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I have bought a piece of hard-shell zipperless luggage from Carlton, which I will be check-in in during my Europe trip. The locking mechanism of this bag is not based on zippers but on click locks, however, it is TSA approved.

zipperless luggage

Can airport security/TSA open it properly? I have heard that, if they can't, they break the luggage. But this luggage is zipperless and if they break in it will completely destroy the locking mechanism.

Can I use this without worrying?

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    It's a TSA-approved lock, why would you be sceptical that the TSA will be able to open it without breaking it? That's the entire point of TSA-approved locks. – Chris H Sep 30 at 6:55
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    If they cannot open it, you may get a call, so that you go and open it for them. Do it quickly (it is not airline fault, and they may not wait for you). – Giacomo Catenazzi Sep 30 at 9:04
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    @ChrisH Idk if you're American, but the TSA doesn't have a reputation as being very bright. – Azor Ahai -him- Oct 1 at 0:18
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    @EsbenSkovPedersen "Can airport security/TSA open it properly?" sure sounds like they're asking about both to me. – Chris H Oct 1 at 5:57
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    @ChrisH because even TSA approved luggages get completely demolished by TSA. Source: personal experience. – Federico Oct 1 at 10:49
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The TSA aproved lock will/should be opened with a key by the TSA agents.
In Europe those locks may be broken if airport security wants to check the contents of the case, although sometimes the owner is asked to be there when the case is opened and can unlock it themselves.

Your travel insurance may cover those costs. People sometimes chose not to lock their case, to avoid damage.

Most people try to avoid having items in their case which are likely to be inspected but you can never be sure your case is not selected as there seem to be a number of randomly chosen 'open the case' inspections.

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    Do you have a reference for airport security in Europe opening a case or breaking locks? I don't think they do that. – jcaron Sep 30 at 9:26
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    Only stories, but quite a few over many years. Several in questions on this site. – Willeke Sep 30 at 10:04
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    In Europe, the few times my checked and locked luggage had to be controlled for some reason, I was always called at the gate and escorted by an airline employee to a place where the luggage could be opened by me and searched in my presence. I usually don't lock my suitcase, but the code lock wheels tend to turn if the suitcase bumps into something. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Sep 30 at 18:35
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    The keys for TSA Approved Locks are available on Ebay, and all of them are the same key. I highly doubt Fuzzy Foreign European airport security departments aren't able to afford or get them. With that said, the locks are absurdly easy to pick as well... they provide security only from the "idle-hands" passerby. – SnakeDoc Sep 30 at 23:37
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    This was a while back (mid 2000s) but I had a lock on my luggage broken, flying from London to New York (or it could have been Manchester to Orlando). Think a TSA slip was left, but either it didn't say where it had been broken (UK or USA side) or I can't remember. – user25730 Oct 1 at 2:11
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There are two aspects here: the lock, and the way to open/close the case.

  • The lock being TSA-approved means that TSA can use one of their master keys to unlock them (and, in theory, lock them back once they're finished). No surprise there, they shouldn't need to break anything if the lock is functional.

  • The closing mechanism. It seems to be very similar to what can be found on hard-shell professional cases, used to transport fragile equipment, like those from Pelican and many others. I don't expect TSA to have much difficulty opening those.

Note that TSA in the US have the right to open your luggage (that's why the case must have TSA-approved locks), but in most other countries if scans detect something, you are usually asked to come open the case, I don't think they will open your case without asking, much less break it, especially in Europe.

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    "you are usually asked to come open the case" [citation needed]. Never happened to me in Europe (with hold luggage that is). – Marianne013 Sep 30 at 15:47
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    @Marianne013 Probably just because noone ever has bothered to check your luggage. Or have you actually experienced that your suitcase has been broken into in Europe? – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 1 at 9:10
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo No I leave it unlocked, but I had a colleague whose suitcase was forcefully opened without alerting him first (at Heathrow). In hindsight he realized stuffing a working radio controlled alarm clock into his suitcase might not have been a wise move. – Marianne013 Oct 7 at 15:19
  • Frankfurt Airport explicitly states (at least on its German speaking pages): " In Einzelfällen kann eine Gepäcköffnung ohne Ihre Anwesenheit notwendig werden. (Translation: (after something about automated checks of hold luggage): "Occasionally it might be necessary to open your lugguage without you being present." It then goes on to tell you not to use padlocks, which seems to imply they might be able to open other luggage locks. – Marianne013 Oct 7 at 15:23
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You can see that alongside the tumblers there is also a small keyhole. That accepts TSA keys. Assuming the lock itself is not broken, the TSA should have no trouble opening it. That's what being a TSA-approved lock means. So within the US, you should have nothing to worry about.

If they have to break in, then yes it's likely that would destroy the lock (or the suitcase itself, depending how they go about it). But the chances of that should be pretty low - chances are your luggage won't be inspected anyway, and even if it is, the TSA master key will open it without any damage unless the lock itself has developed some problem.

In Europe the TSA-approved standard doesn't have any official standing, so they may not have the TSA master keys. If they feel it necessary to inspect the contents of your suitcase, then it's certainly possible that it would be damaged. As Willeke says, this may be covered by travel insurance (check policy details).

That danger of damage may be a reason to avoid relying a TSA lock that can't be circumvented in some other way for travels in Europe. That said, there's nothing especially unusual about similar cases, and while I have seen reports online I've never heard of this happening to anybody I know.

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    A complete set of TSA keys can be bought for a few euros, or even 3D printed from public files. Airport security outside the US could certainly use them if they wanted to. On the other hand, anyone can open these, not just airport security. – Michael Hampton Sep 30 at 13:47
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    @MichaelHampton yes airport security outside the US could use them if they wanted to, but if they did not want to they can break your case. It is up to them. – emory Sep 30 at 15:15
  • Given the fact the keys are so widely spread there is absolutely no point in even locking a bag if it have a TSA lock – Simson Oct 1 at 8:21

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