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To lock or not to lock?

My first trip abroad was to London and my checked luggage and contents arrived just fine without being locked. Next trip was to Canada and I used a TSA-approved lock, again everything was fine. Last year I went to Tallinn and used the lock, didn't realize until I went to open suitcase that the entire lock was gone, along with the zipper pull and mechanism, and the teeth were too damaged to fix. I had to buy a new suitcase to return home with. I'll be traveling again this summer and will bring my locks to secure luggage in room and on the train, but I can't see using a TSA lock if they're going to rip it off and ruin a good suitcase. Anyone have any similar experiences? And no, just taking a carry-on is not an option for me.

Posted by
8985 posts

Even though I travel light and carry just one bag, I most always check by bag for flights. In all my travels I've never placed a lock on my bag as I don't put anything of value inside it. If someone steals my $40 electric razor I'll get over it very quickly:) But even with a lock it's quite easy open any zip-based bag, a ball point pen jabbed in the middle of the zip will open it up in seconds.

Posted by
833 posts

TSA-locks are a standard for the US, but are not an international standard. Therefore, if they want to open your bag in other countries they may not have the TSA-lock key. What some have suggested on this board (I haven't used this method but think it sounds smart) is to use a plastic zip-tie. If they want to cut it off, it's not difficult - but hopefully will not mess up your zipper like happened last time. Just make sure to have a small pair of scissors or something similar in the outside pocket of your bag in order to cut the zip-tie.

Posted by
4697 posts

the entire lock was gone, along with the zipper pull and mechanism

That is why I don't bother with a lock anymore. I've seen too many stories from travelers who had their bag damaged when security somewhere along the way cut the lock off.

I now just use a twist tie (like the ones you get at the grocery store) to keep the zipper closed. It keeps the zipper from accidentally opening.

Posted by
5786 posts

Just wondering if the damage was caused by the airport luggage conveyor system snagging the lock and zipper pull. I've had a ski bag torn open at one end with a possible culprit the stap that snugged the bag end getting snagged. Bag arrived duct taped close.

Did your bag have a security agency inspection card advising you of the inspection?

Posted by
2081 posts

christa,

I dont lock my luggage. Noting worth stealing except for the bag itself and if i take my riding clothes, the riding breeches are worth more than my bag, but most non horsey people wont know that.

I had a ID tag on it and it got ripped off somewhere last year. No biggie though since i just bought another one at the next train station.

happy trails.

Posted by
9363 posts

I check a bag and don't use locks. I use nylon wire ties, the kind where one end slips through the other and you pull it tight. It does require cutting off at the other end, but I keep a small pair of nail scissors deep in an outside pocket for that purpose, along with a small supply of wire tires. I have had my bag searched before, and they replaced the wire tie with a sturdier one. They are easier to cut off without causing damage to the bag.

Posted by
4535 posts

I use a lock, in large part because I can then lock my bag sitting in the hotel room during the day. And I put my valuable electronic items in it. That's not meant to make it 100% secure, just to avoid roaming eyes and quick hands from someone walking down the hall while the cleaning staff have all the doors propped open. The same thing for airport (non security) staff; if they want to get in to steal, they will. But no reason to make it easy for them.

I too assumed reading your post that the damage was caused by the luggage conveying system, not an out-of-control screener. They can easily just cut the lock, they don't need to rip it all apart - which would actually take far more effort on their part.

Posted by
2320 posts

Thanks everyone! In retrospect, I'm sure it was the luggage conveyor system somewhere along the way, since there was no inspection card inside. I didn't know that the TSA lock opener tool wasn't a worldwide standard. I do like the suggestion of wire or zip ties for the flight to keep the zipper closed, and I never put anything I couldn't bear to lose in my checked bag.

Posted by
4697 posts

Christa, you mention that your issue happened going to Tallinn I suspect you connected somewhere. While TSA in the U.S. puts a note in your bag, your bag can also be inspected at a European airport. For example, note that the Frankfurt Airport requests that you not lock checked bags
http://www.frankfurt-airport.com/content/frankfurt_airport/en/checkin_luggage/checks.html
Of course, they don't say what they do if the bag is locked and they want to inspect it.
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I do bring a lock with me to use in the hotel and on trains. However, I use the twist tie when checking for a flight.

