I think I’ve been watching too many crime-based movies lately. It’s been keeping me up at night, and I’ve got tons of questions swirling around in my head that I’m dying to know the answers to. For example, if you’re in trouble with the law, can you fly with a warrant? Well, I just did a ton of research on this, and what I found was interesting:
Technically speaking, you can fly with a warrant in most situations. However, there are travel restrictions for some types of crimes, but not others. It’s vague. For example:
- Illegal drug distribution charges expressly forbid air travel
- Having a bench warrant issued because you skipped traffic court won’t legally prohibit you from flying
Basically, it all comes down to this: when a scruffy sheriff looks you dead in the eye and says “don’t leave town”, it’s probably in your best interest not to get on an airplane. As far as I can tell, there is no law against them putting you in cuffs for trying to skip town for a simple bench warrant, but you’re pushing your luck.
Then again, if you’ve got a warrant against you for drug crimes, chances are pretty good that you’re a free spirit and everything I’m about to write won’t keep you out of the airport anyway. In that case, rock on, and start asking yourself more important questions such as: do airport scanners detect drugs?
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Everything you need to know about flying with a warrant
This is probably the only time in the history of SANspotter.com that I felt frustrated for not having any direct experience with the topic I’m writing about (at least not yet anyway).
That being said, this is an interesting subject for me and I’ve spent the last day and a half trying to make sense of all the rules and regulations about warrants and flying. If anything, at least I have a much better idea what to expect if I ever find myself on the wrong side of the law. Here are all the nitty-gritty details:
Flying domestically with a warrant
Taking a domestic flight is not expressly forbidden for people with warrants. But an outstanding warrant is a thing that can bite you at any time and you need to take it very seriously.
I mean, most people know a least one person who got pulled over for rolling a stop sign and ended up in jail because they had an outstanding warrant.
While the police aren’t out trolling for people with outstanding warrants, they can (and will) use that as an excuse to haul you in if they have the opportunity to do so.
The very same thing can happen at the airport as you try to board a plane. Is it unlikely? Yes, because:
- The TSA does not have access to any databases that flag passengers for having outstanding warrants
- Airline employees do not have the time to undertake the tedious work required to do a background check on every single passenger. Any ticketing agent or checkpoint worker will not know that you have a warrant.
There are plenty of ways to get nabbed at the airport before boarding a flight though. For example:
- Let’s say you are going through a really spicy divorce, and your ex knows you have a warrant. If they notified the police that you will be at the airport at a certain date and time, it is not unreasonable to assume that law enforcement officials may be waiting. And, no – the airline will not refund your ticket.
- Worse yet, if the TSA finds drugs (or anything illegal) on you as you pass through the security checkpoint, they can pull you aside and start asking tough questions. If they start prodding into your personal information, they could discover that you have a warrant. And you don’t even want to know what the TSA does with confiscated items. Long story short: you’re not getting any of those items back.
In summary, taking a domestic flight with an outstanding warrant is not expressly illegal, but it can be considered a risky proposition. Proceed at your own risk.
Flying internationally with a warrant
Taking an international flight is a little (ok, a lot) more complicated when you’ve got a warrant. While there is no law saying that doing so is illegal, some crimes and charges will get a person legally barred from international travel via flying (or any other mode travel).
- To travel internationally, you must have a passport. However, anyone convicted of or currently on trial for international drug trafficking charges cannot hold one.
- Additionally, you cannot have a passport if you have a federal arrest warrant for any crime. If your legal issues have led a judge to revoke your passport, you will be unable to leave the country.
- While there is not a box to check in the passport application process that says, “I have a warrant,” when you apply for one (or go through the renewal process), you are still required to fill out Form DS-11. By doing so, you are attesting to the fact that you do not have any pending warrants (federal or otherwise).
Attempting to sneak in and out of the country, lying to airport officials about your warrant and/or criminal status, and falsely responding on Form DS-11 are all crimes. Even if you can fly internationally with a warrant, you open yourself up to more legal problems if you do any of those things in the process.
What happens if you get caught trying to fly if you have a warrant?
This is where things get a bit muddy. Suppose some airport official happens to have read in the paper that morning that you have a warrant for your arrest (props to you for committing a crime so big it made the local news). In that case, he or she has caught you trying to fly with a warrant. But there isn’t much they can do.
They could call the police and tell them you’re there, but if they showed up to arrest you, it would be for the warrant itself and not because you broke any law by trying to fly from Atlanta to Boise.
