Luggage Locks Now Rendered Nearly Useless

By Lee Bellinger / December 4, 2015

You already know that when you travel through an airport, you pretty much surrender any expectation of privacy. Your whole body will be scanned, as will any bags you’re carrying.

TSA agents can rifle through the contents of your luggage after it’s been checked, even if you’ve locked your suitcase. You probably knew that, too.

But at least by locking your luggage using a TSAapproved lock, you can keep other unknown and unauthorized persons from opening it at the airport, at your hotel, etc. After all, only TSA agents possess the master keys needed to open them. Right?

Not anymore. Earlier this year, templates for creating TSA master keys spread on the Internet after photos of the keys were posted by a careless journalist. Now anyone with a plastic material printer can download the instructions for producing TSA master keys and create a set of identical keys that can open virtually any suitcase.

You can try putting your own padlock on. That may work when you’re not checking luggage through an airport. But when TSA agents encounter padlocks, they just break through them using bolt cutters, which they are authorized to do.

A determined thief, too, could easily break through padlocks and luggage locks. But locks do at least deter casual opportunists and the overly curious.

Shipping Your Bags May Be More Secure Than Checking Them

If you want to be able to lock your luggage and avoid the possibility of TSA agents going through your personal possessions, then your best option may be to ship your bag(s) in advance of your flight. You can use UPS, FedEx, DHL, or even the Post Office. There are also specialty full-service luggage shipping services such as Luggage Forward (866-416-7447; and Luggage Free (800-361-6871;

Shipping a suitcase can be expensive, especially if it’s large and heavy. If you have to overnight ship your luggage, that can cost as much as your airfare. But you can reduce costs dramatically by shipping it at least two to three days ahead of your arrival. With some airlines now charging as much as $40 per bag for checked luggage, shipping a suitcase may be in the same ballpark.

Shipping your bags will save you time and hassle at the airport. It will also prevent TSA agents and airport thieves from going through them.

Property thefts remain a huge problem in airports. According to CNN (September 15, 2015), “A CNN analysis of passenger property loss claims filed with the TSA from 2010 to 2014 shows 30,621 claims of missing valuables, mostly packed in checked luggage.”

CNN also notes that TSA has had to fire more than 500 of its own officers for theft. TSA agents at airports across the country are regularly caught pilfering everything from cash to jewelry to electronic devices. (And many more, presumably, aren’t caught.)

Flyer beware!

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