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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

My beautiful quilted leather jacket was cut open on the sleeve - really NY TSA??? Ridiculous! $400 jacket is ruined!!

Submitted by Ann on

While leaving Hilo Hawaii airport I was told that the new policy was all food ex chips candy cookies had to be taken out of the carry on bags. Is this a new policy also kindle.

Submitted by Ann on

While leaving Hilo Hawaii airport I was told that the new policy was all food ex chips candy cookies had to be taken out of the carry on bags. Is this a new policy also kindle.

Submitted by Calan Smith on

I’m tired of the of the TSA stealing things out of my luggage. I fly ofen and things are stolen out of my suitcase 2-3 times a year. How can this be prevented?

Submitted by Lu Mahalo on

Someone mentioned having their go-pro stolen during an inspection by TSA. Another ripped that person for putting it in checked baggage.

In my case, after going thru TSA with my carryon bag, as we got to the door of the plane, some airline person started taking our carryon bags away from us saying they wouldn't fit the over head or on the floor. We didn't even have time to get valuables out of our carryon stuff...When we got our stuff after landing, several of us were missing cell phones.

Submitted by Lynne Wyatt on

I have no problem with TSA opening my bag or my TSA lock. What I do object to is them cutting the tab on the it can never be locked again! I have never had a TSA lock cut off but many times including recently, my zipper tab on one side has been cut off. So now I have 3 bags none of which has an intact pair of tabs!WHY do they do tgat! I am surprised at so many comments re cutting the TSA lock when my experience us they cut th e ( thinner) zipper tab.

Submitted by Carni on

I have a trip planned for Florida this spring with three friends and I purchased a locking luggage set to protect the souvenirs I intend to bring back as this is a trip that's been many years in the making. I put a lot of time and money into making this dream a reality for all of us and I want to protect the memorabilia I bring back with me. In short, my question is: If I put the bag through checked luggage unlocked, would they be so kind as to lock it once it clears? I'd rather not use zip ties as they are a hassle to undo without scissors.

Submitted by Chanell on

There are none. I once tried to travel with an empty bag over the holidays that easily folded into a small space. However, they would not allow me to take the flat bag on board, and I had to check it along with thins that did not fit in my pocket. It was a camera and a notebook. SURPRISE the notebook made it, but the camera did not.

Submitted by Freddy on

Forget it. Today TSA chisel-opened my TSA-approved TSA007 combination lock to inspect the luggage. And the ruined my suitcase built-in lock TSA-approved, too. Abusive.

Submitted by TSA Cut "TSA Ap... on

TSA cut an approved lock. The ski tote depends on a lock to keep it closed. WTF?

Submitted by CB on

Nice site. I wish it were true. I can't remember how many TSA approved locks I've purchased only to pick up my bags at the other end and have them cut off. I have to take extra locks EVERY time I fly so that I have a lock to lock my bag on the other end. When flying internationally, especially in 3rd world countries, not having a lock on your bag will most likely mean loss of articles from your bags. When TSA cuts a TSA approved lock at the USA end, it means my bags are more likely to be opened at the other end. It's sad that TSA makes such a claim that they don't cut TSA approved locks when in reality they do it all the time. Thanks for nothing. I know it is TSA because there is always a note in my bag indicating they opened it. They also make a mess out of my bag when they do it. I would much rather open my bag at the airport and show them what I have. They are extremely inconsiderate.

Submitted by CB on

But what about when TSA cuts the so-called TSA approved locks? I purposely bought them only to find out they cut those too.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I’m deeply concerned that your officers are apparently so poorly trained that they can’t seem to open locks approved by your own agency. Today, an officer needed my wife’s assistance to open her carry-on bag even though the lock was not even set. He literally only had to use the pass key, or press the button. Would it help if I put a tag on the bag with instructions? Rest assured I will hold you legally responsible if your officers damage my bag when it uses a properly set lock approved by your own agency.

Submitted by Suzanne on

So are you assuming that the TSA Agent will find them while researching your bag?

Submitted by Raquel C on

My husband and I traveled twice this month and 3 times our TSA approved locks were missing. One was cut and 2 were missing. We have traveled every year for 20 years now and this is the first time that this happened and it's in the same month.

Submitted by Tom on

I have a 35 year old small suitcase. Small enough for carry on.
It has a built-in coded lock which has spinning numbers to set
a code if you wanted to lock it that way. Not removable in any way.
But can be set at "0" "0" "0" and remains unlocked.
Any problem using a bag like this?

Submitted by Anonymous on

What about when you break 2 x TSA approved locks on the same luggage for no apparent reason other than your staff cannot be bothered to use a master key?

