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Baggage Locks : Keys vs Combination

Web: www.fishfoto.com — E-Mail: fish@flyingwithfish.com

3/11/2008 – Baggage Locks : Keys vs Combination

All travelers worry about having items stolen from their bags while traveling. Having items stolen from checked baggage is just as frustrating as having items stolen from your carry on bags.

When I travel I keep locks on all my bags, even when only flying with carry-on baggage. Each zipper can be secured, especially when in certain situations, and if I am taking a nap, locks are needed for my PacSafe Anti-Theft Protector.

When you choose your locks, even working within the requirements of a TSA Sentry Approved Lock, not all locks are created equal. Yes, some locks are stronger than others, but that is not what I am addressing. What I am addressing is the security and practicality of using a combination lock instead of a key lock.

Key locks are prone to two significant security concerns.

The first security concern with key locks is key locks are somewhat easily accessible to professional thieves. Most skilled thieves do not need to pick a lock, or even cut a lock. If thieves are not picking or cutting a lock, how are they opening your lock? With a key-ring full of keys.

Open a package of most baggage locks; you’ll get two or three locks with only two sets of keys. This is because one key opens all three locks. Keys for many commercial locks are not unique; they will open thousands of locks. A skilled airport, or train station, their can quickly size up the lock on your bag and know which series of potential keys will open the lock.

The second security concern with using key locks is the potential for losing the keys to your lock. Should you lose your keys in transit, you’ll be unable to quickly and easily access your bags when you need to. Additionally, should you break a key off in your lock (and yes, I have heard of this happening more often than you might think) your lock will need to cut off. While getting a lock cut off isn’t so hard, it is not that easy when you’re standing in the airport, at the gate, awaiting an international flight to board and your boarding pass and passport are in your bag…………

Combination locks offer more security and considerably more peace-of-mind. A combination is only known to you and those you’ve told. Given that thieves cannot easily walk through an airport with a lock cutter, and the sound of a battery powered Dremel Tool sawing your lock off next to your head will wake you up, they’ll tend to move on to an easier target.

In addition to slightly more security with the use of combination locks, you cannot lose the combination to your locks. Combination baggage locks tend allow the user to set their own combination. All of my locks have the same combination, this way no matter what lock I snatch out of my drawer the combination is always the same.

Yes, TSA Approved Sentry Locks can all be opened with a set of keys that should only be available to TSA baggage screeners. Yes, these keys are available to those who are not TSA screeners. This does defeat the purpose of securing your bag, however a lock is an effective deterrent. A combination lock is a more effective deterrent.

If a professional thief really wants the contents of your bag, they may be hard to defeat………so ALWAYS try and reduce your chances of becoming a target and be aware of your surroundings.

Happy Flying!


  1. I’m with you on the combo/key debate. How about flexcable-versus-hardmetal for the “u” loop?

  2. I think both ‘u-locks’ and flexicable-locks have their place.

    U-locks tend to be harder to cut, as many flexicable locks can be snipped with a simple wire cutter found in many multi-tools.

    A lock however is a deterrent. If a skilled thief really wants your bag, or the contents of your bag, they will do what they can to get it.

    As a traveler, especially ones traveling as photographers, you need to reduce your risk of becoming a target.

    ……I will however try and write up a post regarding both the U-Shape and the Flexicable locks in the next week. I primarily use u-locks, however Flexicable locks have some good uses as well.

    Happy Flying


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