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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

The most troubling thing is when they cut my zipper instead of cutting the lock then they tied it. Now I can't use the bag which was brand new. I wish they cut the loc which costs less than my bad and then things were missing from it. I called TSA but they said they couldn't help so I gave up. It is sad

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA didn't return our locks - we lost over $30 in 3 locks! This probably happened in Miami International Airport. We didn't notice until we got home.

Submitted by Anonymous on

What is the TSA likely to do with my new Samsonite hard case that has an embedded TSA compliant lock, no zippers, its in a pull don flap that locks the case shut (see Samsonite S'cure 28" on Amazon). What do they do if they just cannot get in without totally destroying the case? Will I get an announcement on the airport speaker to come to........

Submitted by Vivien on

I am frustrated with TSA. I bought TSA locks and the locks are frequently removed and taken away! One of my luggage bags have the TSA combination lock on it and it was completely removed from my luggage, resulting in metal protruding from where the combination lock was supposed to be and I cut my hand as it is located close to the handle of the luggage bag. I do not understand why TSA have to damage my luggage bag and I do not understand why they have to take away my locks. This is ridiculous and very frustrating.

Submitted by Janet Jordan on

I have used TSA approved locks and find that my bags are almost always opened and the lock put inside instead of being locked back up. However, opening a locked zippered bag is very easy even with a lock on it. I actually learned this from a video and put it to good use when my cousin accidentally locked her key inside the bag. Using a ball point pen I was able to open up the bag, then zipped it back up and you couldn't even tell it had ever been opened. My advice is to never put anything of any value inside your checked luggage. Whether it's TSA or a bag handler they can easily open your zipped bag, lock or no lock, take what they want then reclose it in less than a minute.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I don't like the idea of NOT locking my bags, but realize the value of scanning/inspecting bags. Seems to me the problem is based on how airports are designed and built, i.e. with specific regard to passengers the model seems to be based on pre-9/11 flying and was then perceived as customer or passenger "convenience". That "polite" treatment of passengers in bygone years has become a thing of the past and seems unlikely to ever return. I now feel like I'm more of a commodity than a sentient being, and more of a nuisance than a paying customer.

With specific regard to the check-in process, why can bags not be scanned upon check-in, in the presence of the bag owner, as is done now with carry-on items? If done that way, once the bag has been scanned, the owner could then lock their bag(s), and maybe even have some TSA "seal" placed on to prevent some nefarious TSA person from placing something into the bag that was not there upon check-in? In fact, with that process, it might make more sense to require that bags be locked with TSA approved locks.

I don't know the specifics of how checked bags are handled/processed once they leave a passenger's possession, and I suspect people would balk, b&m at this suggestion, as it would require "change". However, scanning and inspection need only occur upon departures, not arrivals, unless, perhaps, it's necessary to pass through customs, and those bags are often manually inspected, anyway. I wonder if check-in could have "express" lanes, similar to a supermarket, e.g. 2 or 3 lanes, or as many as necessary for passengers checking 1 bag, fewer lanes for those checking 2-3 bags, and additional lanes as necessary for travelers checking 4 or more bags.

I refuse to believe that the steps in practice today can't be changed and improved while still maintaining passenger safety. Is no one at the TSA or the airlines imaginative enough to improve this process?

Submitted by R Nurse on

Is there a way to request that bag searches be performed in the passenger's presence? I'd be flying with photographic equipment and would want to be present when someone is handling my gear.

Submitted by Walter Potes on

To "R. NURSE":

Personally, if it were ME, I would NEVER "check" my photo equipment.

Submitted by R Nurse on

Hey Walter,

I think you're right. I'll just check my clothing and carry on the gear. Clothing is much easily replaced.

Submitted by Rod on

I have travelled to the US from the UK six times in the last 15 years. On two occasions my TSA recognised lock has been CUT off (and the remains placed in the case). On two other occasions the case has been opened and the lock placed IN the case and NOT used to re-close the case. On only one occasion an anonymous “Notice of Baggage Inspection” was placed in my opened case.