Submitted by Mary on

Southwest from Fort Lauderdale to San Juan. I loved traveling thru southwest I have minimize my travel with them, they got third party contractors that handle baggage... first my luggage didn’t “fit “as carry on when I have always traveled with the same bag in many flights delta, aa, s.w. ..

Southwest employee took my luggage then I got to San Juan luggage wasn’t found until midnight I arrived earlier that day.. to get home and realized all my valuables authentic shoes, phone, computer, Rolex watch, LV shoes, Gucci and jimmy choo high end belongings were gone. Half of my luggage disappeared they have the do this often.. from that point I have feel jaw for southwest and their thief employees they do absolutely nothing..

I have to fly with southwest again this week. And I’m very hesitant to even fly with them. I’m honestly having second thoughts.. I spread the word of how great they were and I brought most of my family to southwest and I brought plenty business to them.. now I believe they enrich themselves. I took that lost but people take pictures of every single item u put inside luggage.. this issues arises everyday. I honestly don’t think their is no need to open any luggage that only contains clothes, bags and shoes.

All excuses and the over power some tsa have. I have been humiliated in the past and treated with no respect.

I hate hate hate people that can’t be nice to travelers and educate them instead of thinking every person travels.. I saw someone that treated my grandma with heart conditions and my mom a patient of cancer with nasty attitude and it was their first time traveling.. be aware I was there, then I get back their own medicine and get nasty and they want to shift u up and intimidate u by threatening u with arrest.

If from the beginning I give respect to everyone, u will received respect back. Abuse abuse it’s what I see often.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Not only did TSA cut my lock they damaged my crate while cutting the lock off. I wrote in bold permanent marker my address and phone number on top of my crate. No missed calls or voicemails. I would have unlocked it for them. I guess their x ray machine was broken so they wanted to addrivate me by going though my stuff. I think they just want to piss me off. And I’m precheck. They way I see it they owe me a lock and a new crate. Wannabe cops....

Submitted by Anonymous on

After reading this blog, I just want to ask if anyone has had a positive experience that they can share so that the rest of us can benefit from it and use that experience to make other travelers aware of what they can do to minimize these aggravating and frustrating experiences.

Submitted by Angela Castro on

I understand safety and do not mind tsa checking the content of our bags, but that does not give anybody the right to mistreat our property. If I go through the trouble and expense of using a tsa preapproved lock, the lock should be replaced after inspection. My bag had neither the lock nor the inspection note in it. It’s already bad enough to feel treated like a criminal every time I travel by plane. Tsa should train its personnel to have better manners and better luggage handling.

Submitted by Rob on

Every time I fly with checked baggage, I use TSA-approved locks (with the logo), without fail; every single time I arrive at the destination, I get to my baggage and the lock is gone. No exceptions. I was told by various TSA agents this does not happen...I do not enjoy being lied to.

Submitted by Mvl on

Two bags with TSA approved locks from Honolulu to Lihue and both bags arrived without the locks. If you take them off, be professional enough to put them back on.

Submitted by Diane on

Ok. I realize this is probably a silly question, but, how do you get the zip tie off at the other end, since you can’t bring a pocket knife or scissors in your carry on?

Submitted by Anonymous on

No problem with TSA inspecting checked luggage but why can't they just toss the lock inside when they're done? If they're really using the master key to gain access, tossing the lock inside would take no extra time or effort at all.

Submitted by David Raab on

On a recent trip, TSA apparently forgot to relock my built-in TSA lock on an expensive piece of luggage. Now, the lock is permanently unlocked. How can i get TSA to re-lock my lock?

Submitted by Francisco on

The same happen with me, every time I come from vacation, they cut my padlock, why TSA get on Hold of me. Every padlock cost me 8 to 10 dlrs.

Submitted by Saki on

Are the people who open it suppose to put it back on? My lock was removed, I assumed to be searched. No notice notifying of an inspection, and the lock was not replaced? Waste of money on a nice lock and cable wire.

Submitted by Jan on

In 4 months, I have had 2 TSA approved locks removed/cut and not replaced and not put in my luggage. Only once did I find a form indicating my bag was searched. With all the complaints on this forum re lock abuse, why has this not been addressed by TSA?

Submitted by West Cooper on

For all those that have submitted comments indicating that you have had a lockcut, or missing when you picked it up after screening, please refer to the TSA Claims page. You can file claims, and communicate with TSA directly there.

For the record, TSA employees are supposed to attempt to use available baggage keys for TSA recognized locks. If there is an alarm in the bag, and the lock is not TSA recognized, or the locks are damaged and the keys will not work, TSA employees will work to gain entry to the bag through other means. As indicated in this article, if the TSOs are unable to gain entry using other methods, then some locks will be cut.

