Unlocked luggage…

Notice of Inspection

When I unpackaged my luggage, coming back from California, I found a crumpled bit of paper in my luggage: a notification of inspection (NOI) by private company Covenant Aviation Security working on behalf of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The paper tells me the obvious thing: somebody went over my luggage, there is a scribble that specifies the number of the screener 6541, my flight number (in case I took the wrong plane, I suppose), a stamp on the back marks the place and the date. The paper goes on to specify that if prohibited items were present, they were turned over to the appropriate authorities. So they might or might not have removed something from the bag. Hard to tell. But if they did, I better not complain, because the stuff was, by definition, prohibited.

The paper contains a web-site reference and a toll-free US phone number, which is kind of ironic for a service that screen people leaving the US. They also claim their web-site offers packing advice, which is not really true, it redirects to the page of packing on the TSA’s website. It would have been cool to put the QR-code of the web-site for easy lookup…

The paper also mentions the obvious, if your luggage was locked with something else than a TSA recognised lock, that something is now probably broken. I always considered the locking of luggage a mixed bag, it vaguely makes sense on a rigid suitcase, but most locks look like they could be forced open with a simple screwdriver. TSA-accepted locks have the additional weakness that they can be opened by the members of a 55000 employee organisation, plus the various corporations it outsourced work to, which is not a very restricted club…

4 thoughts on “Unlocked luggage…”

  1. Opened by members of an organization with a notable history of thievery and incompetence, which means that a good amount of counterfeited TSA keys are likely to wander around.

  2. We got that little piece of paper, I think, the last two times we came back from the US (“two times ago” I’m sure, last time, it rings a bell but I wouldn’t wager on it). Re: locking, I consider it more as a way to ensure that zip sliders stay together than as any protection against theft – I have absolutely no illusions on the fact that if someone wants to steal stuff from my luggage, they will do so with or without a lock (if anything, a lock may be an incentive to look through my stuff) – especially since my luggage is not rigid (in which case the lock is protecting the strongest link of the case anyway :P). I try to pack accordingly – for instance I’ll put my camera in my bag, but I’ll keep the SD card with me (camera is replaceable, pictures are not). But there’s always a big “phew” when I open my luggage at home and my camera is indeed in there…

  3. The last time I returned from the US I was seated in the plane, at the gate, waiting for us to leave. Someone from the airline staff then approaches me, asks me to verify my name, and then hands me a roll of papers. Turns out they’re the paper targets from the shooting range I’d been to, along with some other receipts. Fine, maybe they still had some gunpowder residue on them, and the inspectors wanted to take a closer look. But the thing is all of this was packed inside my suitcase (with a TSA approved lock). Why they felt compelled to remove it from my suitcase and send it into the cabin to me is not something I could come up with a good reason for. It did leave me wondering for the entire flight what condition my luggage might be in… turns out everything was safe and still locked, but I found one of the TSA inspection notes inside the luggage too.

    I have a fairly high-end camera and lenses, and I’d never put it into checked-luggage – it always goes in the cabin with me. One solution adopted by people traveling with a lot of photo gear and can’t pack it all into their cabin luggage is to also pack a starter-pistol into their luggage. Technically, it qualifies as a weapon and needs to be specially reported at check in, and the airline has to take special care of that bag to ensure the weapon case doesn’t go missing.

  4. The starter pistol trick is really clever. I like that.
    Putting locks on zippered luggage really only gives you a false sense of security since you can pop the zipper open with a ball point pen and bypass the lock. I usually just use a key ring or a big paperclip to hold the zippers closed so that my stuff doesn’t end up everywhere when the baggage handlers toss it around. I originally figured that TSA would take the time to remove the paper clip if they inspected my bag and then maybe even put it back on. One trip, I got an NOI and no zipper clip, so I guess they were in a hurry and just clipped it with wire cutters.

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