TSA Approved Locks: What they do & How they work

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When traveling through any airport these days, it is important to consider using a TSA approved lock.

TSA Approved locks cut offThe TSA primarily enhances security in regards to air travel, and since September 11th this has included inspecting our luggage.

The TSA is also known to add aggravation to the checking in process and security screenings.

But, like it or not, they are not going away or changing.  Best to know what they do and how they treat our bags, especially our checked luggage.

In some situations, luggage needs to be physically searched by TSA after it has left its owner.

When this situation arises, if a luggage lock is not TSA approved, then it will be removed.

No TSA Lock –> Cut it off
If you do not have a TSA approved lock, your non-approved lock will be cut off and disposed of.

TSA officers hold special tools for opening TSA approved locks, which allows them to be placed back on the luggage and closed after inspection.

Therefore, it is important to consider only TSA approved locks when preparing for air travel.

How To Know If Your Travel Lock is TSA Approved

You’re shopping for an upcoming trip and considering the various locks on the market to put on your luggage in order to secure it.

But, how do you know if your travel lock is TSA approved?

When purchasing locks for air travel in the U.S. it is important to look for one of two specific red logos.

TSA approved Locks Go_Travel Lock TSA approved lock Sentry lock_green

These locks are available from two makers, Safe Skies and Travel Sentry and are available from many distributors on Amazon such as Master Lock and others.

Best TSA Approved Locks

The best TSA approved lock is the one where the key is not lost, the combination is remembered and it treated well by TSA officials.

Some have buttons for a quick reset while others have a flexible cabling.

Flexible Cable
If purchasing one with a flexible cable, make sure it is coated with something like a plastic liner to prevent fraying.  Similar to the Master Lock, below.
Personally, we recommend a TSA combination luggage lock over those with small little keys that are easy to loose.

There are also TSA luggage lock straps as well for additional security for larger suitcases.


TSA Baggage Checking Process

The Electronic Baggage Screening Program was developed by TSA under a mandate by congress in an effort to conduct electronic screening of all checked baggage for explosives.

This means that all checked baggage in U.S. airports goes through an electronic screening process.

Additionally, TSA reserves the right to access luggage away from the passenger prior to air travel.

Not all bags are physically examined by a TSA officer, though TSA does maintain the right to do so.

What happens if your bag is chosen for the additional search?

First, a TSA officer will need to unlock your travel lock.

Or at least find a way to get inside your luggage to inspect it.

If you do not have a TSA approved lock, your non-approved lock will be cut off and disposed of.

However, if your lock is TSA approved, then it will simply be unlocked and replaced after the search. A TSA officer will physically search your bag for prohibited items, and should include an official TSA note letting you know that your bag was chosen for the search process. With a TSA approved lock, you should experience very little inconvenience with the additional search of your luggage.

Travel Hack: Use Zip Ties
Zip Ties can be use to prevent your luggage from being opened unintentionally.

If TSA needs to search, the zip ties are easily broken and cost PENNIES.

Add an additional one on BACKWARDS (you can undo a zip tie that’s put on backwards) to your zipper and maybe the TSA inspector will lock up your luggage back for you.

Lock Types

TSA approved locks come in several different styles with the main two being:

  • Key Locks
  • Combonation Locks

Yet, which type of TSA approved lock should you choose?

Key locks are notorious for the classic lock and key design.

The upside to this type of lock is the simplicity entailed. However, keys to the locks can be easily lost, particularly during travel. If the key is lost, removing this type of lock essentially comes down to cutting the lock (unless you have a TSA officer as a friend).

Combination locks that are TSA approved are increasing in popularity, as they remove the possibility of losing a key.

However, with a combination lock comes the necessity to remember a combination. A positive part of combination locks is that they are resettable, once not in the locked position.

International Flights

Are TSA approved luggage locks necessary for international flights?

The simple answer is no.

Since the TSA is an entity of the United States of America, these approved locks are not widely accepted around the World.

Therefore, if you are traveling through another country, and their security personnel have the need to examine the inside of your luggage when you are not present, they will have to cut your lock.

The good (or bad) news is that many countries do not uphold the same security guidelines as the U.S., meaning that it is not as often required for luggage to be searched by airport personnel.

Why is my TSA lock missing from my suitcase?

You get your luggage back and, oh great, your lock is missing.

But, why would your lock be missing for your suitcase?

If you are traveling and you placed a TSA approved lock on your luggage that goes missing, there could be a few reasons why this has occurred.

As discussed above, if you traveling internationally, there is a chance that your TSA approved locks would have to be removed by airport security personnel in another country.

Domestically, if TSA tries to open your approved lock and it malfunctions by jamming, then they would have to cut your lock off, through no fault of your own.

Lastly, it is apparently incredibly common for locks to get stuck on conveyor belts when going through the electronic screening process.

TSA Luggage Locks lost when checking baggage

As shown at the beginning of the post, the TSA reports that up to hundreds of locks get jammed in conveyor belts each month in airports across the nation.

If this happens to your luggage lock then you can say good-bye, because it will be heading straight to the TSA lock graveyard. Even when you do everything right, there is still a chance that your lock might go bye-bye.

Locks are helpful in many situations for security reasons and many brands of luggage are only securely closed when using a lock on the zippers.

So do not overlook this important travel accessory when preparing for your trip by air.

Locks can prevent some stress from already stressful travel, and choosing the best TSA approved locks increase the chance of keeping in in your life, and the belongings in your suitcase, for the long haul.


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