If you have a policy it has to be implemented.

Is there any point in complaining? Would any action be taken?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Does anyone know if the combination lock code gets reset when the TSA agents open a lock with their master keys?

Submitted by GSOLTSO on

Anon sez - "Does anyone know if the combination lock code gets reset when the TSA agents open a lock with their master keys?"

Not unless there is some form of malfunction. The keys only allow the item to be unlocked, and then locked back.

TSA Blog Team

Submitted by Unknown on

Anyone ever have problems with TSA locks on hard cover for golf clubs? JD

Submitted by Anonymous on

Traveled with a lock w/ TSA logo last time from Japan to the US. Locks were needlessly cut both legs of the trip. I can understand the story that locks may get damaged during transit, but don't buy that story as it happened on both legs of the trip and the TSA officer stole a jacket from one of my suitcases.

Seriously this only happens with US TSA, never had an issues traveling to other countries. There are countless stories on the net on this type of stuff. Why is TSA management not doing anything to properly monitor their workers ? You guys are a complete embarrassment to the USA.

Submitted by Unknown on

Closer examination of the pictures of "ripped off" locks I noticed that some locks are still locked but no luggage zippers are attached to the locks.

After reading all the post I have come to two theories.
1. TSA has some lazy employees who do not want to take the time to do their job (we all work with at least one co-worker like this)

2. TSA is sending a message that in reality they do NOT want you to use locks, TSA approved or not.

Or, I guess 3. TSA employees could have lost their keys and don't want to ask for another, which makes them look bad.
What I have found in my life experiences is that some employees will blame the customer or other co-workers just to keep from getting in trouble. In this case they may be blaming the conveyor belt.

I ended up here in search for the best TSA lock. Obviously there is none.

Submitted by Dan on

I don't understand how people use zipties. You get to your destination with your ziptied bag and... oh, wait; TSA didn't let you bring anything on board with which you could cut the ziptie.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I have repeatedly had TSA-approved compliant locks taken off my bags and not replaced. I find this infuriating because I do a lot of foreign travel where locks are definitely required. TSA is particularly inclined to remove high-end, compliant locks. I've never had a notice that the bag was opened for study when this has happened; on the other hand, I have had a typed statement that my bag was gone through when the lock was replaced. Go figure.

I've no confidence in TSA baggage-inspection people - I never pack valuables and in the past I've included a copy of a typed inventory of every item in the suitcase. I don't always do this, but I do if going through particularly troublesome airports, although I try to avoid such places as JFK which is notorious for its theft level.

Submitted by Mark Baker on

I flew from PIT to CLT and then to LIT yesterday and TSA removed my TSA lock and two zip ties from my Pelican box and never replaced any of them, including the lock (which is still missing). I did provide extra zip ties inside the box (which were right next to where they put the TSA inspection tag). The box contained a firearm (inside a small locked gun case), ammunition and spare magazines and the box had already been checked by TSA at check-in because I had properly declared a firearm. So now I had an unsecured firearm, ammo and spare magazines traveling from Pittsburgh to Charlotte to Little Rock.

I have no problem with TSA inspections but when I follow all of the rules and then TSA themselves remove those security procedures ....... this is a problem!!!

I have reported this to TSA and am currently waiting a reply.

Submitted by F9ers55 on

Hi Mark . . .

Yea, have fun on ANY kind of reply.

Submitted by R Nurse on

Something's very odd here. My last flight was to Martha's Vineyard. On our way home, at the MV airport, we checked our bags and went to wait for the flight. A few minutes later our names were called on the PA system by TSA. Needless to say it sent shivers down my spine. I went to the counter and the agent told me one of our bags was locked. They allowed me to unlock it. They didn't have to destroy the suitcase. I wonder if, when given the discretion, they choose to just screw with the passengers.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Just flew back to SAN from Costa Rica with a brand new TSA approved lock on a surfboard bag. As with everyone else's comments, the TSA approved lock was missing, and there was no notice of inspection paper inside. Guess we should be thankful the board bag zipper wasn't damaged and nothing was stolen. *_*

Submitted by Susan Cohoon on

Has anyone in this Blog ever received a reply from TSA on the missing lock issue? We've had it happen twice in two weeks and its frustrating. Airlines take no responsibility. TSA takes no responsibility. Safety is one thing but this is ridiculous. Why did we go through the TSA Pre check process anyway????

