Flying With Bows - What You Need to Know
So you’re taking your compound bow on an airplane, and you want to know how to pack it, what’s allowed and what to expect at the airport? Here’s what you need to know.
GET A GOOD CASE
Airlines are rough on baggage, and your bow is a precision instrument. You need a good, quality, airline-grade case if you want to take your bow on an airplane, and have it arrive at your destination in good condition.
If a case is suitable for airline travel, the manufacturer will say so in the description of the product. If they don’t mention airline travel, then that’s not the case you need. The plastic cases that are not rated for airline travel usually are made of a material that’s fine for transporting your bow in your vehicle, but which likely won’t stand up to the distress and wear of airline travel.
There are hard and soft cases suitable for airline travel. Just be aware that if you go for a soft case, it’s a good idea to pack clothing beneath and on top of your bow for added padding protection. It’s not a bad idea to do that in your hard case, too, but it’s most important when using a soft case. Soft cases often have an “airline cover” made for them, which insures your bow case doesn’t accidentally open.
Get a case with locks labeled as “TSA approved.” These are locks which federal Transportation Security Administration officials can open on their own with special keys. If you use combination locks or non-TSA locks, be prepared for TSA officials to call your name over the airport public address system to go open your case when they want to inspect it. And count on them inspecting a bow case.
PROTECT WHAT’S INSIDE
Think about how you’d want to protect what’s inside your bow case if you were to drop it from 5 feet, kick it, pile stuff on top of it, etc. We're not saying airline baggage handlers will do any of these things to your case, but we've retrieved ours at our final destination looking pretty beat up.
Make sure your bow is secured within the case. Look for a case that has tie-downs to hold the bow in place, so it can’t bounce around during travel. Or, pack items around it to hold it secure. Protect your sight. Get a separate case for it, or find a way to secure it inside some clothing or other padding. Some cases have special compartments just for bow sights.
Arrows are pretty sturdy, but if you’re worried about yours getting damaged, you can always use an arrow tube to keep them secure. You might be able to fit this tube inside your bow case, or you might have to put it in another piece of checked baggage. Also, many bow cases have built-in arrow holders.
If you’re going hunting, be sure to secure your broadheads. Do not put them uncovered in your bow case – and that includes traveling with them attached to your arrows. Secure them in a separate container of some kind so they can’t do any damage.
Some archers like to travel with gear such as their sight and release in carry-on baggage so they can be sure they’re safe. Keep in mind, though, that hand-held releases can look like weapons. Some brass hinge releases look almost exactly like a set of brass knuckles. It’s OK to carry these things with you, but be prepared to answer questions about them. To avoid any hassles, just stow them in your bow case or other checked baggage.
AT THE AIRPORT
Generally speaking, bows in cases are not considered to be any different than any other piece of checked airline baggage. They generally do not require any special declarations, like firearms do. Bows can only be taken onboard planes as checked baggage – not as carry-on items.
We’re not aware of any airline restrictions regarding archery equipment, but always check with your airline ahead of time to see if they have any special rules you need to know about.
And when you’re at the airport terminal, be prepared for anything. You might be asked what’s in the case. You might be asked to open the case for inspection. Airline employees unfamiliar with archery equipment can sometimes be overly cautious when they encounter it.
For U.S. residents traveling outside the country, it’s a good idea to pre-register your bow(s) with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Take this form - Form 4457 - and your bow(s) to a Customs office before you leave the country, and have an officer stamp your form. That form will be good for as long as you have that bow(s), so you only have to do this registration once. The form certifies that you did not buy the equipment abroad, and so you cannot be charged any duty when you return to the U.S.