TSA locks are a great compromise between personal security and national security. They allow travelers to maintain some level of control over who gets into their luggage and protect their valuables, while affording TSA officers the ability to open bags if they need to do so. However, it’s not uncommon to forget the combination to a lock. Not to worry – it’s still possible to get in if you know how. Here’s how to deal with a lock combo you can't remember and reset a TSA lock if you forgot the correct combination. There’s no easy reset button and you don’t want to resort to lock picking with a paperclip, so here’s how a tutorial for how to make a new code if needed.

What is a TSA lock?

Simply put, a TSA lock is a master lock to which the TSA has a master key. That way, airport security agents can open the bag and see what’s inside. If TSA can screen bags using x-ray equipment, though, what is the purpose of a TSA lock? Sometimes a TSA agent does need to open a suitcase, perhaps because the suitcase seems to weigh too much or because something looks suspicious on the scanner. When that happens, if the suitcase is unlocked, the agent opens it and leaves the owner a “Notice of Baggage Inspection” inside the bag.

If the suitcase is locked with a combination lock or luggage lock, a problem arises. The agent either has to cut the lock or, in some cases, cut the bag itself. To avoid this potential damage, use a TSA approved lock.

How to Change a TSA Lock Code

If you've forgotten your TSA lock combination, a maker of TSA-approved locks, Travel Sentry, suggests trying every possible combination, beginning with 000 and ending with 999 (000, 001, 002 through 999). This sounds long and tedious, but Travel Sentry states that only 30 minutes is required, especially if one of the numbers is already known, or the first number is a 0, 1 or 2.

According to Samsonite and Tosca, built-in TSA compliant locks require a call to the company for reset instructions.

Some travelers have had luck with the following process for finding a lost combination:

  • Push the button or pull on the lock, to put pressure on the locking mechanism.
  • Turn the first dial slowly, listening until there is an audible click. That should be the correct number.
  • Leaving the first dial on the number that clicked, repeat the process with the other two dials.
  • When all three numbers have clicked, the lock should open.

If the lock is unlocked at the time the combination is forgotten, it's much simpler. Just reset the combination:

  • If it's the first time setting it, align all the numbers to 0, which is the factory setting. Otherwise, put in your current combination.
  • Once the combination clicks, open the shackle and turn it to a 90-degree angle. Firmly press the shackle down.
  • While continuing to firmly hold down the shackle, set the new combination by aligning the new numbers with the red line.
  • Once the new combination is in position, release the shackle, firmly pull it up, then rotate it and push it down in the lock position. It should not lock since you've just set it to a new combination.
  • Turn one number while the shackle is in the lock position, which will lock it. Then put in the new combination to test it and see if the lock opens.

Once the combination is reset, email it to yourself to avoid forgetting it in the future.

Other Considerations

Having a TSA agent peek into your luggage is not the only reason a lock might go missing, If a bag arrives missing a lock but there's no notice from TSA inside, don’t automatically assume it was rifled by thieves: sometimes airport conveyor belts rip the locks off of suitcases.

As to the likelihood that the TSA agents will use their master keys to open the suitcase before it makes it onto the plane? It’s not very high. In fact, only an estimated 4 percent of bags pass through the hands of agents each year – the rest are screened by machines that give them the all-clear.