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TSA Travel Tips Tuesday: TSA Recognized Locks

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

While it’s understandable that travelers want to lock their baggage to protect their personal belongings, it’s also important to understand that TSA officers must be able to inspect baggage and contents when the need arises. That’s where TSA recognized locks come in.

In order to ensure the safe transportation of travelers, TSA screens all checked and carry-on baggage before it is permitted to be brought onboard commercial aircraft. Technology generally enables us to electronically screen bags without opening them, but there are times when we need to physically inspect a piece of luggage. TSA has worked with several companies to develop locks that can be opened by security officers using universal "master" keys so that the locks may not have to be cut. These locks are available at most airports and many travel stores nationwide. The packaging on the locks indicates whether they can be opened by TSA.

In some cases, TSA officers will have to open your baggage as part of the screening process. If your bag is unlocked, then our officer will simply open and screen the baggage if any item alarms. However, if you decide to lock your checked baggage and TSA cannot open it through other means, then the locks may have to be cut. For soft-sided baggage, this process will not damage your zippers or zipper pulls. TSA is careful to not damage any personal belongings, however, we are not liable for damage caused to locked bags that must be opened for security purposes. Again, that is where the value of the recognized locks come in. Please note that if an officer does need to open your bag, a “Notice of Baggage Inspection” will be place in your bag.

While our officers may have to cut locks from time to time, it’s not the only reason your lock could be missing or damaged. Locks, along with your baggage, can also be damaged by airport conveyor belt systems as shown below:

Image describing how locks can get pinched between conveyor belts and broken off.

The image below is a collection of 244 locks pulled from under an airport baggage handling conveyor belt where the two belts come together. These were collected over a period of one month at a New York Airport.

Locks broken by conveyor belt.

I hope this tip will help you better protect your property and help us keep you safe and secure when flying.

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Bob Burns
TSA Blog Team

If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact us by clicking here.


Submitted by Anonymous on

NOTE: This policy does not apply to travel with firearms in checked luggage. If you are travelling with firearms in your checked luggage, they must be unloaded and declared to the air carrier. They must then be secured in a hard-sided container with NON-TSA APPROVED locks and ONLY the owner may posses the key/combination to the locks.

Submitted by Scott Heng on

One more thing to add is to perhaps suggest finding a bag that would mitigate those issues. That would be one with no hanging locks, zipper tabs, etc. TSA and/or other handlers prefer laying bags wheels up, therefore upside down in most cases, but for good reason. However, this would explain the broken locks and/or zippers due to them hanging.

Submitted by Anonymous on

i travel with zipties and find it much easier. i have a bag of them in my outter pocket so that if tsa has to go in they can replace it with another one. so far no issues.

Submitted by CK on

What about those plastic strips that lock them selves and have to be cut?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Forget the locks. TSA has a habit of opening the zippered contents bag inside of luggage, rummage through it, then leaving it open; the contets spilling throughout the bag.

Submitted by RB on

What safeguards are in place to keep TSA and other airport employees from stealing from our poorly secured baggage since TSA requires easy access?

Submitted by GSOLTSO on

Scott Heng sez - "TSA and/or other handlers prefer laying bags wheels up, therefore upside down in most cases, but for good reason."

True, the main reason we TSA folks like the wheels up is it makes it less likely that the bag will jam in the belt joints, or wind up witting at a joint with the wheels turning and not enough friction to pull it off the joint.

Anon sez - "i travel with zipties and find it much easier."

I have seen this many times, however, if the bag alarms, the TSOs will have to cut the tie in order to clear the alarming item(s) - if the ties are not readily in evidence, the TSO may not know there are some there to resecure the bag with. We have some Missionary groups that come through with large plastic containers and they have attached an envlope/plastic pocket of some sort just inside the lid with notes asking TSA to use one of the enclosed zipties to resecure the bag with them. Any time I have seen those, we have resecured the bag/container with them.

