Are TSA Locks Safe & Secure?

Last Updated on September 22, 2021

There is a problem when flying with checked baggage.

Passengers want to keep their belongings safe when they hand over their suitcases.

Security agents like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) want to be able to open and inspect luggage to check that there are no threats to the safety of passengers.

For example, flammable liquids can be very dangerous to allow in the aircraft hold. I’m glad that the TSA is screening luggage to stop that from happening.

But I don’t want any random person rummaging around in my bags.

Sometimes people lock their baggage using non-TSA-recognized locks. If the TSA wants to have a look they’ll just cut the lock off and your bag might get damaged in the process.

TSA-approved locks try to solve this problem.

The idea is this… 

Only TSA security officers working at the airport are supposed to have access to the master keys.

The bad guys will never get their hands on the keys. 

You’ll know the combination number to open your bag, the TSA will have the key and everyone is happy.

It sounds good in theory but unfortunately, it doesn’t really work like this in reality.

Do TSA Locks Keep Your Things Secure?

In a word… no. TSA locks are not safe.

They are low-security locks and are not built to high standards.

Their main function is to stop zippers from opening accidentally.

The shackles on most TSA locks could be cut easily with bolt cutters.

Also, you can pick the TSA locks easily by using a paperclip and figuring out the combination lock.

But would-be thieves don’t even need to do that. They can simply take a ballpoint pen and jam it into the zipper of your luggage. This will be enough to open your zip and they don’t even need to crack the padlock.

The problem isn’t that TSA-approved luggage locks are a bad idea…

The bad idea is that a luggage lock of any kind will not stop a thief.

In fact, luggage locks can do more harm than good because they give you a false sense of security.

Also, for what it’s worth, anyone can buy a full set of master keys on eBay for very little money.

Or, you can even download a file and print a key that will open a TSA-approved lock using a 3D printer.

So TSA locks are certainly not safe, but don’t get me wrong I’m not saying you shouldn’t use them.

Are Luggage Locks Worth It?

3rd party suitcase locks are really cheap.

So while they are basically crap I’m still going to say they are worth it when you travel.

What I wouldn’t do is buy a more expensive suitcase because I liked the in-built luggage locks.

But if just 1 thief could be deterred by a 3rd party TSA lock then it would be worth it because TSA approved locks will only set you back about $5.

Just don’t be deluded into thinking that they keep anything secure because they don’t.

If you are flying the easy way to protect your valuables is to pack them in carry-on luggage rather than checked luggage.

Keep your bag close so you can keep an eye on it.

Are TSA Luggage Locks Safe In Hotels Or Hostels?

If you are thinking of leaving your bag in the hotel or hostel then don’t imagine for 1 second that your little TSA padlock will keep your bag safe.

You might just convince the thief to steal your entire bag! 

It’s much better to ask the hotel or hostel reception if they have anywhere you can store valuables.

Often if I am traveling I will carry my laptop with me everywhere even if I don’t need it. It’s a pain but it’s better than leaving it lying around where it’s vulnerable to thieves.

The Verdict

TSA locks sound like a good idea but in reality, they don’t keep your belongings safe.

I blog about luggage a lot and frequently read stories about things going missing from checked luggage.

Often the passenger rages at the airline but the truth is once your checked luggage has left your possession anyone could be stealing from it. And your little TSA padlock won’t stop them.

Traveling light with carry-on-only luggage is a great way to stop yourself from being a victim. I have a post with lots of great information that might help you change from using checked luggage to carry-on luggage.

That way there will be much less chance of someone stealing your stuff!

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