TSA-Approved Locks Are No Bueno

July 26, 2009

in Luggage Stories

After a near-perfect vacation in Cancun, Mexico (early-2009), two friends and I boarded our Mexicana Airlines flight back to Texas. Our luggage contained our basic amenities and minor valuables including our phone and laptop chargers, shoes, and memorabilia purchased during our trip. For security purposes (as required by US law), each piece of luggage contained a TSA approved lock (which can only be inspected by TSA personnel who clearly identify that your luggage has been open if chosen for inspection).

Well, guess who else has the TSA-approved keys?!?!?! Your friendly-neighbor Mexicana Airlines or Cancun airport baggage handler!!!! While waiting for our luggage at baggage claim, we noticed other pieces of luggage with supermarket vegetable twisty wraps or paperclips for locks. Of course, when ours arrived, all TSA-approved locks had been removed and anything worth more than $10 (including every souvenir purchased in Cancun) had been stolen. Reporting our incident to Mexicana Airlines, they just laughed and said, “What do you expect when you fly from Mexico with a TSA (approved) lock??”

(Un) Fortunately, after several months of being tossed around in the claim’s department, Mexicana Airlines was kind enough to reimburse us for the lowest-available priced TSA-approved locks on the market even though we had actual receipts of a majority of the items lost (except for our Cancun souvenirs since cash registers are a rarity). Mexicana Airlines’ verdict was that we should have known better than to use TSA-approved locks when flying back into the US. For our estimated $300 loss, Mexicana Airlines reimbursed us $25 cash OR $40 for our next flight on Mexicana Airlines. Unequivocally, we elected the cash.

Lesson to be learned: 1) Fly to Cancun with TSA approved locks (as required by US law), but fly back to the US with paperclips as locks (when in Rome, do as the Romans do), 2) Carry-on anything worth more than $10, including shoes, makeup and garments that you don’t want to unwillingly donate.

Signed, A Born-Again Roman

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanie July 26, 2009 at 3:40 pm

One of these days, I'm sure *someone* will tell me why people pack valuables such as laptops, jewelry and medications in their luggage…


GottaLoveIt July 26, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Psst, david: when stuff gets stolen, it IS the airline's fault.


david July 26, 2009 at 10:45 pm

actually most of the time it ISN'T the airlines fault, it is TSA

s fault

the airlines staff only have it in their possesion when you check in when they place it on the belt, the second that it goes past the check in desks it is airport employees and TSA that handle your bags all the way to the carrasel where you pick it up, so technically if anything does get stolen it isnt the airlines fault.

and i wasnt saying that it was the airlines fault or not, i was saying people are stupid enough to put their medication in, and jewelry especially in an area known for theft


david July 26, 2009 at 11:46 pm

jeanie go to airlinecomplaints.org and you will see a whole bunch of people who complain about that their expensive jewelry was stolen, and that people have packed their medication and couldnt get to it due to a delay or some other reason, they do stupid stuff and than blaim the airline, yeah it sucks ass when its stolen but you shouldnt put medication in checked luggage and if your jewelry was expensive than keep it with you…..otherwise people would just say hey look i had a piccaso painting i want my money back n crap

it sucks but people do things

and its pretty known that in mexico aond many parts of south america that things tend to go “missing”


SAW July 27, 2009 at 3:39 am

Unfortunately, this person learned the wrong lesson. It has nothing to do with what locks to put on luggage when. What you should have learned about traveling outside the US is:

1) MAIL all important items to yourself at your destination hotel.

2) Don't buy souvenirs that are very fragile.

3) MAIL your souvenirs and valuables back home before you leave your vacation spot.

4) Don't pack anything valuable.

5) Don't fly foreign carriers. If you fly a US carrier, you have more clout fixing things once you're back home.

6) Assume anything in checked luggage can and will be stolen. Make sure you put in lots of dirty stinky underwear so that anyone cracking it open it has to at least suffer through that

7) Foreign baggage handlers don't have TSA keys, and will hire just about anyone off the street. They'll just cut the lock off and laugh at you.


