You are looking forward to the epic trip you’ve been planning for months now. When all is packed, zipped, and prepared, you find yourself thinking: “Should I lock my luggage when flying? Or is it better to leave it unlocked to go through security without a delay?”
Our answer is simple and definite: always lock your baggage when flying.
There are many reasons why you should be as in control of your luggage as possible. But before listing them up and sharing with you the best way to do it, you need to understand what your luggage goes through as you start rolling it inside the airport.
What Happens to Your Checked Luggage at the Airport
Many feel a tingling sensation of fear when their luggage makes its way in the conveyor belt behind the counter. That is not an easy goodbye because you don’t know what happens to your baggage when it gets out of your sight.
Well, here is a quick recap of the journey of luggage. When your luggage goes behind that small door, it goes through a screening machine. Your bag is scanned and screened for explosives and other banned items. If all is clear, your luggage is ready to board on the plane.
If there is any doubt about the bag’s content, the TSA might physically inspect it until they are sure it isn’t dangerous. The TSA agents will also inspect your luggage if it is too big and doesn’t fit the screening machine.
Are you following us? Great! Now here is where things get interesting.
In some cases, TSA offers will have to open the bags. If the bag isn’t locked, no problem. But if the bag is locked and the agent can’t open it through their TSA master key, they will cut the lock. This will destroy your lock and could potentially damage your bag or other belongings. The TSA is not liable for any damage they cause when opening the bag for security reasons.
On the one hand, you might ask yourself: “Should I lock my luggage even though the TSA might open it later on, on the risk of damaging my suitcase/bag?” The answer is still yes.
Here are some of the reasons why you should lock your luggage with a TSA lock.
5.) Your Luggage Could Be Mishandled
When you arrive at your destination, you are just thinking about winding down in your hotel and starting your dream vacation. In some unfortunate cases, you may not have this luxury.
Many travelers are confronted with the harsh reality of an item missing from their checked luggage. Think that’s far-fetched? Unfortunately, it is not. The TSA raked up 30,621 claims of missing valuables from 2010 to 2014, leading to a total property loss of $2.5 million.
The TSA sent “bait bags” through airport security to figure out the reason and caught workers stealing from the luggage. While the TSA has been making improvements since then and keeping a close eye on the employees, the risk is still present.
On another note, your bag is also at risk when it is going around the conveyor belt at your arrival destination. Almost any other passenger could catch your bag first, open it, and take anything they want without anyone batting an eye.
Keep your valuables and souvenirs safe from sticky fingers by locking your checked baggage up.
4.) You Are More in Control of Your Luggage
We have all heard of some cases of airport drug smuggling trials where the accused maintained that the illicit products were planted in their baggage without their knowledge. Since then, security concerns have been rising significantly, and for a good reason.
You don’t want anyone tampering with your luggage, especially in a crowded airport.
You should keep your luggage with you at all times. However, between the rush of looking for your terminal and asking people for directions in an unfamiliar airport, things can get messy. You are at a higher risk of taking your eyes off your luggage, even for a few seconds.
For an extra security measure, and to make sure no one has access to your luggage other than you and the TSA agents, always have your bags zipped and locked.
3.) You Need a Lock for Travel Insurance
You have been looking high and low for the best travel insurance that will protect you and your belongings and you have been screening each offer carefully.
Our advice is to always check the fine print. In the unfortunate event of having your items stolen or mishandled, having a lock on your luggage can make all the difference between the travel insurance accepting your claim and refusing it.
Many insurers want to know that you took enough precautions to protect your suitcase. The type of protection is different from one insurance company to another. Some might accept claims for damage if the suitcase itself is lockable but reject claims if only a small padlock was in place.
Always ask first to make sure you’re choosing the right lock protection for your baggage.
2.) You Can Use It as Extra Security in Your Hotel
Your travel security worries don’t end when you step out of the airport. One of the many travel nightmares is having their items stolen right inside their hotel or hostel room.
If you are staying in a hotel and don’t have a safe, you can’t protect your valuables. Think of the money, jewelry, electronics, and fancy clothes you bring on vacation or business trips. You are running the risk of having a housekeeper rummage through your stuff and possibly take something out.
