Has your checked luggage ever been searched by TSA?
Mine has, and now I have a whole new perspective on how to protect myself.
After returning home from my last flight trip I opened my luggage to a friendly letter saying that my suitcase was searched by TSA. I was part of the random search of suitcases that TSA does on those bags that get checked and placed under the airplane. I have to say this was the first time that my suitcase was searched and I kind of wonder if it was because of all the baby stuff I packed in there. Baby bottles, food, and cereal probably do look suspicious in an x-ray machine.
After reading several articles and seeing several news outlets talking about TSA agents getting fired for stealing people’s items from their suitcases, I was a bit concerned that something was missing. After a thorough inspection of my suitcase I was thankful that everything was there. But this experience had me thinking not just about these corrupt TSA agents but those swipe your suitcase at the luggage carousel. The luggage carousels are very easy to get to and people don’t need a plane ticket to get in this area. They just come in right off the street, take a bag, and get back in their car or go to the bathroom and rummage through the suitcase. I read about one guy who took five suitcases in one day! This is a bit scary.
So how do you make sure that your suitcase isn’t one of the unlucky ones to get inspected by TSA or swiped off the luggage carousel? Unfortunately, nothing is 100% full proof but here are some tips on how to make sure you don’t lose any valuable stuff.
Tip #1: Don’t pack anything valuable in the suitcase you are going to check. You can purchase a piece of carry-on luggage surprisingly large enough to fit a lot of your valuable stuff. What is valuable to you is relative, but for most people it is their electronics, jewelry, souvenirs, camera, wallet or anything they feel personally connected to.
Tip #2: Buy a luggage lock. Don’t buy the cheapest lock on the market. There are a lot of TSA approved locks available at department stores, Amazon, etc. These locks allow TSA to easily open the lock without having to know your combination. If you don’t have a TSA approved lock and they want to inspect your bag, they will just cut it off. Now you don’t have a lock for your luggage for the rest of your trip. Having a lock does not deter TSA from inspecting your bag, as it happened to me. However, it will deter someone from swiping your bag. Think of the guy who took the bags into the bathroom. Do you think he was going to cut locks off of bags while people were coming in and out? Probably not, he was targeting bags he could easily open.
Tip #3: Black, black, black! Orange is the new black! Having a black suitcase has some advantages like you don’t see all the scuff marks from rough handling but everyone has one. When you’re watching suitcases come off the carousel and you see a black one you automatically think it is yours and then it’s not. Black is so common that it is easy to mistake or swipe. Think of poor Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents. Even the airline mistook his BLACK suitcase and when his future father in law went through his bag he found some “interesting stuff” it lead to some embarrassing moments. Go out of the norm and pick a color that will stand out. This way you can easily spot it coming off the carousel or even worse, someone walking away with it.
Tip #4: I am not going to advocate trip insurance now, but if you have purchased it they give you identification tags to put into your luggage. This tag is usually printed out from your own computer or your travel agent should be providing it to you, but place this in your luggage. This tag has your information on it so that if your luggage gets lost or swiped and someone finds it, they know how to reach you through your insurance company. This also helps the airline if they lose your luggage.
Tip #5: Luggage tags. There are so many luggage tags on the market today. Bright colors, fancy logos, various shapes, large and small, etc. I highly recommend also putting a luggage tag on your suitcase that will help you spot it. I give all of my clients luggage spotters to put on their suitcases. It wraps around the handle, is padded, and they can put their information on the inside. I usually place their extra trip insurance card in the sleeve just in case. Try to get something sturdy as your bags does get thrown around a lot on its way to and from the airplane. I have lost many luggage tags in my day.
Having TSA search your luggage can happen to anyone but you can avoid them taking anything of value from you.
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