Getting a Gun on a Plane
Firstly, let me explain to casual readers and people who just googled the title: this is a travel blog, not a guide to hijacking commercial airlines. This is actually the story of getting my new airsoft gun from Bangkok, where I bought it, to Phuket, where I live.
Regular readers may have noted that a lot of my recent posts have been reminiscences of times well in the past, from the very early days of my expat life. The reason for this is partially that I can now see the funny side of what were fairly traumatic experiences at the time, but also because the expat life is not as romantic as people might think. It’s not like every day is some dramatic travel story. However, I did recently have an interesting experience, which is worth describing.
Happy Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day in Thailand is celebrated on 12th August, the birthday of Queen Sirikit – now technically the queen dowager, following the sad passing of King Bhumibol Adulyadej last year. She is thought of as the mother of the nation, just as her late-husband was (and, to a certain extent, still is) thought of as the father of it. Anyway, the important point, for the purpose of this story, is that the day itself is a national holiday, which meant that I had a long weekend in the middle of August.
As it happens, the Queen’s birthday is also very close to my own and, to celebrate, I decided to travel up to Bangkok for a few days to hang out with some friends. I also decided that I was finally going to buy myself an airsoft rifle. I had been promising to do so for some time and it was finally time to pull the trigger, both literally and metaphorically.
The cause of my delay in purchasing was that I specifically wanted to buy the gun in Bangkok. There are a few shops here in Phuket, including at the airsoft club I routinely play at, but their stock is limited, especially the stock of add-ons like sights and scopes. The guys I play with mostly play what is referred to as “speedsoft”, where the emphasis is on moving fast and shooting indiscriminately, rather than carefully aiming at distant targets. As such, I was lucky if the rental guns I used to use even have iron sights, let alone a scope.
Aside from the fact that Bangkok has at least three or four shops that I’m aware of, I also had a promise from someone I met and befriended at a milsim (military simulation – basically a big airsoft event) in Kanchanaburi last year that she could get me a big discount. This required me to buy from the shop her husband’s friend owns – JJ BB Shop in Mega Plaza Wang Burapa.
The flight to Bangkok actually cost me a bag of BBs. I had no checked baggage for the outbound trip, so I had them in my hand luggage, with the intention of testing out my new purchase at one of the great airsoft fields Bangkok. However, my bag was pulled at the metal detector and I was informed that half a bag of 6mm diameter hollow plastic pellets, each weighing about 0.2g, was a “dangerous item”.
I did try to explain to the airport officials that, without a BB gun (and they could clearly see from the x-ray of both me and my bag that I was not carrying one), the ammunition was harmless. The only way I could hurt someone with them, I said, would be to throw them, and I don’t have the strength to cause any real damage that way. However, they were insistent and I was indifferent. Frankly, life’s too short to argue over a 250-baht bag of BBs.
In Bangkok, I made my way to Mega Plaza and met up with my friend there. As I said in my last airsoft-related post, I won’t bore you with the specifics of the weapon. For the few who are interested, I bought a G&G GC16 Predator. Along with a face mask, a 4x scope, a hardshell carrying case, battery and charger, it all came to a little over 20,000 baht.
I sadly didn’t have the time to test out the gun before my long weekend had come to an end and I had to head for home. I was flying with AirAsia from Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport and arrived there well in advance of my flight, allowing me to find a back-up plan in case they decided I couldn’t fly with an imitation gun. I already had a few ideas in mind, including taking the gun back to my friend’s apartment or mailing it to myself. Neither was ideal, but both were better than just giving up on my expensive birthday present to myself.
Noticing a sign reading “baggage scanning room” right next to the check-in desks, I realised that it would be best to declare the presence of a gun-shaped metal object in my baggage, rather than letting them discover it and possibly creating a security emergency. Airsoft is quite a niche sport, even in Thailand, so I was a little concerned that I would confuse the girl on the check-in counter, but she fortunately knew the term “BB gun”, so was not overly concerned. She was, however, unsure how to proceed.
After she finished checking me in for the flight, she pointed across to the next row of desks and told me to go to the “Open Luggage” counter, which I did. As instructed, I opened my carry case, showing them the gun. They, too, understood that it was a BB gun and not a real one, but were also a little unsure of how to process it. They first told me that I had to carry the battery (and two other batteries for a new LED lamp I’d bought for photo shoots) in my hand luggage. Then they asked me to follow a couple of their number.
We paused for quite a long time between check-in and security. One of the Open Luggage guys stayed with me while another went over to the baggage scanning room and chatted away with someone in there for a while. Eventually, that guy came over and we headed to Firearms Control. I mumbled that a BB gun isn’t really a firearm, but followed calmly anyway, fully appreciating that arguing at this stage would achieve less than nothing.
“It’s a Very Nice BB Gun”
Firearms Control consisted of a small firing range and a smaller office, in which sat four people and a desk. Add in me and at least one of the people from Open Luggage and things were a little cramped. The airport people all started talking in Thai and my language skills were nowhere near able to keep up. Various forms were produced and filled, followed by what looked like a luggage tag.
Being unable to follow the conversation, I was paying quite close attention to my surroundings and following whatever I could understand or read in English. This included seeing that two of the girls in the office were gossiping (in Thai) and giggling together, almost certainly talking about me. It also included closely observing the luggage tag. It had four options, written only in English, and one of the giggling girls behind the desk ticked the box for “dangerous weapon”. At this point, I spoke up. I carefully explained that it is only a BB gun and that it is, at the end of the day, a toy – albeit one which closely resembles a firearm.
Crossing out the tick for “dangerous weapon”, the girl then ticked the box below it, which read “sharp object”. Again, I took issue with this. This time, I popped open the case to show that the gun is neither dangerous nor especially sharp. This seemed to have the desired effect and some kind of realisation dawned among the people in the office. They tore up the tag and finished filling in the form, handing me a permit to transport a BB gun. In parting, one of the Firearms Control girls said: “It’s a very nice BB gun.”
After thanking everyone for their understanding, I was sent across to the oversized luggage area because the gun’s carrying case is fairly long. I was a little uncomfortable about leaving the thing on a trolley which appeared to be all but unsupervised but, lacking any alternative, I did as I was told.
At Phuket Airport, I was relieved to see my case appearing safe and sound on the baggage carousel (eventually). As it made its way around to me, it got more than a couple of raised eyebrows and comments – some people evidently knew what kind of a case it was. However, I picked it up and left the airport without a problem.
Whether travelling by air to other destinations will be as easy remains to be seen. I would like to try out other airsoft fields around Thailand and also want to attend more milsims, which will inevitably mean more air travel. I have no intention of trying to take my gun on an international flight, but I have now proved that it is possible to get it on a domestic one. I still have the original permit the friendly folks at Firearms Control gave me, which will hopefully ease the concerns of other airport officials in future.