These are the questions most often asked about tsa luggage locks.
The TSA requires access to your luggage whether you are present not. To allow you to lock your luggage they helped develop TSA approved locks.
A TSA approved lock is a lock design that is certified by a Florida based company called Travel Sentry.
All TSA luggage locks can be unlocked using a master key. The TSA officers have keys (a bunch of around 7 or 8 keys) that they can use to open millions of suitcases. Without the master key, you will need the combination code or the key that came if your lock. Your key is not a master key, it will only open your lock.
TSA recognized locks can be identified by the red diamond logo. Locks are TSA approved if they are made to the standards set by Travel Sentry. Travel Sentry don’t make the locks. They license the standard. Over 500 luggage brands or travel accessory brands around the world license the standard so they can call their locks “TSA approved” and use the red diamond logo. Their product designs must be certified by Travel Sentry.
The TSA security officers have a set of master keys that they use to open locks. On your TSA lock it will usually say something like TSA002, or TSA007. This tells the officer which key they need to use to open the lock.
Some TSA locks have an indicator that shows if your luggage has been opened for inspection. However, this should not be necessary. The TSA leaves a note if they have searched your bag.
You can buy airport approved luggage locks in many places. The cheapest deals are often found on Amazon. But you will also be able to buy a padlock at the airport. You can also buy luggage that has integrated TSA locks.
Not really, TSA locks are not very secure. The shackle on the padlocks has a very thin diameter that could easily be cut. The codes on the combination locks can be picked very quickly. And, a determined thief could get their hands on a set of master keys from eBay or even print their own set using a 3D printer.
Yes, they are worth it. But that’s because they are cheap not because they are secure. You can buy an approved lock for about $5. It wouldn’t stop a determined thief but it might be a deterrent to a casual thief. They will probably move on and steal from a bag that is not locked.
Don’t buy the type with combination locks if you are forgetful. Don’t buy the type with keys if you are the type of person to lose the keys. And if you are forgetful and lose keys then I suggest securing your zips with a plastic zip tie. This would still deter thieves while allowing TSA staff to cut your case open using scissors. The TSA opens around 10% of checked bags for further screening.
If you have a 3 digit combination lock the quickest way is to simply try all the combinations. It will take you less time than you think. If you have a 4 digit lock then it’s better to try to listen for the click.
One of the flaws with cheap padlocks is that they can sometimes jam. If this happens often it’s because the code has changed by accident and it’s become locked. I wrote a post about fixing jammed locks.
Overall TSA officers and screening staff are fine dependable folks, but there are always a few bad eggs. It’s also possible that airline baggage handlers could steal from checked luggage.
TSA friendly locks do solve the problem of granting access to security agents.
Unfortunately, locking your luggage doesn’t stop thieves from stealing your valuables.
Travelers “lose” belongings from checked bags all too often and it can still happen if your suitcase is locked.
So one of my top travel tips is to always pack valuables in carry-on luggage.
And make sure you pack a packable daypack just in case boarding agents ask you to gate check your carry-on.
If you need to hand over your carry-on open it up and remove any valuables and keep them in your packable daypack.
Basically, don’t lose sight of your valuables and don’t depend on locks whether they are TSA approved luggage locks or not!