TSA Agent: "Keys are not working"

Old Sep 4, 18, 6:03 pm
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 304
TSA Agent: "Keys are not working"

(Excuse me for any errors; haven't posted in a while.)

I was flying out of DCA yesterday with a companion. They told us we should leave our checked bags at a pair of large X-ray machines. Something made me decide to wait even though the TSA guy tried to discourage us. Lo and behold, they announced that they wanted to open my bag. I offered to unlock it and they refused. "We're the TSA; we have the keys," declared the first guy.

I saw the second guy fiddling around with something on my suitcase for a good five minutes after which he called over two more TSA guys. The bag was still locked. Number 1 then comes back to me and says, "Looks like the keys are not working today. We'll need you to unlock it." He brought the bag back, I dialed the combination, they searched the bag, all was well.

I have no doubt that had I not been there, these guys would have damaged my brand new Rimowa bag.

Can anyone shed any light on what happened here? I mean, what's the point of having "TSA-approved locks" if the TSA can't (or won't) open them?
Aileron is offline  
Old Sep 4, 18, 8:32 pm
  #2  
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: San Antonio, TX
Programs: AA EXP, DL Silver, Global Entry
Posts: 1,623
Originally Posted by Aileron View Post
(Excuse me for any errors; haven't posted in a while.)

I was flying out of DCA yesterday with a companion. They told us we should leave our checked bags at a pair of large X-ray machines. Something made me decide to wait even though the TSA guy tried to discourage us. Lo and behold, they announced that they wanted to open my bag. I offered to unlock it and they refused. "We're the TSA; we have the keys," declared the first guy.

I saw the second guy fiddling around with something on my suitcase for a good five minutes after which he called over two more TSA guys. The bag was still locked. Number 1 then comes back to me and says, "Looks like the keys are not working today. We'll need you to unlock it." He brought the bag back, I dialed the combination, they searched the bag, all was well.

I have no doubt that had I not been there, these guys would have damaged my brand new Rimowa bag.

Can anyone shed any light on what happened here? I mean, what's the point of having "TSA-approved locks" if the TSA can't (or won't) open them?
There are really only two basic reasons why their key wouldn’t work. One, there was something wrong with their key(s). Two, there was something wrong with your lock. Hard to say which is the case.

Last edited by Randyk47; Sep 5, 18 at 5:26 am
Randyk47 is offline  
Old Sep 5, 18, 6:00 pm
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 304
Originally Posted by Randyk47 View Post


There are really only two basic reasons why their key wouldn’t work. One, there was something wrong with their key(s). Two, there was something wrong with your lock. Hard to say which is the case.
Uh, how could there be something wrong with a key?

Do I need to bring my bag in to the service center to have the locks checked? Seems odd it would be both locks.
Aileron is offline  
Old Sep 5, 18, 6:54 pm
  #4  
A FlyerTalk Posting Legend
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: DCA
Programs: UA US CO AA DL FL
Posts: 42,816
If you lock your bags, you run the risk that TSA will simply force the lock if it chooses to inspect your bag.

Not worth the effort to lock bags.
TWA884 likes this.
Often1 is offline  
Old Sep 6, 18, 4:57 am
  #5  
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: San Antonio, TX
Programs: AA EXP, DL Silver, Global Entry
Posts: 1,623
Originally Posted by Aileron View Post
Uh, how could there be something wrong with a key?

Do I need to bring my bag in to the service center to have the locks checked? Seems odd it would be both locks.
Therein lies the rub. One lock malfunctioning is certainly possible but two seems strange. As for TSA keys they have more than one master key. I don’t know how many versions they are up to now but the bottom of a couple of my newer locks have “Key 2” or “Key 3” stamped on them. If they misplace or don’t have the matching master to your locks then they can’t open them barring cutting them off or forcing the lock open.
Randyk47 is offline  
Old Sep 6, 18, 6:40 am
  #6  
A FlyerTalk Posting Legend
 
Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: DCA
Programs: UA US CO AA DL FL
Posts: 42,816
OP is lucky that DCA is now one of the few major airports left which lack the interior space to physically house TSA bag inspection. In most circumstances, the bags go on the belt behind check-in and that is the last the passenger sees of them. Yet another reason not to lock bags.
Often1 is offline  
Old Sep 6, 18, 7:21 am
  #7  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Nov 2002
Location: PWM - the way life should be
Posts: 11,689
I long ago just started using zip ties to lock my bag. I keep a nail scissors in an outer pocket so I can easily cut the zip tie. When I started using zip ties, I used to leave a couple extra and a note in the bag asking the TSA to please retie it if they needed to open it, but they never open my bag so I stopped.

