The procedure for checking in firearms at Continental Airlines (which I usually fly to and from Houston) requires that you declare the handgun at the ticket counter before placing luggage with TSA for inspection. My experience has been that after declaring that there is a handgun in the luggage, I am given a tag and I then open the luggage and place the tag next to the handgun case inside the luggage. The luggage is then delivered to TSA where I again declare that there is a handgun in my luggage. TSA then checks the gun case inside the luggage, and they they may or may not have me to open the gun case, and they may or may not ask questions.
My last trip was somewhat embarrassing. When checking my luggage I informed the clerk that there was a firearm in my luggage that I needed to check. The clerk yells down the line within the hearing of everyone within 50 feet "I have a man who needs to check in a gun that he is carrying with him. What am I supposed to do?" Geez, there must be a better way.
I know this has come up before, but I will give my version of information to those who have not yet flown with Continental Airlines with their handgun.
1. The handgun (unloaded of course) and ammution must be placed inside of a locked gun case. I use the original box that my pistol came in. It has a hole for a cheap lock that I use. The case must be locked when you arrive, and will not be opened unless they request that you do so. Of course you need the key in the event that they want to inspect inside of the case.
2. Ammunition must be in a separate box inside of the same locked case and properly encased. So far I had had good luck with it inside of the original 50 round box.
3. The locked case with the firearm and ammunition is placed inside of the luggage.
4. Retrieving the luggage with the firearm at the end of the trip is no different from picking up any other luggage.