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I understand that this is a question that easily becomes subjective, so let me phrase it as objective as possible.

I am a person who so far has been traveling within Europe and the middle East, so far without any kind of lock. My luggage typically is clothing and things of lesser value (think gadgets); I carry phones and computers in the carry-on.

I'm staying in the US for a year now and learned about this whole business of having traveling locks such that there even exist TSA approved ones that they can open without damaging the lock (read: locks are apparently a big thing over the ocean).

Is this really a thing that everyone does - or do I just get the biased perception from this side? Should someone with my traveling habits now adjust? Is this perhaps airport or state specific?

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My advice is - don't go to the USA :/ Seriously, you specifically ask: "Is this really a thing that everyone does" I am fairly certain the answer is NO. Most people ignore the TSA locks insanity. –  Joe Blow Aug 19 at 14:40
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@JoeBlow: Don't go to the USA? Why? Are you trying to be provocative? Or perhaps just ironic? –  Flimzy Aug 19 at 15:05
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Flimz - notice the "sad smiley" :/ It's a tragedy that in our era, many people actually do avoid going to the U.S., due to the current generally restrictive climate, TSA checkpoints, etc. –  Joe Blow Aug 19 at 15:12
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I travel a fair amount and have never used a lock, and I see hardly any on the baggage carousel. If there's a stereotype of Americans traveling with baggage locks, it's extremely outdated and/or simply not the case. –  Kevin Aug 19 at 16:33
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No, you do not need a luggage lock. In the United States our criminals are technologically advanced and have special tools that make short work of any lock. The only thing the lock will do is advertise your belief that your luggage contains something valuable. –  Tyler Durden Aug 19 at 20:48

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

TSA approved travel locks are a joke.

  1. TSA (and anyone who cares) has a master key which will open it.
  2. The locks are very light weight, and easy to break.

So, in my opinion, a TSA-approved lock is good for exactly one thing: Slowing someone down who might try to get into your bag in your presence. That is to say, on a bus, or train, or in the airport.

Once your bag is out of your possession, such a lock won't protect you from anyone except a theoretical honest thief who is willing to steal your items, but unwilling to break your lock.

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Filmz, would you agree that "very few people bother with the TSA lock nonsense"? (Perhaps the situation has changed recently - I don't know.) –  Joe Blow Aug 19 at 14:53
    
The OP was asking "Do most people use them?" I don't know, haven't been for a little while... –  Joe Blow Aug 19 at 15:12
    
Hmm, don't follow you........ He's asking "will I be forced to use one of the ridiculous TSA travel locks in the USA" i.e., (cut and paste) "Is this really a thing that everyone does?" Or as in the title, do I need a tsa lock ... ?! –  Joe Blow Aug 19 at 15:16
    
Wait -- I appreciate that the question title does not mention the "TSA" part, but that's what the whole question is about is it not??? Sigh - perhaps it's just another "unclear question" :/ –  Joe Blow Aug 19 at 15:16
    
@JoeBlow: I read the question as "Is it wise to use a lock on my luggage in the USA?" –  Flimzy Aug 19 at 15:27

Baggage theft in the USA is no worse than in Europe, as long as you have no valuables in your luggage you have no worries.

And for the opportunistic thief, a lock is a flag that says there maybe something worth stealing in the bag.

I never lock my bags, and with more than a million miles flying have only lost one maglight flashlight out of my bags in all those flights.

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How about criminals adding smuggling goods into your bag at one end of the border, and taking it out at the other end? –  gerrit Aug 19 at 15:44
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The chances of that occuring are pretty slim, probably a greater chance of getting in a car wreck going to the airport. But if you are that worried, then travel only with carry on. –  Tom Aug 19 at 15:53
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@gerrit To do that, they'd have to intercept your bag after you checked it in and before it was returned to you at the other end, so you're basically talking about the baggage handlers doing it. I'm sure it's happened but I don't recall hearing of it ever. The people who get busted for carrying somebody else's drugs usually agreed to carry a package for a stranger. –  David Richerby Aug 19 at 19:58
    
@gerrit don't leave your luggage unattended then –  ratchet freak Aug 20 at 8:59

The primary purpose of most luggage locks is not to guard against a bag being opened by unauthorized persons, but rather to ensure that the bags don't get opened by things they brush against. They may also provide some protection against the possibility of a bag being opened by the owner of a similar-looking bag who mistook it for his own (unless that other person by some coincidence happened to choose an identical-looking lock for his own bag, the sight of the unfamiliar lock on his bag should prompt him to examine the rest of the bag more closely). Even before 9/11, small luggage locks were usually manufactured with interchangeable keys, and were not expected to provide security. I think the "TSA slots" were primarily intended to save work for TSA personnel, rather than allow them to do anything they couldn't do otherwise.

As to whether you "need" a luggage lock, I would suggest that would depend largely upon the types of closures used on your baggage, and the likelihood that items could get lost if the bags open partially or fully while they are in transit.

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