I don't often check bags, but it's worked fine when I needed to.
JamesBigglesworth likes this.
gfunkdave is offline  
Old Sep 8, 18, 5:06 am
  #8  
 
Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: Baltimore, MD USA
Programs: Southwest Rapid Rewards. Tha... that's about it.
Posts: 3,942
Originally Posted by Aileron View Post
Uh, how could there be something wrong with a key?

Do I need to bring my bag in to the service center to have the locks checked? Seems odd it would be both locks.
I don't know how robust the TSA keys are (never actually seen one), but any key can be bent or broken by improper use or storage. If the TSA keys are made of cheap, soft metal, I could imagine them bending easily enough to stop working and need periodic replacement.

My guess is, there is nothing wrong with your locks, there was something wrong with the keys - or the TSO was simply trying a No. 1 key in a No. 2 lock. Stranger (and stupider) things have happened.

Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
If you lock your bags, you run the risk that TSA will simply force the lock if it chooses to inspect your bag.

Not worth the effort to lock bags.
Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
OP is lucky that DCA is now one of the few major airports left which lack the interior space to physically house TSA bag inspection. In most circumstances, the bags go on the belt behind check-in and that is the last the passenger sees of them. Yet another reason not to lock bags.
I disagree. Locks don't add much security, since the locks are easily bypassed on a zipper bag, but they do add an extra physical restraint to prevent accidental opening during rough handling by machines and people in transit.

I personally put a lock on my bags zipper to keep the pulls together, as well as use a locking strap around the outside of the bag to keep the lid closed if there is a zipper failure. Both locks are TSA approved, and while I have had my bag opened by TSA on roughly one third of my trips over the last ten years or so, I've only lost a lock once (unclear whether it was cut off or merely discarded), and never lost the locking strap.

Originally Posted by gfunkdave View Post
I long ago just started using zip ties to lock my bag. I keep a nail scissors in an outer pocket so I can easily cut the zip tie. When I started using zip ties, I used to leave a couple extra and a note in the bag asking the TSA to please retie it if they needed to open it, but they never open my bag so I stopped.

I don't often check bags, but it's worked fine when I needed to.
WillCAD is offline  
Old Sep 8, 18, 10:58 am
  #9  
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: San Antonio, TX
Programs: AA EXP, DL Silver, Global Entry
Posts: 1,623
Like WillCAD we have TSA locks and we use them. I think we bought three or four when they first came out years ago. We now have quite a few, maybe a dozen or more, most of which came with the luggage we use. Over the years we’ve lost maybe three or four that I figure TSA removed and didn’t replace and in at least case when one bag’s lock apparently got caught in equipment and was ripped out along with the zipper tab. Our search history is not quite as frequent as WillCAD for us maybe one in ten trips. Sure we could use zip ties and probably would if we didn’t have the locks. At the same time we also have no misgivings about or real thoughts that it keeps our bags more secure, just keeps them closed.
Randyk47 is offline  
Old Sep 8, 18, 11:40 am
  #10  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: where the chile is hot
Programs: AA,RR,NW,Delta ,UA,CO
Posts: 32,721
My bags are all soft-sided and most have nylon zippers.

I secure the zipper pulls together and anchor them to the handle of the bag. That prevents the old trick of using a pen to open a zipper and then resealing it afterwards. You can't reseal it if if you can't move the zipper pulls around.

I use zip ties on checked bags and TSA locks for domestic carry-ons.
chollie is offline  
Old Sep 8, 18, 9:46 pm
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: USA
Programs: Air Canada, KLM, BA,Lufthansa, United, AA, Hawaiian, Air New Zealnd, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic
Posts: 728
I use zip ties, I prefer that over having them go in through the zipper.
Jeannietx is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread