Approved SearchAlert Suitcase Locks
The red diamond clearly
shows the TSA that they have approved this lock and can open
it with a special key if they need to. If the lock is
opened, the indicator changes from green to red so you know.
This is a simple combination
lock that securely keeps your suitcase closed, deters casual
pilfering, and also shows you if the lock has been opened by a
In addition to immediately
showing you if the TSA have opened your bag or not, these locks might help you prove a claim for
damaged/stolen items if such a misfortune occurs.
What You Get
Each lock is blister
packaged on a display card. Inside the pack is the lock and a
sheet of instructions.
The instructions tell you
how to change the factory preset combination to any number of
your choice, and how to reset the red color back to green if the
TSA have opened the lock and triggered the red warning
Only you can change the red
warning indicator back to green. The TSA can't do this, and
neither could a petty thief (unless he knew your secret
The lock has a lifetime
guarantee. And it also has an interesting extra warranty - if
the TSA ever cut your lock off your bag, then the manufacturer
will replace the lock for free. Of course, because the TSA have
master keys for the lock, they should never need to cut it off
The locks are priced at
$19.85 for a pair and are available through
The combination padlock
looks acceptably strong and solid, and gives the impression of
being heavier than its actual 2.2 ounces. On the other hand, it
also is reasonably non-descript and its presence doesn't call
unwanted attention to your bag.
The combination wheels have
big bright white numbers on them, making it easy to see and open
the lock, even in poor light.
The green/red color
indicator is clear and obvious.
These days all checked bags
are screened by the TSA, typically by going through a huge
mini-van sized 3D X-ray type machine. If the machine thinks it
might have seen something suspicious (and the machines have a
high rate of 'false positives'), then someone has to open the
bag and search through it to resolve the issue.
For this reason, the TSA
have formerly been requiring all bags to be unlocked. And, if
they came across a bag that had been locked, they'd have to
destroy the lock so as to open the suitcase.
They have now agreed to
allow suitcases to be built with special locks, and/or add-on
special locks to be used with any suitcases - these locks have a
dual keying system. One 'key' (either a physical key or a
combination lock) belongs to the owner, and this key or
combination has many different variations, so that your key is
unlikely to unlock the next guy's suitcase as well as your own.
You will have better odds at an
casino then opening some-else's lock with your key. But the second key is a 'master' key that only the TSA has (in
theory!) and this master key can open all locks in that series.
This means the TSA can now easily unlock and relock your
suitcase if it needs to inspect it.
If the TSA does open your
suitcase, it will insert a piece of paper that tells you they
have done this. In theory, if someone else opens your suitcase,
they will not insert one of the TSA slips (although it would
seem to be the easiest thing for a gang of professional luggage
thieves to simply photocopy off a bunch of the TSA notices!).
If, when you get your bag
back at the end of your flight, and the lock's indicator is red,
you should immediately open it - at the airport. Check to see if
anything is missing. If something is missing, and there is no
TSA slip, go and see your airline's baggage claim desk. If
something is missing and there is a TSA slip, go and see the
TSA, or, if you're in a foreign airport, again see your
airline's baggage claim people. Your ability to successfully
claim for stolen items is greatly increased by the fact that you
are making the claim as soon as you received your bag, and by
the fact you can point to your lock and show that the telltale
indicator is red, indicating someone has opened it.
Note you should
never leave film in any checked bags
these days, because the strength of the X-rays can completely
destroy the film. The linked article has some fascinating
'before and after' examples of film damaged by these new
Functionality and Security
The lock is easy to use, and
it is a great extra feature that you can change the combination,
any time, and as many times as you like, to any number you wish.
A combination lock is vastly
preferable to a keyed lock, because you never have to worry
about losing the key.
If your lock's indicator
does turn from green to red, it is easy to reset this back to
green again, although only you can do this (you need to use your
combination code as part of the reset process).
As for security, the
expression 'locks are for honest people' definitely applies any
time you're considering a lock that costs only $10.
The lock should be
considered primarily as a way of stopping your suitcases from
accidentally being opened, not as a way of securely
thief-proofing them. You need to decide if its worth
roulette with you belongings. But of course a dishonest baggage handler
will first choose to pilfer completely unsecured suitcases, and
then will open suitcases with totally insecure locks that anyone
can open with a paperclip.
Only a dedicated thief will
choose to try and open a suitcase that has a more serious lock
on it, such as the SearchAlert. And such a thief could simply
break in through the side of the suitcase, or cut the lock off
entirely, or steal the entire suitcase! So all that any type of
lock can do is reduce the chance of pilfering, not eliminate it
It is possible to open the
lock via the TSA key slot without an official TSA key. The lock
uses a simple warded system to control this function, and I was
able to defeat this with an imaginatively shaped piece of iron.
However, although I could open the lock this way, I couldn't
prevent the indicator changing from green to red, and this
indicator feature is as much the prime benefit of the lock as is
It may also be possible to
defeat the combination lock, but this requires a bit of
uninterrupted time and some luck as well. I was able to open the
lock once with my eyes closed (so as not to know what numbers I
was dialing in by feel) but after having done that once, I
couldn't repeat it the next five times I tried! Of course, no
luggage thief in a busy airport is going to want to spend five
minutes trying to open a combination lock when the next bag on
the conveyor belt is completely unprotected.
Summary and Recommendation
A pair of SearchAlert locks
are priced at $19.85 from
Magellan's, making them affordable as well as convenient.
The lock admirably
discharges its two roles - protecting your bag from accidental
opening, and adding a measure of security to its contents.
Other TSA approved dual key
type locks are also making their way to the marketplace, but
this is the only one I've seen that includes the green/red
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26 December 2003, last update
19 Dec 2013
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.