Again, however, having a warrant means that the police can scoop you up any time or any place they find you. Technically, if an air marshal is seated next to you on the plane and learns of your warrant, he or she could arrange to have police waiting for you at the gate after the plane lands (which again would likely be enough to get you on the local news). If you’re feeling sneaky and want to prevent this from happening, you might be interested in learning how to spot an air marshal.
But remember – you can be arrested for the warrant itself, not for traveling with that warrant.
Conversely, if you have a more serious charge against you (such as drug trafficking and the like) traveling with a warrant will get you in much bigger trouble. If a court has explicitly told you not to travel, that admonition acts like a law in your case, and you can get arrested for violating it.
It’s important to be very discreet if you attempt to travel while having a warrant! For example – do not try and bring pepper spray with you through the security checkpoint. You cannot bring pepper spray onto a plane, and it just gives the security officials one more reason to focus all their attention on you.
Some final thoughts about flying and warrants
I don’t mean to sound preachy, but it’s my blog and I’ll say what needs to be said: If you have an outstanding warrant, it is plainly irresponsible to let it languish. Most adults recognize that ignoring bad news or uncomfortable situations won’t make them go away – and by doing so, it often makes them worse.
Case in point: A jaywalking ticket (a fine of $1 in some cities) that goes untended can lead to a bench warrant getting issued.
At that point, you can be arrested. Which means handcuffs, the back of a police car, fines, and most importantly: no flying! Well, transporting prisoners on planes is a thing, so I guess it’s not totally out of the question.
To cop one of the best lines from Dirty Harry: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”
Haha, I was actually thinking about that as I was writing this.
My friend Mr. Reddington says this is why he flies private.
I’ll bet he has the funds for it! A guy with that kind of criminal record has gotta be swimming in cash.
The TSA definitely CAN and DO accept APB’s from County Law Enforcement. The Sherriff’s Dept. in Jefferson County Colorado had US Customs track me if I bought an airline ticket to fly Internationally….They will let you leave, but will nab you when you return to the USA.
GUARANTEED. My Ex had a cop boyfriend file a fake Felony Warramt on me because I stopped her from selling a house we had together….
They can tell when you bought a ticket and when you are coming back….
Sounds Unlawful but it is true. I was picked up at the LA airport and had to ride in a stupid prisoner transport Van all the way back to Denver. The charges were dropped,but they got their revenge on me nevertheless…
If Law Enforcement is tapping into passengername lists from various airlines that must be STOPPED!
We are worse than North Korea in many ways.
Sorry for what you had to go though, but this is good information nonetheless. It seems that the rules (and laws) are always changing and they vary from state to state.
Know what your doing and at the time was it worth it?
Being tired of my life style Ineternationally i left and came back with a bench warrant for felony court. So, they got on on way back. Of course having known the distance and law is important. Domestic is different and for extradition they don’t want to pay money to get pick you up depending how far. Most let you go right on your way after they piss off the judge or whoever they call. Trust me I found out the hard way. Federal court will most likely transfer you on a warrant coming back. It’s always in your decision making that leads to a good or bad choice that benefits everyone at the end of the day. I left the country because I was using substances and couldn’t stop and I came home clean so, shall I say I do and don’t regret my decisions. Let alone finding out I was numbing myself and didn’t realize I actually had serious health issues that forced me back here.
So I had to pay alot of money for that case. This was in 2019. If you get in that situation and they let you go with a warrant call a lawyer. There the only ones who can advise you on repercussions and help.
By the way great article…… I look forward to reading more from you
Question for you, did you fly back to the same state that had issued the warrant? Do you think they would flag it if someone were to fly back to a different state, or is it all in the same data base and they still grab you and just take you to the state where the charges are?
WARNING – This is NOT accurate. Remember when you booked any flight within the past several years, and you had to provide your full name, gender, and date of birth? That information is required by TSA and is processed through TSA Secure Flight Program, which checks all passengers for extraditable warrants in the jurisdiction of the departure and arrival airports. If you have an extraditable warrant, and you takeoff or land from an airport within that jurisdiction, you can plan on having a pair (or more) of CBP officers waiting for you at the gate. I speak from personal experience.
Thanks for the clarification! An extraditable warrant is not something I covered when I originally wrote this article, so I will definitely include it in the next edit.
So say if you have 3 felony warrants in Nevada right and you’re living in California. Can you fly say to Hawaii and come back with no problem?? Like can you fly in any of the states except Nevada?