CK sez - "What about those plastic strips that lock them selves and have to be cut?"

Same as the previous answer, they can be used, but if the TSO needs to go inside the bag in order to clear an alarm, it will have to be cut in order to gain access to the bag and item(s).

RB sez - "What safeguards are in place"

Many of the bag rooms (most of them if I remember correctly) are covered by CCTV in order to facilitate identifying problems or determining if theft actually occurred in those bag areas.

TSA Blog Team

Submitted by RB on

RB sez - "What safeguards are in place"

Many of the bag rooms (most of them if I remember correctly) are covered by CCTV in order to facilitate identifying problems or determining if theft actually occurred in those bag areas. 

WestTSA Blog TeamFebruary 19, 2014 at 10:55 AM
Your airport or all airports?

Once we hand off a bag to the airline how many hands does it pass through and is video surveillence present at all times?

There must be a risk or we would not be advised to not check valuable items.

This issue is clearly a security threat since anyone who can take something out of a bag could also put something in.

Seeing as how TSA refuses to screen airport workers this threat matrix is clearly a larger threat than that presented by passengers.

If TSA was serious about our safety the baggage issue would be resolved and all airport workers would get 100% non-PreCheck level screening.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I do not care that they need to open, fine with me, BUT I just wish that they would relock, I have loss 4 locks in the last 2 years.. Thanks for doing your job.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The TSA is constantly cutting off "TSA-approved" locks, rather than opening them with the key/combo.

The TSA also fails to put locks back on luggage, thereby costing the passenger money to replace the locks and putting his property in danger of being stolen by airport or other TSA employees.

Finally, the TSA fails to relock embedded locks, thereby leaving the passenger's property in danger of being stolen.

Why does the TSA have so much trouble with a basic technology that has been around for hundreds of years?

Submitted by Anonymous on

> Please note that if an officer does need to open your bag, a “Notice of Baggage Inspection” will be place in your bag.

It also provides a convenient way for officers to send adorable little notes to travelers, such as "GET YOUR FREAK ON GIRL".

Submitted by Anonymous on

I agree. I have no problem with the TSA agents opening and inspecting my luggage, but I do have a problem when they remove my approved TSA locks and do not replace them after the inspection. I have lost at least 4 TSA approved locks over the past 2 years. The airline nor TSA claimed responsibility each time.

Submitted by Lth on

Thank you for this information!
It is really helpful to have an idea of what goes on behind the scenes with our personal belongings.
I appreciated the photo re the locks and explanation regarding the belts.
I only use the locks when we are leaving our luggage within a hotel room or at their service desk or at anytime when we have to leave our luggage unattended by ourselves. Locking the bags, for checked baggage on the flight, seems like a big nuisance--for everyone involved. I feel leaving the bags free for access is not as important as the flight safety of all passengers and am glad to "help out".

Submitted by Anonymous on

actually when you mentioned the comments about zipper pulls and bags I had mine damaged several times where I had to buy items to make it good for me to open. Also had little notes saying a checked in pocket knife was not allowed in the bags...that knife was checked not hand carried and was inportant for me to perform my job at my work site.

It also gives TSA and Bag men a chance to steal our items like electronics they wont let us carry in our carry on bags..

Submitted by Anonymous on

I don't have an issue with using TSA locks and having bags inspected, but it would be nice if they would put things back where they were found such as placing breakable items back in the middle of the bag between the clothes rather than on top of a soft-sided bag so that they can be broken by the baggage handlers. Is there any policy on how to repack an inspected bag?

Submitted by Anonymous on

" the locks may have to be cut" directly contradicts "TSA is careful to not damage any personal belongings". The lock is my personal belonging, and cutting it damages it.

Yet more TSA lies and spin.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why do you not address the fact that tsa employees are cutting off tsa-approved locks instead of using keys?

Why do you not address the fact that tsa employees intentionally break, damage, and steal items from checked-in luggage?