CaptStevenM July 27, 2009 at 4:45 am

I don't know what laws you are reading, but TSA Approved locks are NOT required by US law. They just want you to use them so it easier for you to open them up because they all have the same combination. That's why I don't use TSA Approved locks. This is pretty much your fault. You packed valubles in your suitcase and used locks with a common combination.


DSD July 27, 2009 at 6:30 am

There is no law I know of that requires you to lock your luggage. In fact before the TSA locks, you WEREN'T alowed to lock your luggage or the TSA would cut your lock off. Somebody just got the brilliant idea to make locks and give the TSA a master to open the lock.

The idea probably came from a baggage handler that got tired of having to go through every piece of luggage looking for good stuff. Once the TSA approved locks they could open the baggage handlers once again knew which bags to target.

Want stuff stolen from your bag? Then by all means lock it, so people know you have the good stuff for their kid's Christmas.


david July 27, 2009 at 11:08 am

mj i believe she was just saying that in general

and all that stuff should go in your carry on, especially medication


Julicans July 27, 2009 at 11:47 am

I had a pax that packed his keys in his checked bag and then was going to sue me b/c his bag was delayed. I told him that NW didn't ask nor require him to check his keys. He wanted me(NW)to rememburse him for the cost of breaking into his house and I told him that we don't rememburse for stupidity.


SAW July 27, 2009 at 1:41 pm


Wow… if your tone and attitude (despite the stupid request) is like that on the job, it's no wonder everyone hates baggage people…


MJ July 27, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Jeanie, s/he didn’t pack any laptops in those suitcases – just the chargers.

I mean, I always keep the charger with me and the laptop in my carry on, but still, that’s not nearly as a bad as checking the laptop itself.

I don’t get the checking jewelry, medication, valuables thing either. Frankly, I’d rather fit everything in a carry on if possible.


david July 27, 2009 at 3:44 pm

hey SAW i think that anyone with some common sense would know not to put their keys in checked luggage

and why would you break into your own house? could have waited for your bags if it wasnt too long of a delay, or keep a set of keys with a family member or someone close.

I have to go with Julicans, the airline should not have to reimberse the passanger for HIS/HER own CHOICE of breaking into their own house….which is stupid….and next time keep your keys in your pocket or carry on


SAW July 27, 2009 at 5:41 pm

david… if you read what I wrote, I wasn't questioning how stupid the passenger was – I was just pointing out how obnoxious the tone of the julican's post was.

To be honest, I dread having to deal with the baggage people on ANY airline, mostly because I find them to be somewhat lacking in both brainpower and manners.


Demotage July 27, 2009 at 5:52 pm

I kind of sympathize with Julicans. She must have one of the worst jobs. Everyone you talk to is pissed.


SAW July 27, 2009 at 6:48 pm

demotage… yup… and guess who pissed 'em off The same people who sit behind the counter that you're sympathizing with.


Dianna July 31, 2009 at 1:19 pm

I agree with Demotage, actually. It can't be an easy job to do, and I've encountered a lot of baggage handlers who are perfectly nice, kind people. That doesn't make me any less mad about the airline losing my bag, but frankly, if you take the time to treat them nicely, they'll be more than willing to respond nicely. Unfortunately for you, SAW, you've probably never taken the time to actually calm down before you talked to baggage claim, and so they responded in kind.

I wish people would remember more often to apply the golden rule to travel. It can make such a difference.


SAW August 1, 2009 at 2:14 am

Dianna – don't make assumptions about me. I approach each situation very carefully. I've been traveling frequently since the late 1970s. One thing I've learned is that being aggressive or obnoxious to these people gets you nowhere fast.

I've also learned, that DESPITE being treated nicely by me, many of these people (luggage handlers, gate agents, etc.etc.) can find ways to drive a saint of god into a steaming rage.

