Locking luggage protects the belongings, keeps bags closed securely and gives travelers peace of mind. Since the onset of baggage screening at airports, many travelers believe that they are not permitted to lock checked bags. Although it is allowed to lock the bags, passengers need to be aware of the regulations enforced by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Knowing these regulations and procedures can make travel safe and hassle-free.

General Information

When traveling in the United States, the TSA sets guidelines for baggage for the safety of all travelers. All checked bags are screened through electronic screeners, and if the TSA inspectors determine that a bag needs to be physically inspected, they will open the bag. If the bag is locked, the TSA inspector is permitted to break the lock to check the luggage, and a notice is placed inside the luggage to inform of the inspection. Luggage manufacturers make approved locks that TSA screeners can open that simplify the process. Alternatively, it is possible to secure the bags with plastic cables or zip-ties. TSA officials can snip the wires or zip-ties for access to the luggage, but these ties are easier to replace than a lock.

Approved Locks

TSA-approved locks bear either the "Travel Sentry" or "Safe Skies" logo, which is recognized by TSA screeners in the United States. These locks, sold by luggage companies and retail stores, come in a variety of colors, patterns and styles that make it easier to identify the bags at baggage claim. Combination locks have a master key lock. TSA officials have master keys that allow them access to the luggage, eliminating the need to break the lock. If the lock is broken by the TSA screener, Safe Skies and Travel Sentry will replace the lock at no cost. Both companies also manufacture luggage straps that can be used to prevent luggage from accidentally opening, which also have combination locks with a master key lock. Another alternative is either soft or hard-sided luggage with a TSA-approved lock.

Firearms and Ammunition

Passengers are permitted to carry firearms in checked baggage only; the firearms must be unloaded and secured in a locked hard-sided case, and passengers must declare the guns at check-in. A TSA official will inspect the case at the ticket counter, re-lock the case and return the key to the passenger. Ammunition must be packed in cardboard, wood or metal boxes specifically designed to carry ammo, and may be packed in the same container used to carry the firearms. No black powder or percussion caps are permitted on an airplane.

Baggage Tips

The airlines and TSA recommend that travelers place name, address and phone number both inside and outside the luggage. The use of colorful tags, locks or ribbons makes identification of bags easier at baggage claim as many bags look alike. Hard-sided luggage provides more protection for the belongings. Airlines also recommend to not pack specific items in checked baggage, such as valuables, cash, credit cards, jewelry and cameras. Carry critical items such as passports, important papers, keys and medications, and avoid packing fragile or irreplaceable items in the checked bags.