West, you claim there are cameras recording baggage openings. How often are these recordings reviewed? Do you honestly think your employees don't know where the cameras are so they hide their unethical and criminal behavior?

Submitted by Blausc on

Locks removed.
Why would an agent remove a TSA lock and not replace it? Resale at the swap meet?

Mine was removed at LAX/Southwest on 8 April 14. There is, at present, no way to report these types of problems so that they can be tracked and potentially stopped.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I too have just recently encountered my TSA approved lock on my Samsonite bag being cut instead of being opened properly. Are the TSO's just too lazy to use a key? I sent an email to the TSA contact center to only receive a standard form reply.
How is it that only 4 days prior on my other sector of travel, the TSA did do their job correctly and opened/locked my bag without damaging it.
Security is important and the TSA should check the bags if required but at least do it with professionalism.
It seems many travelers complain about these same issues but fall on deaf ears.

Submitted by F9ers55 on

I have to agree with other travellers . . . USE ZIP TIES

They are much less expensive & much easier. I recently broke down & purchased the TSA locks with the erroneous assumption that if TSA removed them, that they would put them back on once the inspection was complete.

This is definately NOT the case. One of my bags arrived WITHOUT any lock at all (TOTALLY UNSECURED) & the other arrived with SOMEONE ELSE's lock on it.

NOW I use the zip ties AND . . .

Before I secure my bags I put a note, ALONG WITH ANOTHER ZIP TIE on top of the contents. This way, HOPEFULLY, if they inspect they will secure it back with the zip tie I provided.

Submitted by Joseph Haran on

I did a fair amount of traveling by air in 2008; and in preparation I bought government-approved locks at the airport. Supposedly, government officials could unlock those locks with a special key.

Locking one's baggage used to be a good idea, back in remotest antiquity, yet by 2008 (as I was to discover) it had fallen out of favor. But I figured, "They have that special key and can simply unlock the locks." Wrong!

They cut the locks and put them inside my baggage. What ever happened to that special key? Those locks weren't free! So I bought another set of similar (supposedly government-approved) locks at another airport; and guess what? You got it: They cut those too.

So, who's not getting the word about the special key? What can one do, to obtain a refund, when government officials cut locks out of spite? There's no other viable explanation apart from management issuing a "cut them anyway" order, unwritten or written.

Submitted by Anonymous on

My bags have been searched on two occasions. This was fine, and my things were rumpled but reasonably replaced. They did cut my blatantly TSA labeled locks off instead of opening them with the key. After that, I mostly used zipties. They come in nice fluorescent colors and if you leave a few inches of the tail end on they are quite visible. Life is much better now that I can take a small scissors with me to open the bag at destination.
(In one case I had put two large jam jars end to end and I'm sure on a scan it looked like it might have been an explosive. I think the other was food also.)

Submitted by Anonymous on

If the locks in the picture were ripped off by the conveyor belt, why are half of them unlocked and several more physically cut? The conveyor belt doesn't cut a Master padlock open...

Submitted by Susan H on

My checked bag had to be taped up after our international flight due to a small rip. Upon arrival after our domestic flight, we found the tape had been pulled off and the entire bag had been rifled through. Nothing appears to be missing so far, but there was no TSA 'notice of baggage inspection' form inside.

Should I make a formal report to TSA about this? I understood (and have received) the paper TSA notice in luggage EVERY time it is looked through.

Submitted by Susan Haigh on

My checked bag had to be taped up after our international flight due to a small rip. Upon arrival after our domestic flight, we found the tape had been pulled off and the entire bag had been rifled through. Nothing appears to be missing so far, but there was no TSA 'notice of baggage inspection' form inside.

Should I make a formal report to TSA about this? I understood (and have received) the paper TSA notice in luggage EVERY time it is looked through.

Submitted by Eastern Sunset on

The blotter team said, "TSA is careful to not damage any personal belongings,.."

