Last Updated on June 23, 2020
In my experience blogging about travel and luggage, I have seen many stories about things going missing from checked bags.
Anything valuable is at risk. Laptops, perfume, cameras, designer goods.
The TSA screening agents often get the blame but it could just as easily be an airline handler that has light fingers.
You can lock your luggage if you think it will protect your items, but you should always use a TSA approved lock.
This post looks at whether it’s worth putting a padlock on your luggage or not.
What Is A TSA Approved Luggage Lock?
These are locks that are made to standards set by a Florida based company called Travel Sentry.
Lots of companies make and sell “TSA Approved” locks but their designs must be approved by Travel Sentry in order to use the Travel Sentry red diamond and call themselves “TSA approved”.
Travel Sentry, works with the TSA and other international security agencies around the world to come up with travel security luggage locks.
How Does A Tsa Luggage Lock Work?
A TSA lock usually has a combination number. You set the combination lock to your preferred code and use this to access your suitcase.
However, these locks also can be opened by TSA agents that have the master key.
The theory is that only TSA agents will have the master keys. They can use the key to open your checked bag if they decide they want to take a closer look.
This way they can make sure our skies are safe by checked for things like flammable liquids in checked luggage.
Should You Lock Your Luggage?
Locking luggage might be a deterrent to a would-be thief.
But luggage locks offer very little protection against theft in most cases.
For a start, if you have a zipper it could be burst open using a ballpoint pen.
Secondly, it’s not that hard to get your hands on master keys for luggage.
Anyone can search online and buy the keys to open luggage. So if a baggage handler wanted to steal from luggage they would be able to open the locks.
You can even download and print plastic keys using a 3D printer that will open TSA locks.
If you want to lock your luggage you should do it. But don’t think for a second that means your stuff is safe.
Checked valuables is risky. People steal anything. I’ve read about missing vitamin supplements, missing gadgets, almost anything that is packed in checked luggage could go missing.
I’m not saying it will go missing, overall theft is probably a rare occurrence. But anything could go missing from your check bag and your luggage lock won’t prevent it happening.
If you are worried about valuables then pack in them in hand luggage where you can protect them.
TSA Locks & International Travel
You don’t have to buy a special kind of lock for international travel.
As mentioned above Travel Sentry also work with other airport security teams around the world.
I think it depends on if you are talking about a padlock or a built-in luggage lock.
If you feel that it’s safer to lock your luggage, then by all means you should lock your luggage when flying in Europe or internationally.
If the security team is in a country where Travel Sentry operates they will have the same keys that the TSA has.
If in another country where Travel Sentry does not operate the security team will simply cut the padlock off if they want access to your case.
Only the padlock will be damaged and you can always buy a new one.
In-built Luggage Locks
If your luggage comes with its own locks then you need to be more careful.
Don’t lock your luggage if you are flying to or from an airport where Travel Sentry isn’t established.
Security staff in these airports won’t have the master keys needed to open your baggage. You run the risk that they will cut open an integral luggage lock causing permanent damage to your suitcase.
A better idea would be to just close your bag using plastic zip ties.
The security team will be able to cut these with scissors if need.
You could also leave some spare zip ties and a note asking them to please reseal the bag after screening.
You can find the countries that are using the Travel Sentry system on their website.
Here is a current list:
- Dominican Republic
- Cayman Islands
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
- Czech Republic
- North Macedonia
Middle East & Africa
- Ivory Coast
- New Zealand
- South Korea
You can lock your suitcase if it gives you some peace of mind.
But it probably shouldn’t give you peace of mind.
These locks are very easy to bypass and while your belongings might be safer they are not safe.
Locking checked luggage has a very minimal security benefit when flying.
And don’t think that stuff you leave in your hotel room will be safe because you locked your case.
It’s far better for travelers to use carry-on luggage for valuables.
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