Air travelers: durable suitcases that can stay closed and unlocked after being checked in?

I went to the local big department store this afternoon to buy a suitcase for an upcoming airline trip (I’ve flown many times before and after 9/11, each time with a locked suitcase when I checked it in). The clerk told me that TSA (the US Transportation Security Administration) may need to open any locked, checked suitcase. So if it does not have a TSA-approved lock – see http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/assistant/locks.shtm and http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/customer/claims/damagedlocks.shtm – then a TSA screener will do whatever to get inside the suitcase.

And so confirms Charter Member Rick in Air travel tips for the inexperienced.

The big store has many major-brand un-TSA-approved suitcases for sale. So, air travelers, do you have any suggestion for a durable suitcase that has either a TSA-approved lock or that stays closed and unlocked after being checked in? Or do you have any related info? Thank you.

There are TSA approved padlocks, you can usually find them in the aisle of a store near luggage. For a suitcase, I really like REI’s wheeled duffle bags and Salomon suitcases.

Sorry for a bit of a hijack, but:

How readily available are the TSA lock keys? I always have the feeling that if I have one of these locks, there will be more keys out there (not necessarily in the hands of honest people) that can open my bag.

I know, I know, locks are mostly for honest people…

I usually compromise and put a non-TSA lock on my bag. If they have to get in , the can cut it.
NB

So can the bad guys.

True. I was perhaps under the delusion that the TSA keys would be a little more subtle.

I guess I was originally contemplating this when I was buying new luggage (weee!) and they had some with built-in locks (locks the zippers down) that weren’t TSA-compatible. I suppose TSA just breaks open your luggage with a pry-bar?

As to the OP, the selection is huge. The only thing I would avoid are hard-shell suitcases with non-TSA built-in locks. These do not reliably stay closed if unlocked, but I don’t think anyone even sells them anymore. Beyond that, luggage needs are very individual and any TSA lock will be fine.

I don’t lock my suitcase to keep anyone out. I lock it so right away I know it’s been opened.

The benefit of the TSA-approved locks is nearly all of them have a feature to show that they’ve been opened with a TSA key, usually by showing a little red dot or something. When TSA opens a bag they leave a form inside telling you that they opened it. They won’t tell you why but they do notify you. If you find the lock has been opened but there is no note and there is anything missing I would report a theft immediately. And BTW the thieves can cut the locks just as easily as TSA.

My MIL had a suitcase with built-in locks and locked it, then TSA pretty much destroyed the locks to get into it, so the suitcase wouldn’t even close anymore. They used yards and yards of tape to reclose it.

On my hard-shell suitcase with built-in (non-TSA) locks I drilled holes in it and thread a nylon cable-wrap through it. It won’t keep anyone out, and it’s easy to cut, but I can tell right away if anyone’s opened it.

I like that idea. I can’t imagine TSA objecting much either.

Why do people worry about locks on luggage anyways?

It seems to me that if I wanted to steal from your luggage, my best bet would be to wait in the baggage claim area and just grab your whole suitcase as it goes by. Then go home and open it at my leisure. Even if I’m caught, I could just claim my mistake as my other one looks just like it. Your best precaution is simply to be vigilant about watching for your suitcase in this area, and to clearly distinguish it with ribbons or something.

It actually seems like those with the best opportunity to steal single items are TSA employees ‘checking’ your luggage. And as mentioned they don’t care about locks.

What do you people carry in your bags that you are so concerned about locking up? I am a very frequent traveler and I never lock my bag. There is usually a TSA bulletin in the bag indicating that they have examined it. I have never had anything taken out of my bag. And if you do, claim it with the airlines.

To answer the OP, though…use a soft sided bag with a zipper. It won’t open even if it’s unlocked. Nothing more embarassing than your suitcase coming out at baggage claim, open and your drawers hanging out. I’ve seen that a couple of times.

Things are stolen all the time by airline employees It’s easier to just open up a suitcase and grab something than to bring the whole thing home.

From here:

I like the idea of having some security, but a lock seemed like too much hassle, so I have those luggage straps that wrap around the whole suitcase. They keep it closed in case all the tossing around releases the catch somehow, as well as let me know if TSA opened my bag. And they’re colourful!

I’m a convert of the onebag system. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t go and everything goes on board in a medium-sized and compliant backpack.

If I buy too many souvenirs at my destination, I will buy a cheap duffel bag and stuff it full of used socks, underwear, t-shirts and check that in. Then I will carry the souvenirs in my bag instead.

We’ve done this as a family on several trips now with only a backpack per person and it’s been great. We’ve done this in Jamaica, in India, and in Europe. The one trick is to know the climate and pack accordingly (we are traveling to Peru next year, and this may test the ability to pack for all seasons as the country has widely varying climates in small distances).

Very good suggestions. Thanks muchly.

Yep. Never put anything in a checked bag you can’t afford to lose. Whether it’s the airline losing the bag or someone pilfering things, there’s always a risk. I have several bits of luggage, and where there’s a lock, I use it. But I can’t be arsed to put a lock on the ones without a built-in - if someone wants to steal my shaver, they can go ahead. My laptop or big dital camera go in my carry-on.

Those things are great. I suspect it’s probably more noticeable and difficult to cut through one of those than it is to sneakily take a set of pliers to a cheap lock. Plus they help you recognise which of the 1254525 identical black wheelie cases on the belt is yours.