Go on to Twitter every day, any day, and search for #tsa stole or @TSA broke. Just on this one social media site, you'll see thousands of accounts and pictures of damaged private property when screeners failed (intentionally?) to reseal liquids or powders we are forced to check, spilling all over the rest of the contents in the bag.

You'll see even more mentions of broken, damaged, or stolen property in checked baggage because the screeners mispacked or stole "allowed items."

If any of the airports had and used the CCTV, more screeners would be charged with theft or mishandling private property.

If screeners were properly managed and supervised, the quantity of damaged or stolen property would decrease.

If screeners were properly trained and managed, they wouldn't be cutting off locks, thereby costing the flying public millions of dollars since this stupid rule was in place.

If screeners would be properly trained and supervised, they would not leave integrated locks in the unlocked position, thereby keeping the lock from functioning, putting our private property in danger from theft by anyone.

Why aren't more screeners caught, disciplined, trained, and supervised when they literally have their hands on billions of dollars of private property, West? The US govt insists they have to rifle through our things, but the TSA fails to safeguard us from its own employees.

Why, West? Maybe blotter Bob would like to chime in?

* Screen shot taken *

Submitted by Swb on

Recently returned from a trip to Portland ME. My TSA compliant lock was not only opened, but the lock was missing when I picked the bag up in North Dakota. Lot of good that did--I was trying to be compliant,as well as secure.

Submitted by Anonymous on

What's the purpose of using zip ties? Anyone (ie airport baggage handlers) can easily cut them. And if you leave more zip ties for TSA to resecure the bag, then a corrupt baggage handler could do the same, and you wouldn't even know that they went in your bag! With the TSA approved locks, the theory is that only TSA agents can open it with master key. If your lock is missing and there's no TSA notice inside, then you know that it was a corrupt baggage handler.

Submitted by F9ers55 on

Well Mr/Ms. "Anonymous" . . .

The purpose of Zip Ties? Apparently you didn't read the other tidbits here . . .

TSA cuts these locks off & you are OUT the money you invested in these more expensive locks. OR, in MY case, they put someone else's lock on MY suicase.

Therefore, zip ties ARE a very good alternative.

In my case:

I put the on very tight . . . thus difficult for just anyone to get off.

But more importantly, I use "COLORED" zip ties . . . anyone cutting my ties, would surely NOT have the same color or type to put back on. If my tie is NOT as I left it? Then of course, it would be very obvious someone had been in my bag.

See? This is NOT rocket science & thus eliminates your "THEORY" of the TSA locks.

But in all seriousness? If anyone wants into your bag? They'll find a way . . . my zip ties just give me the ALERT if they do.

Happy travelling everyone . . .

Submitted by Anonymous on

Oh please. They check your bags for the security of the passengers? Fantastic. Because shoes, electronics, money, and other valuables I have lost are so dangerous. Nothing stops TSA from stealing, the management is complacent and the reason you need a trillion items is because they don't want to do the paperwork, hassle,and cost of replacing the valuables they stole. Looking to lock your bags so other passengers can't get to your things? The other passengers aren't the ones you should really be looking out for.

Submitted by Freewheelsteve on

I have had nothing but trouble with TSA and its locks. A few years ago, I travelled with a large bike box, with 4 butterfly latches with integrated hasps. I put TSA locks on each, and three out of four hasps were torn off. I could believe that this was caused by the conveyor belt because TSA wouldn't have a reason to tear off hasps. However, during the last month, I travelled with a different bike carrier with a single locking point. I used a TSA lock. It was missing on arrival at my destination. I purchased another TSA lock and used it and a zip tie on my way home. Both were missing when I received my bag. There was no damage to the bag. Nothing inside to indicate TSA looked in. I find the explanation given by TSA not credible, as the bag would have been damaged in at least one of these segments if sufficient force was applied to tear off the lock. And that would not explain why the zip tie was gone. What's the explanation for this?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I do not mind TSA searching my bags BUT when I am in compliance utilizing a TSA approved lock I expect to find it re-attached after they do their rummaging. Not only have I traveled and had the locks removed but there wasn't even a note inside my bag stating it was searched!
I see this is a constant issue on these posts so doesn't the TSA think it needs to be addressed?????
Is there a TSA agent response here?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Seems to me that if we are 'loosing our locks' it just isn't worth the money to buy tsa approved things. Only rarely have I found a note, just a missing lock.

