Can Police Officers Carry Guns on Planes?

This post should once and for all answer these emailed questions:

  • Can cops carry guns on planes?
  • Can police officers fly armed?
  • Can Federal Agents carry weapons on planes?
  • Can law enforcement officers carry guns on airplanes?
  • Can FBI Special Agents carry guns on planes?

Ever since 9/11 the public has been made aware that on some flights a Federal Air Marshal (a.k.a. FAM) may be present and armed. But, more and more people are wondering if police officers can carry guns on planes – the same law enforcement officers that hail from Local, County, Tribal, State, and Federal agencies.

The short answer is: Yes, but there’s a “BUT”…

To get to the root of all this speculation I got in touch with a very helpful gentleman who works directly with the Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed (LEOFA) program, under the oversight of The Office of Law Enforcement / Federal Air Marshal Service. Hopefully his input will help answer some of your questions.

Some Cool Facts About Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed

  • Most commonly, police officers carry guns on planes to facilitate prisoner transport, dignitary protection and other official police business.
  • There are 90+ Federal Law Enforcement Agencies flying armed at one point or another.
  • On average, 38,500 law enforcement officers are flying armed per month through approximately 450 federalized airports.
    • When you first look at this number, you sense that it is an awful lot. In reality, there are over 850,000 law enforcement officers in over 18,000 departments, including Federal, Military, State, County, Local, Territorial, Tribal, and authorized Railroad LEOs – when you do the math, only about 4.53% of all law enforcement officers fly armed.
    • Of those flying armed, approximately
      • 70% are Federal law enforcement officers
      • 30% are State, Local, Territorial, Tribal and Railroad law enforcement officers

* These statistics are only kept for flights to which screening is mandated (per 49 CFR 1544.219). If an officer is flying armed on a general aviation aircraft they would not be tracked (like the USM ConAir flights).

Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed Program in a Nutshell

The Office of Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service maintains oversight of the Law Enforcement Officers flying armed program under Title 49 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) § 1544.219 Carriage of Accessible Weapons.

To qualify to fly armed, Federal Regulation states that an officer must meet the following basic requirements:

  • Be a Federal Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) or a full-time municipal, county, or state LEO who is a direct employee of a government agency.
  • Be sworn and commissioned to enforce criminal statutes or immigration statutes.
  • Be authorized by the employing agency to have the weapon in connection with assigned duties.
  • Have completed the training program, ‘‘Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed.”

In addition to the above requirements, the officer must need to have the weapon accessible from the time he or she would otherwise check the weapon until the time it would be claimed after deplaning. The need to have the weapon accessible must be determined by the employing agency, department, or service and be based on one of the following:

  • The provision of protective duty, for instance, assigned to a principal or advance team, or on travel required to be prepared to engage in a protective function.
  • The conduct of a hazardous surveillance operation.
  • On official travel required to report to another location, armed and prepared for duty.
  • Employed as a Federal LEO, whether or not on official travel, and armed in accordance with an agency-wide policy governing that type of travel established by the employing agency by directive or policy statement.
  • Control of a prisoner, in accordance with Title 49 CFR § 1544.221, or an armed LEO on a round trip ticket returning from escorting, or traveling to pick up a prisoner.

State, Local, Territorial, Tribal, and approved Railroad LEOs flying armed must submit a National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) message prior to travel. The NLETS message replaces the Original Letter of Authority, commonly referred to as the “Chief’s Letter.” Failure to use the NLETS message will result in denial to the sterile area for failure to comply with the “Letter of Authority.” More information on this procedure is contained in the training program.

The Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed training is a 1.5 to 2 hour block of instruction that is comprised of a structured lesson plan, slide presentation, FAQs, NLETS procedures, and applicable codes of federal regulation. This material is provided to Federal, State, Local, Territorial, Tribal, and approved Railroad Law Enforcement agencies and departments to properly instruct their officers on the subject of flying on board commercial aircraft while armed. The training includes protocols in the handling of prohibited items, prisoner transport, and dealing with an act of criminal violence aboard an aircraft.