So… Believe me, I'm nice to these people. The problem I have is that they usually respond by staring at me with drool coming out of their mouths, feed me conflicting information, and leave me with the wonderful certainty that they don't give a rats ass.


steve August 6, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Between TSA, the airline personnel, and the airport baggage handlers,I suspect the handlers are most likely the thieves. The guy lost things like shoes, chargers, travel trinkets and a $40 lock,all totalling $300. That's not "valuables", it's reasonable packing. Sending valuables by mail is no safer, but a lot more expensive. If there is any fault it's travelling to a country like Mexico and expecting to be treated decently – that's boneheaded.


SAW August 7, 2009 at 1:44 am

Sending valuables by mail may not be safer, but it can be INSURED for its real value – which the airlines won't do.


Julicans August 11, 2009 at 11:19 am

Hey, SAW, the man was threating to sue me and get me fired from my job when I didn't do anything with his bags or make him check his keys in his bags. Yeah, after him yelling at me for a good while I was tired of it. Most of my pax were decent but sometimes you get a real ass like this one.


Julicans August 11, 2009 at 11:25 am

oh and yeah……..I didn't really tell him that about the remembursment (just wanted to). I'm not that mean (or stupid) and valued my job too much to say that.


Atari August 13, 2009 at 10:02 am

Well, all of the details have been spoken of, and I must say:

I am simply aghast at the fact that this person's things were stolen, yet the airline, and everyone on THIS website, has only one thing to say: Tough luck.

It just seems incredible to me that someone can have his things stolen by, apparently, certain members of the STAFF at an airport, and no one is fired or even reprimanded; furthermore, the person who was pilfered is told that she is an idiot.

Just wow.

Moreover, I would like to correct two misused words:

Amenities: I looked in the dictionary and a thesaurus, and found NO mention of amenities meaning anything other than, "A useful or desirable feature of a place."

I think what you meant was, "Paraphernalia".

The second word was 'unequivocally,' which means, "Leaving no doubt; unambiguous".

It bears a superficial resemblance to the word which you actually wanted to use, which is, 'unhesitatingly.'


Jose Diaz-Briseno September 10, 2009 at 6:30 am

Dear Born-Again Roman, My name is Jose Diaz-Briseno and I am the US correspondent for one of the largest newspapers in Mexico. I am based out of Washington, DC and I am very interested in knowing more about your bad experience at Cancun Airport. I am trying to learn how big this trend is. Please email at: diazbriseno@hotmail.com Best, Jose


SilentPete January 7, 2010 at 7:57 am

What it really comes down to which boils my blood is that fact that locks aren't allowed on bags anymore.

My story in brief:

The most recent time I flew before last week was in 2003 and when I brought a video camera in my carry on, I was told I wasn't allowed to bring it aboard because of security measures. Or something along those lines anyway.


SilentPete January 7, 2010 at 8:04 am

Whoops. My computer is freaking out.

Anyway, so I go to fly last week, and I check my camera, wrapped in a pair of pajamas with the battery and tape also wrapped in separate clothing items in the bag. Now, I didn't check up on new regulations as I should have, and I should have just brought the footage with me anyway in my carry on (so yes, I do feel dumb about that), but when everything got stolen, I was pretty pissed none the less.

You would have had to rummage through my entire bag to find these items, they were anything but on top or jutting out, or anything of that nature. Before leaving I even went to buy a lock but was reminded that you can't lock your bags anymore in a "post 9/11" world. Personal privacy is at an all time minimum, and to be honest, I expect TSA and an airlines to be nothing but professional and helpful if things get stolen when locks are no longer allowed. And lets be honest, if locks were allowed, most thefts wouldn't occur, and if TSA really needed to get in to any of these bags for security reasons, they could with the help of a knife.

I flew with US Air, and I left a friendly, but stern complaint, and I'm sure most of the above posters will tear me apart for being dumb enough to check something of value, but after being nothing but careful and friendly dealing with real people around mexico and having zero issues, the fact that the airlines and baggage went through my stuff really heats me up.

So thanks US for your BS laws, and thanks Mexico for your unreliable airport! And don't worry, I do feel dumb for trusting the system at all.

That is all.

Silent Pete


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