I usually pack with cubes and inside straps so that if my belongings are searched, they aren't dumped all over.

I see no logic to wasting my money on locks, maybe I will try zip ties...if I can remember the tiny scissors.

Maybe TSA should just change their policy to 'all locks will be removed and not returned'.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I just had my bag inspected and quite obviously rummaged through. While irritated, it's not too high of a price to pay compared to 9/11 et al. I never lock my bag, but I also carry all valuables on the plane. I also carry on all of my necessary medications, I.e., anything I take to stay alive. I already get a complete pat down through security because of bilateral hip implants so I guess I'm used to having personal rights and boundaries trampled upon.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Mr. Bob Burns of the TSA Blog Team,

I find your example of 244 locks pulled from under a conveyor where two belts come together insulting to my intelligence. First of all if that one particular spot on the conveyor rips the locks off of 244 bags in one month that indicates a design flaw and it needs to be fixed pronto because every bag that gets a lock ripped off is significantly damaged and its contents could end up spilled everywhere! Thats not a problem that needs to be fixed? If it is not a design flaw that can be corrected and inevitably will happen wherever to conveyor belts come together, then how many places are there in a typical airport where two belts come together? I presume many. Do they all have piles of locks under them? Do they all regularly rip luggage apart 8 times a day every single day? Your ridiculous example shows not only insensitivity, but outright disrespect for the myriad of airline passengers regularly being victimized by TSA agents who unnecessarily remove and discard TSA approved locks and even steal items from luggage with impunity. Disgusting.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I just returned to Germany from the US, and for the third time in two years, items were stolen out of my checked in bag, which I did not lock because I figured my lock would be cut off anyway. It's really annoying, as these items (the shoulder strap I took off my bag so it wouldn't get stuck in the baggage belts, an expensive bottle of wine, some glue, honey, jam) were all items we're not allowed to put in our carry on bags (except the shoulder strap). While I appreciate efforts being taken to protect passengers, I find it reprehensible that numerous people along the whole baggage check-security route seem to feel they can take whatever they want out of our bags. I've traveled all over the world, but curiously enough this happens only on flights from the US to Europe. Very annoying!

Submitted by F9ers55 on

I just wanted to let everyone know that you CAN pursue stolen item issues with the TSA supervisor at the airport.

I did this & they pulled the surveillance video.

I was able to see both of my bags AND how they were handled & INCORRECTLY locked with someone else's lock.

Stand your ground people & step up . . . Don't be afraid.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Is it common for the TSA to leave "strange" things in checked baggage besides a notice that they did so? My teen daughter and I flew to Dallas two days before Valentine's Day. When we got to our hotel and started unpacking our bags, there was a layer of red heart and white dove confetti all over her clothes that wasn't there when we checked the baggage in at our departure airport. Kinda funny, but kinda freaky too! I'm familiar with the notice they leave when they inspect a checked-in bag, buy not with holiday confetti. LOL!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Recently, flying Madrid to Miami, the metal parts of the zip of my Samsonite suitcase "TSA-approved lock" was cut, rather than opening them with the key/combo. Why this unnecessary damage?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Thanks for the worst welcome to the country, I think there is no worse way then to break open the baggage and then say its part of process.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I like the TSA. My bags don't have any locks on them because all they have is clothes. My carry on has my important things and electronics. So no beef here. A lot of people even had a lot of problems with the nude machines but I like my package getting inspected as well lol. People, stop complaining about your $7 locks and take your important stuff on your carry on, it's not that hard and stop being cheap.

Submitted by F9ers55 on

To "Anonymous" from March 22, 2015 @ 3:32am . . .