On the other hand, locking your valuables in your suitcase will significantly decrease the risk of having your items stolen.
If you are staying in a hostel in a shared room, the urgency of keeping your bags and items safe increases. As almost all hostels provide their clients with a locker, you can hide your valuables, bag, or suitcase there and lock it up with your luggage lock.
1.) You Won’t Find Many Good Alternatives
If you think about it, there are only a few ways to try and make your luggage as theft-proof as possible, and many of them have their own shortages.
Wrapping Your Luggage in Plastic Foil
Wrapping your luggage in plastic foil can prevent liquids to spill on it, be it rain or leaking liquids from other bags. However, it does not help with keeping your baggage secure. It could have the opposite effect and signal to everyone from a great distance that you may be hiding something of value in there.
Tearing the foil open is as easy as it could be and wouldn’t make a difference to a mildly determined thief.
Cable ties are a low-cost alternative to locks and a much lesser secure one too. They are cheap, disposable, and easy to use. And if you are a forgetful person, you won’t have to worry about your keys and lock code anymore.
Unfortunately, they are also extremely easy to get rid of. A simple nail clipper can do the trick. You might not even know they were tampered with since they can be unzipped and reattached using a nail file.
Now that you know how locking your luggage can make the difference between an epic and a stressful vacation, you need to know which locks to choose.
TSA-Approved Locks: Your Go-To Choice to Protect Your Luggage
As we have mentioned above, the TSA is allowed to employ any mean to verify the contents of a bag or suitcase, including breaking the lock.
To get past this inconvenience, lock manufacturers and the TSA worked together to create the TSA LOCK technology. These TSA-approved locks can be opened by a master key. This key is available in all American airports and many other countries (like Canada, some European countries, and South Korea).
To know if your lock is TSA-approved, look for the red Diamond, the Travel Sentry Approved mark.
Here are some of the types of luggage locks you can find:
- Cable locks
- Card locks
- Combination locks
- Key locks
Each one of them suits different needs better, so check out our best TSA-approved locks review to discover which lock is the best for you.
Additional Security Precautions
You have asked: “Should I lock my luggage?” and the answer was a big yes. Is it enough to ensure your baggage is 100% safe? In this case, the answer is unfortunately no.
While a casual thief can be put off by a lock, a determined thief will go the extra mile to get their hands on whatever they set their mind to. So here are a few more tips to strengthen your luggage security.
Choose Hard-Shelled Luggage
We have been weighing in both ways in the hardside vs. softside luggage debate, and we have come up with different conclusions, depending on the priorities of the traveler.
In the matter of security and protection of valuables, the hardside bags and suitcases win the case. They can’t be slashed open that easily.
Keep Your Valuables in Your Carry-On
Seeing how airlines mishandle and lose the checked luggage, it only makes sense to pack your valuables in your carry-on instead.
Here are some of the essentials to keep in your carry-on luggage: jewelry, cash, credit cards, important documents, and prescription medicine.
Our security travel motto is “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” If you are still asking yourself “What is travel insurance and is it really that important?” let us answer you right here and assure you that every traveler needs insurance.
There are many flexible travel insurance plans available. Some of them offer good compensation for mishandled or lost luggage. Last year alone, airlines had lost or mishandled about 21.8 million bags, so good luck with your customer complaint.
Having insurance can help you get compensation if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. Ask about your options and the conditions thoroughly.
Don’t Pack Anything Prohibited or Restricted
More often than not, your luggage will go through security screening without a hiccup if your luggage looks clean. If it looks suspicious, the TSA agents will physically check it immediately.
To ensure your luggage is compliant with the TSA’s guidelines, here is a list of prohibited items you can’t pack in your baggage:
- Club-type sporting goods
- Dry ice
- Explosive and incendiary materials
- Firearms and ammunition
- Flammable items
- Gasses and pressure containers
- Knives and cutting instruments
- Magnetic materials
- Paintball guns
- Power tools and large hand tools
Now you’re ready to travel the world and stay safe along the way!
For more information about TSA-approved locks and the best options on the market, read our next article.