Submitted by F9ers55 on

Good day . . .

Not only have "I" NEVER received anything back on from this blog?

At one point I actually printed out this entire blog & MAILED it to them

NOPE . . . NOTHING back from that either.

Submitted by Anonymous on

um... in the picture of those two baggage handling conveyors, given the direction of travel is from right to left, BOTH belts are moving to the left!

the sprocket/pulley/belt on the *right* are going *down* along the circumference of *that* circle, but the sprocket/pulley/belt on the *left* is going *UP*!!!

how would those opposite motions *both* pull down on a lock!?!?!

i call shenanigans on this explanation.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I went to the USA twice, Hated the way TSA treat people,seemed stoneage compared to other country's and made it a point to never go back unless the TSA were replaced by a more civilized system which is not like a hostile prison cue going to lunch.very rude and abrupt.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Lost two Hartman TSA locks on one trip (6 security checkpoints, all USA). One bag definitely inspected each time, but a note was only left once. We're using the right locks, why aren't they being replaced, and why aren't notices being left each time? I understand why bags need to be inspected, but I don't understand why tsa approved locks aren't being put back on the inspected bags.

Submitted by Smith Fiber on

Although I used the TSA approved locks, still treated rude by the TSA. But the tsa lock bought from Amazon is great quality and super practical.

Submitted by BWatson on

Returned to Chicago from Denver last night. TSA cut off my TSA-Approved lock to inspect my bag. There was a 'Notice of Baggage Inspection' inside, but my lock was nowhere to be seen. Very frustrating!

Submitted by BWatson on

Upon returning to Chicago from Denver last night, I discovered that my bag had been inspected by TSA--there was a notice inside--but my TSA-approved lock was nowhere to be found. Very frustrating!!!

Submitted by Unknown on

Are luggage covers approved by TSA? If so, what type? (Clear vinyl? Stretch/spandex? Other?) I would like to use a cover but don't want to make things more difficult for the TSA agents.


Submitted by Lorraine G on

Are luggage covers approved by TSA? If so, what type? (Clear vinyl? Stretch/spandex? Other?) I would like to use a cover but don't want to make things more difficult for the TSA agents.


Submitted by GSOLTSO on

All lf the commercial luggage coverd I have seen are ok to use through TSA operated airports. We see all kinds of them, plastic, leather, fabric, even saran wrap! The only thing to remember is that if the bag alarms, TSA will have to clear the bag, so the more difficult the wrap is, the longer it can take to clear it.

TSA Blog Team

Submitted by Frass Man on

Zip tie may very well work for you my friend but it doesn't work for all and in all cases especially when you have unscrupulous persons in certain airports salvaging through peoples luggage with their light fingers and nothing is becoming of it no matter how u complain the powers that be just won't pay it any mind they are mindless people because they aren't suffering the loss of valuable items.

Submitted by Russell Bluewolf on

reading Blogs like this is the ONE reason (among others) i REFUSE to fly..the TSA is nothing but "safety theater" who couldnt find a explosive if you laid it in front of them, but love harassing mothers who carry milk for their child above the "aapproved amount"..If icant drive to a destination, i dont travel

Submitted by Jprife on

I flew out of Dulles to New Orleans on Monday, October 24, 2016. TSA screened my suitcase, rummaging through my clothes and toiletries, but then FAILED to reattach my TSA-approved Samsonite luggage lock, leaving everything vulnerable to theft. I emailed a complaint that night, and received a canned response on Tuesday that TSA is not responsible for lost or damaged locks, including TSA-approved ones (like I use).


