CAGPT policy is one of many airport security measures that boils down to so much security theater. It costs money and time and makes some people feel better, but it doesn’t actually make anyone safer. Even if every lawfully-checked firearm were perfectly secured at every destination, these measures still don’t prevent a criminal from simply walking into the airport with a firearm.
The Delta Airlines CAGPT measures have solved one problem for me: I can now disregard Delta flights when booking tickets. Regardless, my gun case inside my suitcase is locked with decent padlocks. It is also attached to the suitcase via a thin cable (my exact setup along with a how-to is described here). If you’re traveling with a big hard-sided case and locking the whole thing, use good padlocks on it, too.