Locking your luggage is a great deterrent to would-be thieves, but if you’re travelling to the USA or Canada, you’ll need to use a special type of lock to secure your bag – otherwise the TSA or CATSA can and will cut it off or even break open your checked baggage if it needs to be examined.
You won’t be paged or given the chance to hand over your key or combination: you’ll only find out at the other end, so here’s what you need to know to keep your bag in one piece, even if it’s selected for a closer inspection.
TSA-friendly locks: Travel Sentry, Safe Skies
Specially-designed padlocks and built-in luggage locking mechanisms allow travellers to secure their possessions while also permitting the TSA to open the bag – these are known as Travel Sentry and Safe Skies locks.
In short, passengers with these locks can still set their own combinations and/or use their own keys, yet the TSA (USA) and CATSA (Canada) retain a set of master keys at every airport and can use these to unlock the bag rather than cutting off the padlock or destroying the locking mechanism.
When shopping for luggage or even just a set of locks, look for the red diamond (Travel Sentry)…
… or the red torch (Safe Skies):
These symbols are easily recognised by TSA agents and highlight that the bag or lock can be opened easily and without damage.
If you’re concerned about belongings disappearing from your bag, some manufacturers also include a ‘TSA indicator’ on the lock – usually a square that changes colour when a bag has been opened using a TSA key, which can only be reset when a passenger opens their bag in the usual way.
Update: This article previously referred to 'Safe Skies' as 'Friendly Skies' in error. The correct company name is 'Safe Skies'.
Using older luggage with non-TSA locks
You’ll find TSA-compatible locks on most new luggage, although many older bags aren’t equipped with the technology – nor are most of the cheaper, generic models of luggage.
To see whether your bag is TSA-friendly, look for that red diamond or torch on the lock. In this example, the bag’s locking mechanism doesn’t belong to either Travel Sentry or Safe Skies, and risks being broken open by security staff if an inspection is required:
Rather than buying a completely new bag, just avoid using the built-in lock when travelling to North America and loop a TSA-compliant padlock through the zipper:
Your bag will still be locked, and while the solution isn’t perfect, a $20 padlock sure beats a spending hundreds of dollars to replace an otherwise-fine suitcase, or worse, a broken bag waiting for you on the baggage carousel.
Also read: What does 'SSSS' on your boarding pass mean?
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