Expert Guide to Locking Checked Baggage on International Flights

Are you wondering how you should lock your checked baggage for your next international flight? I’ve got you covered. Securing your checked baggage can be a bit complicated, especially if it’s your first international flight. You’re not alone.

In this guide, I share with you everything you need to know: how to lock your checked baggage, the options available to you, the best travel locks, and several bonus tips to ensure your flight goes smoothly.

How to Lock Your Checked Baggage on International Flights

The best way to lock your checked baggage on international flights is with a TSA-approved lock. Travel Sentry is the company behind the TSA lock. You may have seen the red diamond logo below on a travel lock before:

Which Countries Require TSA Locks

All locks with the Travel Sentry logo are TSA-friendly. What this means is airport security agents can unlock your lock using their special key. Keep in mind, all countries have different rules about opening your luggage.

For example, in the United States, your checked luggage must be openable. TSA agents have the right to physically search your luggage without you being present.

By using a TSA-approved Travel Sentry lock, TSA agents can access your bag without breaking your lock. If you choose to use a non-TSA lock, the agents have the right to cut your lock.

Once your lock has been cut, you’re out the money you paid for the lock, plus, your zippers are prone to be opened along the way. Zippers can get caught on baggage claim conveyor belts or accidentally opened by baggage handlers.

With a TSA lock, you can avoid these problems altogether. Although, I have read reports where people claimed TSA removed or cut TSA locks. In other words, there’s no guarantee.

You’ll also want to be aware of which countries require TSA locks because while TSA locks are accepted globally, not all countries have adopted the Travel Sentry system. There are currently more than 650 airports in 30 countries that have adopted the Travel Sentry system.

Regardless, it’s best to use a TSA lock to ensure your lock isn’t cut.

The Best TSA Locks

The best way to secure your baggage with TSA-approved locks is by purchasing baggage with kissing zippers. Kissing zippers have built-in metal loops that allow you to pass a travel lock through each zipper.

The advantages of kissing zippers are greater support and less play between your lock and zippers. Here’s a photo of what kissing zippers look like:

Kissing Zippers

Don’t worry if your baggage doesn’t have kissing zippers because you can still pass the shackle of most TSA locks through the other holes in your zippers.

The most common type of TSA lock is the standard combination padlock. Click here or the image to check out a reliable set of padlocks at Amazon:

What’s cool about these locks is they come with that little red open alert indicator button below the shackle. If airport security opens your bag, the red button pops up to alert you that security opened your bag.

TIP: If you notice the open alert indicator is up, be sure to check your belongings before leaving the airport to confirm nothing is missing.

If you don’t use a lock with an open alert indicator, and airport security searches your bag, the agent should place a notice inside your bag.

It happened to me before because I think they thought my big bag of loose green tea was something else 🙂

Another common TSA lock is a cable lock similar to the padlock above, but these locks use a cable instead of a metal shackle.

The cable locks are good for securing more than two zippers at once. They can be better for backpacks with multiple zippers. The first lock is better for suitcases.

Click here or the image below to check out a reliable Travel Sentry cable lock:

If you prefer to use keys instead of a combination, here’s a reliable set of keyed padlocks:

Aside from these standard locks, there are keyless locks that use specialized cards. The lock below is one of the leaders in the keyless TSA lock department:

The latest type of padlock is the smart fingerprint TSA lock. I don’t know for sure how well these work, but here’s one that’s currently available on Amazon:

I’m sure in a few years, these fingerprint locks will have a lot more reviews.

I personally use this lock. I prefer the combination locks with larger dials and white on black numbers. The contrasting colors make the numbers easier to read, and the larger dials are easier to turn.

If you’re good at keeping track of small keys, the keyed locks can be more convenient since you don’t have to input a combination.

Luggage with Built-in TSA Locks

Another option for locking checked baggage on international flights is to purchase checked baggage with a built-in TSA lock.

There are all types of cool “smart” suitcases these days. The suitcase I personally use and love is the one pictured below by Samsonite. Click here to check it out at Amazon.

This bag has treated me well for many moons now. The built-in TSA zipper lock is reliable.

TIP: One thing I really like about hardside suitcases with built-in TSA locks is I can essentially turn my suitcase into a giant safe inside my hotel room or Airbnb rental. It’s a lot harder to cut through hardside luggage than standard luggage.

I also carry a lightweight retractable cable lock that I use to secure my suitcase to a fixed object.
One last option you may want to check out is this new type of zipperless TSA-approved lock on a rolling hardside carry on suitcase. I think it’s a cool idea to ensure no one can access your bag during your flight or while in transit.

It also has a second TSA zipper lock at the top to secure your laptop or other items you wish to have easier access to. Click here or the image to view it on Amazon:

Final Word

If you made it this far, you know everything there is to know about locking checked baggage on international flights.

The key takeaway: use a TSA-approved lock to avoid having your lock cut. There’s no guarantee since the TSA is a US-based organization, but I’ve been using TSA locks internationally for years and have had employees working the check-in counter tell me it’s okay to use them.

You’ll also draw less attention to your bag when you use a TSA lock instead of a non-TSA lock.

When a TSA agent or other airport security agent spots a non-TSA lock, he or she most likely becomes more suspicious.

You may also want to read my list of best luggage locks for international travel for additional ideas.

Safe travels!