All I can say to you is that it must be NICE to be able to travel in the fashion that YOU do.

Most of us are in the situations that you see in the postings on this page.

Complain about "$7 locks" . . . SERIOUSLY?

"Stop being cheap"? SERIOUSLY?

I know that "I" personally travel with THREE suitcases weighing 70 pounds EACH . . . ALONG WITH my 2 additional carry-ons.

As I'm sure you can imagine . . . "I" along with most all travelers, travel with much more than just the luxury of "clothes" in a suitcase.

Locking suitcases are critical to arriving (HOPEFULLY) with everything you left with.

I've already been one of the unfortunate, that has had locks cut off, possessions stolen, someone ELSE's lock put on MY suitcase (that was fun upon arrival!) AND items LEFT back at the departure airport.

So . . . . therefore, YEA . . . "Anonymous" have some compassion for those of us that do NOT have the apparent "LUXURY" to travel the way YOU seem to.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I have never not had the TSA approved locks cut off and/or the bags damaged around the lock area. It happens on EVERY TRIP. So, I just stopped using locks entirely. What's the point? It's clear they're using bolt cutters because on a couple of the trips, they cut off the metal pull tabs (sliced right through them) along with the locks. I am assuming it is done out of spite, even though I'm being a good little sheep by buying the special government approved locks, yet look what I get for it; lost locks, damaged luggage that can't be re-zipped, and stolen items.

Submitted by David Raines on

TSA in Cincinnati opened a one gallon container of protein powder and did not put the lid back on. I believe in screening but not being outright lazy. TSA rules do not cover being lazy. It was $40 in Dru cleaning and a $20 waste of product. No TSA agent should be above inspection themselves. The card that is left when bags are searched should have a # that can be tracked to a person or department . It's hard to hold someone accountable.

Submitted by Anonymous on

It is obvious that way too many issues are associated with TSA searches of checked bags. All TSO's who inspect checked bags should be required to do so with care, replace locks or zip ties and place a slip of paper with their name and employee number inside the bag. If, when you retrieve your checked bag and locks or ties are gone, you shouldcask to see the onsight TSA supervisor immediatly. Also, file a complaint with TSA and your Rep in Congress. Perhaps Congress should investigate these issues.

Submitted by Shelli on

We just got our gopro camera stolen with a TSA bag inspection note left behind! Definitely have to go back to the airport now.

Submitted by F9ers55 on

I'm sorry to hear that?

But Shelli, I have to ask . . .

WHY was your GoPro "IN" your checked bag to begin with?

FOLKS . . . If it's worth something it does NOT go in your checked bag !!!

Submitted by Anonymous on

I tend to pack items in my bag with dirty clothing because I have a dirty little 4 year old beast. You want my souvenir from Disney World? Great, rifle through my child's peanut butter and jelly stained shirt and her shat stained undies. I won't wash them until I get home.

I make sure I don't put valuables in my bag. I've had my bag 'checked' because I filled it with lots of Canon lens boxes. All the lenses were with me on the plane. Some poor TSA agent had to rifle through that mess to find nothing of value. I hope they wore gloves.

Submitted by Crissa on

Could you at least re-zip-tie the bag back closed? I've never had that happen, but use zip-ties all the time. It would be really nice if it were default.


Submitted by AlisonB on

I had an old Samsonite suitcase with an integral combination lock that was not TSA compliant. Last year I travelled with it, clicked the zip tabs into the lock to stop them catching on conveyors but didn't change the combination. TSA bolt cuttered the tabs off to inspect the case, leaving the zip unusable.
Replaced it with an expensive new Samsonite case with an integral TSA compliant combination lock. Travelled back from Orlando to Gatwick last Thursday - TSA cut the tabs off that one to inspect the case. If you have 'worked with' the manufacturers to include a feature which meets your requirements why can't you use it? Really not looking forward to find out how much it is going to cost me to get the zipper replaced on this case....