Transporting Guns on Planes Resources:

Law Enforcement Officers Flying Armed (LEOFA) Program:

TSA’s Traveling with Special Items, Firearms and Ammunition Guide:

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

15 comments… add one
  • Monica Mojica

    I say absolutely yes. The more security we can have on planes, the better. I would feel more secure and confident in flying knowing I have a tab bit more protection.

  • LS

    In relation to the title “Can Police Officers Carry Guns on Planes?”

    I think this should be prohibited. Police officers cannot carry guns on planes. The reason is we actually cannot estimate the honesty level of any person even he/she is a good staff member because there could be a worse situation with him/her which can lead them to commit a crime. So this is better not allow to carry guns with officers in the planes. External security and its quality should be increased.

    • Sig

      So you are assuming that the TSA gropers are “honest” and will not allow someone or something on the plane that should not be. I mean we have never heard of a bad TSA agent right? What about when these dishonest officers that we don’ want armed on a plane are on the street doing their normal jobs? Do we trust them there? I think you should rethink and repost your comment when you graduate from high school.

      • jeff

        No. We don’t trust them on the street, either. Just a couple years ago here in Wisconsin, an officer in Crandon entered a residence where a party was going on, shot and killed his ex-girlfriend who dumped him, then killed five other people, and finally himself. The answer is no. If there’s any rethinking to be done, it’s about the last sentence of your post — if you expect to be taken seriously. The irony is that argumentum ad hominem is very juvenile, albeit invalid.

        • Byrd Game

          What does that statement prove? That statement ain’t have [removed] to do with planes. Oh one cop does this so the rest of the USA cops can’t carry on planes?? What that doesn’t even make sense.

      • Josh

        Well said. Not only are law enforcement officers well screened (especially federal agents) but they also have to fill out all the stuff mentioned in this posting as well as at least once a year evaluations by the govt/state officials as to whether they are mentally stable enough to perform their duty. Oh & it is now a requirement to have a college degree and/or military background to be in law enforcement even as low as the local police. All my local police I know are former federal agents and/or military with college degrees. So I’m pretty sure these guys are trustworthy. The crap you see on TV shows is not how real law enforcement officers act/work.

        • Ed

          Many police departments in smaller communities only require a high school diploma or equivalent.

    • Byrd Game

      When your an police officer your required to uphold the law 24/7. In doing this most major city’s require officers to always carry a gun. 1milliion dollars say that if there was at lest I one armed officer on the 911 flights 911 would have been an attempt and no damage would have been done

      • Harry

        If background checks and qualifications are met, all should be able to carry firearms in flight. The more weapons aboard a flight the less likely an attempted hijacking could occur. Semper Fidelis.

  • Donte Joyner

    I just want to know if i can be a cop in two cities because i want to work for the NYPD but i also want to work in my hometown of Newark and clean it up. I don’t mind the short travel because as long as i am a police officer and doing my job i feel good and i only get to live once.

    • Radek Gadek

      Since many police departments require a full-time commitment, and very often, a signed contract that says you will not undertake [significant] other employment — especially in the beginning — while working for the PD… I think the answer is: probably not.

      • Aido

        Small departments might not allow it, however I’m sure New York allows for secondary employment generally after a probationary period. Some suburbs hire part-time officers who are state qualified, it just depends if Newark offers that

    • Josh

      Yes you can work for 2+ police departments. You can get on a joint task force with one while you are apart of the other where you are essentially part of both or you can move from one city to the other & apply to transfer to that police department but as far as I know you can only be apart of one at a time.

  • sharath

    I do agree for wt monica and byrd game has commented on carriage of weapons onboard by authorized LEO or Policemen, this is for protecting lives onboard and we should trust the people who are with us to save us while flying, even i dont think any such unusual incidents happened by armed police officer till date….

  • Dennis Salb

    As a general rule, no, law enforcement officers don’t carry firearms on commercial airlines. In order to do so, the officer has to pass a course on being armed on an aircraft. (There are directions you don’t want to shoot). Next the officer has to be flying in an official capacity as an officer, such as conducting an extradition. Last, an official letter has to be sent to the airline and TSA from the agency head advising them that his officer will be on official duty. So officers who are going on vacation and want to bring a gun have to do the same thing as the public and stow them in TSA approved locked boxes and put them in their checked luggage.

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