Whether to lock your checked luggage or not when flying, internationally or otherwise, is certainly a subject for debate. I never used to bother and never had a problem but I have heard of people that have had things stolen so now I always lock my bags.
A TSA study estimates that between 2010 and 2014 more than $2.4 million worth of items were stolen from bags in US airports alone. Of these, they believe 25% happened in the baggage reclaim areas.
The Quick Answer: Locking a bag does make it harder for an opportunist thief. Thieves want to get in and out quickly, without drawing attention to themselves, so anything you can do to make that more difficult for them will make your luggage less likely to be broken into.
The truth is, even if you lock your bag, if a determined thief wants to break into it then they will probably manage it as there is normally a weak spot in any bags (zips, hinges etc) as well as the locks themselves.
What type of lock can I use?
You can use any type of lock to secure your checked bags. It can be a keyed padlock, a combination lock or you can use the lock actually built-in to your suitcase latches, if they are fitted.
However, if a security agent needs to check the contents of your bag after it has left you then they will have to cut your lock off, or break the built-in lock, to gain access, destroying the lock obviously.
The answer is to fit a TSA-approved luggage lock.
What are TSA approved luggage locks?
TSA approved luggage locks are generally combination locks, although sometimes they operate with a key. What makes them TSA approved is that a TSA security agent can use a master key to open the lock without breaking it should they need access to carry out an inspection.
This means the bag is secure from opportunist thieves as they will not have a master key.
Why use a TSA approved lock?
Using one of these will make life easier should your bag need to be inspected after it leaves you at check-in. Your flight is less likely to be delayed if the security agent has quick access to your bag rather than having to physically break in.
Also, it could save you the cost of buying a replacement if they did have to break in.
This is the TSA’s article on why you should use a TSA lock.
Are TSA luggage locks mandatory?
Not at all. Firstly, you have the option of not locking your baggage at all.
As stated above, you can use a non-TSA approved lock but you do run the risk of it being cut off by a security agent if they need to check the contents of your checked bag.
Can I lock my luggage on international flight?
Yes, you can lock your luggage when flying to or from any country on an international flight.
It should be remembered though that the lock may be broken off by the security agent if they need to inspect the bag.
Can you use TSA locks on international flights?
What if the country I am flying to doesn’t have TSA keys?
If this is the case then the lock will be treated as any other lock and will be cut off should the need arise to inspect the bag.
Many countries now have TSA master keys and the list grows weekly. The list includes Canada, most of Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, UAE, China, South Korea etc.
Which are the best TSA approved baggage locks?
There are quite a few to choose from so I would suggest you consider the following three types. The first of these I use and the other two are highly rated on Amazon.
1. Sure Lock TSA Compatible Travel Luggage Locks
I have been using a few of these for a while and they are easy to fit as they have flexible steel cables rather than a solid steel “shackle”, which can be awkward at times.
The dials are easy to see and set to your preferred code as well as being easy to open.
They also incorporate an inspection indicator so you know if the TSA has opened them to check your bags.
Also the TSA agent has to relock in order to remove their master key so your luggage remains secure after inspection.
The Sure Lock luggage locks are available in packs of 1 to 8 from Amazon.
2. Forge Key Operated TSA Approved Luggage Locks
If you don’t trust yourself to remember a code then these are ideal. Of course, they are not so good for those that tend to lose keys!
When you buy multiple packs all the locks can be opened with just one key, so you don’t need to take one for each lock with you or spend ages trying different keys to find the correct one for the lock.
TSA agents have to relock the padlock in order to remove their master key if they do an inspection so your luggage remains secure afterwards.
The locks use a dimple system rather than a standard tumbler system so they are far more secure.
The Forge locks are available in packs of up to eight from Amazon.
3. TravelMore Straight Barrel TSA Approved Luggage Locks
These are a rather unique design as the cable completely comes away from the barrel when unlocked allowing the cable to be pushed through the zipper tags and then clipped back into the barrel.
They are key-operated locks and multiple packs all use the same key. They are made from high-strength Zinc alloy and come with a lifetime warranty.
The TravelMore locks are available in packs of 1, 2 or 4 from Amazon.
How to open a TSA luggage lock without the key
If you forget your combination can you still open the lock? This video may help:
Other air travel articles
What items are not allowed in hand luggage
Can you take an umbrella on a plane?
I have been traveling around the world by air since the early 70s and living overseas too. I worked for British Airways for a number of years and I am also a private pilot. About Me