European Steel Challenge - Part 1
In trying to put some posts together on our European Steel Challenge trip, I have come to realize it's going to take a lot of posts and a lot of pictures to even attempt to cover it all. None the less, here we go:
Before leaving home I contacted Dutch Customs to find out what I needed to do to bring firearms into their country. I filled out the firearms transit permit forms and faxed them to the Dutch Customs office. When I did not hear back from them I telephoned to see if there was something else I needed to send to them. It turns out if you are registered to shoot in a match and have the match registration, you are good to go and don't need any other paperwork at all. I asked the customs guy if he would send me an email saying that, just in case someone along the line didn't understand the regulations and he sent me the email saying so. The rest of the regulations are just about the same everywhere when flying with firearms. They must be in a locked case, unloaded, and no ammunition in the case with the firearms. In the US you declare the firearms at the ticket counter and they send you to the TSA to verify that they are unloaded. Amazingly they have some exceptional powers of observation as they are able to verify a semi-auto is truly unloaded without even pulling the slide back and checking the chamber. To make it even easier for them I used chamber-flags anyway.
We caught the Whidbey-SeaTac shuttle bus here on Whidbey Island and roughly an hour and a half later we were at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. We checked in at the Northwest Airlines Ticket counter without any problems, and I took my suitcase with the gun case inside to the TSA counter where we unlocked the case and the TSA "Gun Guy" verified they were both unloaded.
From the TSA station we went through security and headed to the departure area for our departure gate. SeaTac airport has kind of a cool underground shuttle to get you to the outer gates. Our assigned seats on the Airbus A-330 were located to the rear and we were to be some of the last to board. Just as we were about to board they announced that I needed to go to the Northwest Airlines counter. Once again, a ticket agent ignorant of the rules and laws was going to be a pain. She almost made us miss the flight. You have to have a Dutch firearms transit permit before we can let you board, she said. Fortunately I was several steps ahead of her, and I handed her the transit permits. Then I handed her the printout of the email from Dutch Customs stating that the transit permits were not required if you were registered to compete in a match. Then I handed her a copy of my match registration, then a printout of the match schedule showing my scheduled start time at the match, and finally a copy of the European Steel Challenge match poster. I don't think she was too happy to have me that organized and documented as she rather grudgingly allowed us to board the plane.
The Airbus A-330 is accurately named, it's noisy as a bus and the seats are small and not very comfortable. Mercifully ten hours later we arrived at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. It was approximately 7:30 am. They stamped our passports, we picked up our suitcases, and walked to the customs area to exit to the main part of the airport. There were two doors, one marked nothing to declare, and the other marked something to declare. The customs guy I had talked to on the telephone didn't know if I needed to actually declare the firearms or not, so I figured better to do so and have them say you didn't need to, rather than get in trouble. At the "Something to Declare" side there was no one there. There was a door with a door bell button, and I pushed it several times over about fifteen minutes, but no one ever showed up. We walked through the nothing to declare door.
It took a little looking around to figure out where to buy the train tickets for the twenty minute ride to Amsterdam, but we bought our tickets, then found our way to the train platform. In a few minutes we were on the train and on our way. The train runs on welded rails so it was a very quiet and smooth ride. From the Amsterdam train station to our hotel was only a few blocks and it wasn't long before we were in our hotel room, weary, but at least we had arrived.
-- end of part 1 --