Posted by
2914 posts

I, also, do not lock my bag in transit. I use large safety pins; i.e., diaper pins or quilter's pins to secure the zippers. These pins also allow the person inspecting the bag to secure it again after the inspection. I'd worry about loose zippers if the plastic ties of others were cut for inspection. I bring a lock incase I want to lock it when not in transit. I've never had an issue. I try to fly BA and they leave a pleasant little note if they go into my bag…apparently canned cranberry jelly makes them open my bag! LOL

Posted by
9363 posts

@Wray, if they cut the ties off to inspect, they replace them.

Posted by
21724 posts

My experience is the same as Nancy. The couple of times the bag was inspected - when bringing wine home - the tie was cut off and replaced with another one. My main reason for the plastic tie is to keep the bag closed and to prevent a quick look by someone else. A twisty tie probably would do the same but have always used the plastic ties. Also pack several combo locks to use on the luggage in hotel rooms, trains or anytime we are moving other than a plane.
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The ball point pen approach can be somewhat discouraged by immobilizing all the zipper pulls. The ball point pen can split the zipper open but it cannot be closed if the pull cannot be moved over the opened zipper to close it again. So if someone pops the zipper, it cannot be hidden if the pulls do not move.
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I think the TSA lock is another marketing gimmick to sell an unneeded product. Since it has to be a very common key to open the lock, I assume that just about everyone has access to a key - TSA agent or not. And, obviously as you found out, TSA is only an US agency and not world wide.

Posted by
2320 posts

Laura hit the nail on the head--I did connect through Frankfurt for Tallinn. I had scissors and a large corkscrew/ bottle opener inside, perhaps the metal was interesting to them.

Posted by
1068 posts

I use the disposible "Flight Locks"....sold by RS and others. Any bag is easy to get into...for example, soft sided luggage can just be cut open, or as mentioned above, the zipper can be popped. The "Flight Locks" have a unique number on each....but at least they will let you know the bag was opened. If snagged, the flight locks are unlikely to rip the zipper off as they are meant to break easily. They have been removed several times by inspectors and have always been replaced by nylon ties.

Posted by
11613 posts

I have a lock but always forget to put it on the suitcase. Haven't had a problem yet, even when I had to check the bag (fluids inside on return flight).

Posted by
355 posts

I check my bag and I use a TSA locking luggage strap, like this one - http://www.magellans.com/tsa-locking-luggage-strap

If they need to cut it off, they can easily do so without damaging my suitcase. It also give me the added peace of mind that my suitcase won't somehow open and spew my clothing all over the luggage carousel, and I can more easily spot my bag on the carousel.

Posted by
1437 posts

"I do bring a lock with me to use in the hotel and on trains. However, I use the twist tie when checking for a flight."

I do exactly as Laura said, but I use the zip ties instead.

I went through Frankfurt last week-end and left my bag unlocked. I just lined up my extra wrap-around strap to cover where the closed zipper pulls sat.

Posted by
11 posts

I always locked my bag and luggage. I think it is essential for safety. I already lost many valuable things from my bag. So i have decided that i will never keep y bag unlocked.

Posted by
1760 posts

We use the green RS plastic flight locks for checked bags in transit and take TSA combo locks for train trips within Europe. We also have a bike lock to hook the suitcases together on the train if we are not able to keep them at our seats.

Posted by
124 posts

I don't lock my bag for the flight. The TSA lock isn't the answer, I agree with what was written above. Also in many countries if they want to see in the bag they will go through it even if it means cutting the lock. The only place I really use my lock is for the remaining travel time. Once I'm out of the airport my bags are locked all the time, even in my hotels.

Posted by
186 posts

I've had one lock cut and left hanging and another totally missing. Last time was Dulles to LAX spring 2013, I think the time before that was also domestic travel, I know both instances were on American. Both times I had love notes inside indicating that TSA had inspected the bag. We leave for Germany in two months and although we will most likely have the bags with us on the flight over, lock them when we are on trains, on the flight home (after we finish the 3 hour train ride to the airport) I guess it makes most sense to take the locks off.