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Security Of Checked Baggage : Is There A Better Way?

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

24/05/2008 – Security Of Checked Baggage : Is There A Better Way?

Last night while watching a line of people check in for the late ANA (NH) flight from Hong Kong (HKG) to Tokyo (HND), I found myself watching one man running tape around his zipper at the check in counter. I don’t know if it was to prevent theft or to repair a damaged zipper, but I found myself watching this wondering if this is the simple solutions airlines and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) must adopt to drastically cut down on thefts from checked baggage in the United States.

Many flyers use locks only to find their zipper as been jammed open with a knife and re-zipped, the locks have been opened with TSA ‘Sentry’ keys or the lock has been completely cut off. The frustration passengers feel when their bag arrives missing items they know they had checked, is massive. The answers to stopping baggage theft have become an impossible series of finger pointing situations between airlines and the TSA, which further frustrate flyer. In the end the lack of security of the contents of bags, under the noses of the federalized baggage screening process make both the TSA and the airlines look untrustworthy.

My solution is this………..ready for it?………..Simple paper based tape that is perforated with a stamped with a date stamp from the originating airport. The TSA currently places a small sticker on your checked bag’s baggage tag that states your bag has been x-rayed. I say do away with this sticker and use a paper based perforated tape that encircles the bag and place the date on that piece of tape in one or two locations. Each TSA agent should be issued their own stamp with their badge number on the stamper. By personalizing the stamps they cannot easily be replicated and passed around (such as the lack of security of obtaining a set of TSA ‘Sentry Lock” keys).

Once a piece of paper tape is torn, can never be repaired. Shipping warehouses have been using paper tape for years to prove if a package has or has not been tampered with. This way if a bag has been tampered with a passenger has a greater chance of knowing immediately upon retrieving their bags.

Paper based tape is low cost, low tech and highly effective. On a low-volume purchase, a case of paper tape costs approximately US$168 per case of heavy strength tape, a case of tape comes with 72 rolls, at 2″x55 yards. approximately 1 yard per bag, comes to around US$0.04 per bag. With the bulk the TSA would be buying these rolls of tape in I’m sure the cost would drop lower than $0.04. Stampers in bulk run about $6 per stamper, less expensive than the new “flashlights” in use at check points, and the costs will still be less than the new shift from “white uniforms to the new “blue uniforms” that can currently be seen at Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI).

With all the taxes and fees that passengers who fly within, through, or from the United States are forced to pay, I don’t see spending $0.04 per bag as such a financial burden…….if even with the rising costs of fuel.

Just a potentially simple solution that costs pennies per-bag to put into action.

Happy Flying!


  1. “Once a piece of paper tape is torn, can never be repaired.”

    Exactly. Nice idea, but have you ever been behind the scenes to see how the baggage is actually handled? It’s not nice. On the cut-rate short-hauls they have 20 minutes to get x tons off and another x tons on. There’s no way a strip of tape would survive the flight.

  2. Victor,

    I have actually been behind the scenes of airports many times creating images for both editorial stories and airline corporate communications projects.

    I have seen how the bags get tossed, however I also know many airlines used to use a paper based “Checked Baggage Tape.” I still have an old roll of Delta’s Checked Baggage Tape, and a roll of Eastern Airlines tape somewhere as well. These tapes are not the same as what you find on a cardboard box, but they are still paper based, just quite a bit stronger and more flexible to move with the give of a bag.

    I am also not saying use one strip of tape, I am saying do what is done in some other countries (or by some foreign airlines) wrap the tape, 360 degrees, around the center of the bag. Place the zipper under the tape, of you want the zipper you’ll need to rip the tape.

    The “old school” checked baggage tape survived flights with ease, I am sure the newer more “modern tape” can survive a ramp handler as well.

    Happy Flying!

  3. I’d happily pay the $.04 myself. Hell, I’d pay them a whole Dollar if they also manage to get the bag to me more often than not. (Last four out of five domestic flights my baggage did not arrive with me. The only time this has happened on an international flight is when I originated that flight in the US, and when that bag was finally delivered it had been opened and was missing a lot of stuff. It has got to cost the airlines far more to keep sending couriers with bags to my home or hotel than to just get them to me when I arrive. If Vietnam Airlines can get my bag to me, why can’t Delta?)

  4. hey! i stumbled upon your blog googling if a macbook 13in would fit inside of a mountainsmith tour or day pack. the day pack is like 854 cu and the tour is like 488. i want to buy a tour but not the day pack because it bulker. do you know if your macbook 13 fits inside of your tour?

    if you could email me back at jeefster@gmail.com or through a comment on my blog, that would be much appreciated before i buy one from amazon. thanks a ton dude.

  5. Jeff,

    My Apple 13″ Macbook does not fit in the Mountainsmih “Tour.” The 13″ Macbook does however easily fit inside the Mountainsmih “Day.” (you can squeeze a 15″ Powerbook into the Day as well). The Mountainsmith Day is a slightly larger version of the Mountainsmith Tour and I ama huge fan of both packs , and use both packs.

    The Mountainsmith Day is not all that bulky,it is just taller than the Tour. The Day, like the Tour, also has a lumbar belt and comfortably rides on your back or hip when wearing it.

    I strongly suggest checking out The Day again, or finding a shop like EMS or REI to see the two side-by-side.

    Happy Flying!


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