That's a real fine way to instill confidence in the flying public....not!

Submitted by Del Ceeta on

At least you got a response. I wrote when my TSA lock was missing and they ignored me. This time around they spoiled 2 of 4 TSA locks I paid $7 each for and I know it will not make a difference to contact them. At lest the company I bought them from refunded my money since they were under warranty.

Submitted by Gene Clark on

Considering the complaints above, which seem to indicate that such problems aren't uncommon, it seems that TSA is not accountable. Who is it working for? TSA is generally unpopular, but there doesn't seem to be a critical mass of organized protest to affect it. Until we get critical mass to rise up against this injustice, we can expect this status quo.

Submitted by Hi on

regarding who the TSA works for: they were all employed by Obama.

Submitted by Trekker on

Once my husband, young son, and I went backpacking. We were days in the backcountry and my son even had some "accidents". So on our return I stuffed all our horrendously dirty, stinky, vile, clothes in one suitcase so as not to touch anything we cared about until the offending items were washed. I didn't think about it at the time but later had to smile thinking of the poor TSA worker that inspected that suitcase! No locks needed there. Just wanted to inject a bit of humor in the blog.

Submitted by GrampyDoc on

I agree with most of what has been said - I have never needed to lock my bags - always carried valuables with me - however now with the carry-on travel ban on electronics with specific airlines -- what do you suggest? I work and will need laptop and iPad at my destination. All ideas welcomed - what are others doing?

Submitted by Adel Hameed on

Great work keeping us safe. However, again out of respect to me as a passenger, I wish that my suitcase would be locked back again. I trust that no one would tamper with my stuff in the US, but what about if I'm on a transit to another country? Thank you and God bless you all.

Submitted by Lee Ford on

At least he tried to implement a safety plan.He was the president not HR dept in charge of hiring. Blame the man for everything
He was a great leader. Bush ugh!

Submitted by Gary on

Seems that using TSA locks is a waste of time as they just keep cutting them off. This is a concern as it leaves your luggage unprotected and if they are not taking something out, how do we know they are not putting something in?

Is there any solution to this issue?

Submitted by Travelgal on

Hi. If the conveyor belt pulls an average of 244 locks off bags each month, why not inspect and adjust/repair the belt? Having read all the comments about stolen items from luggage, I feel sad and disgusted. TSA know where the CCTV cameras are so what good would that do? What a crappy world we live in.

Submitted by Anon on

I would like to say I generally travel pretty light, with one medium sized suitcase, and have never had a problem. I also never bother locking or zip tying my suitcase.
In defense of the TSA, just think of how many hundreds of thousands of pieces of luggage travel through any given airport on any given day. And the agents must do their job very quickly to avoid hindering the flights. Just sayin'.
And no I'm not a TSA employee, just a citizen like you.

Submitted by C Greenfield on

upon arrival home i found a TSA lock on my bag. I have never locked my bags. Now I am looking for bolt cutters unless there is a code to unlock that I don't know about:( There was also a small gold pad lock on my bags that is not mine. Wierd!!

Submitted by Bill on

Not an option for technicians who's ONLY option is to check tools and equipment. TSA cut my TSA APPROVED locks to gain access to my flight case. And in my associate's case CUT THE LOCKS AND did not even relatch the case. His tools ended up all over the conveyor.

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA locks don’t mean a thing to them. i purchased 4 new TSA approved locks a day before my trip. 3 of 4 locks vanished after the baggage was searched. No need for them to “safely remove” a lock when they can just cut them off and not be responsible for it, or blame it on a conveyor belt. I’m all about passenger safety, but have some integrity and stop with the laziness.

Submitted by Elizabeth Hall ... on

What if the TSA removes items from my luggage while inspecting it and then fails to replace the items? This is seriously not cool. Please hire more competent people because although the missing items are not very valuable and I’m giving your workers the benefit of the doubt that they don’t steal, it’s vital that they replace all items that are removed during inspection.