TSA Blog Team

Submitted by Anonymous on

ZIP TIES! GENIUS idea! I was thinking those metal twisty ties at grocery stores you use to close your produce bag but those might cut the handlers since the edges are very sharp and probably a liability for me to put something on my bag that can cut the people transporting it.

Submitted by Desi on

Use a small nail cutter, it works.

Submitted by Alan Patterson on

As a foreign traveller visiting several countries, it is impractical to read every article and guideline to be aware of all these possible security checks and the need to use a specific USA-approved lock. The lock that I have used for the past 8 years was cut and placed in our bag. In these cases, rather than the bag now being insecure for the remainder of the trip and vulnerable to tampering, I suggest that TSA introduces and uses a special TSA security tag which will re-secure the bag for its' onward journey.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I fly quite a bit. I put my CPAP in my checked luggage cause it's less hassle. I imagine what it looks like in an x-ray, and understand my luggage is searched every time. I have nothing to hide. I have never had a TSA lock be still locked on my luggage. I bought a hard case luggage with TSA latch style locks (no zippers) and my luggage has been relocated every time. I've even seen this letter I keep hearing about a couple times. Just advice to others dealing with what I was dealing with

Submitted by Frequent Flyer on

Just do what I do, pile all your nasty, dirty underwear right on top so they have to go through that before they can inspect anything. I'm a trusted traveler who paid the money to eliminate the hassles, but TSA still insists on acting like they are above the law. Based upon the personnel, i'm not sure these people are capable of holding any job, other than rent a cop.

Submitted by Anonymous on

NONE!!! Have you seen the news stories about these people being caught stealing?

Submitted by Nobody on

Almost correct. You can use TSA approved locks as well.

Submitted by Melody on

My luggage was recently lost by my airline during a transfer from Nepal to China to nyc. I HAVE an expensive suitcase with TSA lock on it AND when I filed the missing baggage paperwork I gave them my combination. Why then did they pry my lock open? It’s compllwteky busted and unuseable. This is a brand new suitcase. Who can I file a complaint against to get a replacement suitcase because this is outrageous. There was nothing in my bag but clothing, books and small amount of cosmetics

Submitted by RON on

When 2 belts come together like they show in the diagram, they are turning in opposite directions. One roller pulling the lock down, the other pushing it up. It's not as brutal as the diagram shows it. Also, if the locks don't look damaged, it could be that whatever they were attached to, is what was damaged. Some of them look like they were never properly closed.

Submitted by Sarah Tirosh on

Traveled january 3rd from Miami with a recognized TSA lock, they were to lazy or busy to look for the key and broke my zipper anyway. I have been waiting for 7 months no respons

Submitted by CJ on

And Bush before that. Or did you forget?

Submitted by Anonymous on

To Hi: And before Obama, who were they employed by?? Are you high?

Submitted by Rob on

It amazes me how they claim the two conveyors rip the locks off when the conveyors are moving in the same direction. Sounds like a convenient place to discard locks that were purposely removed then claim "oh, yeah, the conveyor must have pulled it off".

Submitted by Mimi on

Twice TSA has cut off my (I thought) approved lock. They are supppose to have a key. Why don’t they use it.

Submitted by Heather on

Used TSA locks, one was cut, the other not. I get that bags need to be searched, but I've had ziploc bags with shampoo left open. Books flipped up and left on edge , denting them. Bags that looked like rabid raccoons went on a rampage. It gets old.

Submitted by Another Violate... on

Another trip to the USA and another 2 TSA approved locks removed and not replaced on bag.... luggage has safety flaps to prevent the lock getting caught in baggage handling systems so it just comes down to plain old laziness and disrespect on the part of the TSA inspector... last time we travelled they slashed the soft bags with TSA locks and zip lock bags inside our luggage, again a blatant display of laziness and disrespect by the all powerful TSA inspector. You would do well to remember it is this memory tourists take with them rather than the nice things in your country.

Submitted by Doreen Young on

It does not matter if you have TSA lock or not. They cut your lock off and your money is wasted. Forget trying to get a new lock or 5 or 6 in my case. There is no one to answer questions or handle complaints. I have had items stolen from my bags as a frequent traveler and I choose to lock my bag. TSA just cuts off the locks when all they have to do is use their handy dandy special key and then relock the suitcase.

Submitted by Nichol Jones on

They robbed me ad well of my dead mother's items she had just passed away days before..Heartless😪

Submitted by Nichol Jones on

There was no note indicating TSA had opened my BAGGAGE...Just stolen jewelry and many non replicable item's of my mom's whom had just passed away...

Submitted by Nichol Jones on

Can you file a claime if items are stolen? Cause they kust didn't walk away themselves.Very hurt my mom had just passed away and i had many of her valuables in my suitcases...And the lockes were not cut and no note was left to indicate my bag had been gone through..Do to whom do i address this issue with???..The carrier blew me off.