The TSA’s War on TSA-Approved Locks.

Goldfinger teaching Bond a lesson....

When James Bond kept taking runs at Goldfinger, Gert Frobe (the wonderful German actor who embodied the Golden Guy) delivered these words of wisdom regarding his actions:

“Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, but three times, Mr. Bond, is enemy action.”

So, that makes 6 times, what? I’ll tell you. It’s simply all-out war.

And that is how many times in a row that the TSA has opened one of my bags (secured with the TSA-approved Travel Sentry locks), inspected the contents, and then proceeded to toss the lock away (or resell it on EBay, or whatever the hell they do with the locks) and six times in a row that they’ve neglected to put in the required sheet of paper explaining that my bag has been searched, yada, yada, yada.

What are we to make of this?  Hit the jump to find out.

The TSA is telling us, in effect, “we hate your locks and we’ll keep tossing them until you give in and give us unlocked bags.”

Now, in defense of these overworked civil servants, nothing has been missing from my bags. But it is a huge pain in the tuchas to keep buying these locks, only to have them clipped and tossed or resold or whatever by the very agency that approved their use in the first place.

I’m sitting in Colorado Springs, having driven 70 miles in blizzard conditions from Denver, to teach a workshop for National Geographic Traveler, and I had a case of strobe gear all locked up with a heavy duty Travel Sentry lock. It’s gone, as are the locks that I used on the way to and from Buenos Aires, Slovenia, and several flights before that.

I will be voicing my complaints on the TSA blog, called, of all things, The Evolution of Security!

But the way I feel tonight, I’d rather have that TSA blogger right on the same table that Goldfinger has James Bond on. Of course, I would be more charitable than Auric himself, whose other bit of great dialogue from this scene goes something like this:

Bond: (defiantly) Do you expect me to talk?

Goldfinger: (jovially) Oh no, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Greetings, Mr. Krist!
    While trapped in our house due to the intense snowstorm here in Denver, I decided to show my roommate your incredible work after we had a discussion on photography tonight. Low and behold, we just read your blog and ironically discovered you are in Colorado experiencing the same winter wonderland as us. Hope you are having safe travels! Your work is absolutely breathtaking. Hope to see you and the family when I’m back in New Hope over break!
    Take care and all the best,
    Alanna Schechtman

    1. Hi Alanna: Great to hear from you. Hope you’re enjoying your time out here in snow Colorado. I’ll tell Brian you said hello! cheers, Bob

  2. I recently sent a request for my wife to get off the secondary screening list for the TSA. We can never print e-tixs and get the thrice over when reentering the US. I copied the address to mail in the forms exactly and… Yep it was returned as an undeliverable address! even the USPS can’t find them.

    1. Good luck in your efforts! BK

  3. Why so serious, “Bob”? Do you have something to hide, citizen? Free and open bags for our civil servants shows your love for them. You do love them, “Bob,” don’t you citizen? They love you.

    1. Nick, No, No, of course, I love them too. This could call for another ’60’s reference, this time from a show called The Prisoner! Bob

  4. I was pondering your blog whilst munching on breakfast here at EWR, winging my way soon to your workshop.I wonder if the baggage handlers have either pass keys or sets just like my Walmart purchased locks. I’ve had my bag gone thru twice due to the tripod I guess. TSA always left a note. But I did have unlocked luggage. See you soon!

    1. Hi Penelope: Hopefully all your stuff will make it! Look forward to seeing you. Bob

  5. My experience was different. After friends nagged me after years of never locking my bag, I finally gave in and bought a TSA-approved lock. The first time I used it on a United flight out of ORD, the lock was cut and the destroyed lock was left inside my bag (with the required normal inspection letter, but no special apology).

    I believe they are just cutting all or most of them off and the TSA-approval is a cruel joke. However, other people have never had a problem. Perhaps it is photographers who tend to have “interesting” things in the bag, and others escape un-inspected??

    1. There’s no doubt that bags full of strobes, batteries, Pocket Wizards need to be inspected…I just wonder about how much more trouble it is to relock them. Ah well. Bob

  6. Do you have these “Bond moments” in your head? Good one.

    1. Andrew: Yes, unfortunately, my head is cluttered with great moments from pop culture from the 60s. There’s no cure. Bob

  7. Ouch, sounds like the next evolution in locks should be a tether attachment to affix the lock securely to the bag so even if the decide not to relock it’s a pain for them to toss. 🙂

    Good luck with your battle & thx for the heads up, thankfully (but unfortunately) my ‘gear’ all fits in my carry on. 😉

    1. Not a bad idea, Ryan! Bob

  8. Don’t forget that the TSA aren’t the only people who touch your bag on its journey to join you in your travels. Most of the airline baggage handlers are good people but, every barrel has its bad apple. That goes for TSA too.

    1. If that many other folksin the luggage-handling chain have the passkeys, or bolt cutters, we’re all in trouble! Bob

  9. Bob,
    I totally agree. My wife and I go through about 10-15 of the TSA locks per year (just bought a nice Masterlock Sentry that has a wire cable on top like the Think Tank bags instead of the rigid hasp). We’ve had turbos go missing as well as other items. I go through periods where I prefer to use cable ties IF I know that the bags will not all be inspected on a table curbside before they go down the conveyor. We fly out of BNA and use the TSA locks if we are flying Southwest(all bags inspected at curbside check-in). If on CO or UA then cable ties because they go straight downstairs. It is irritating as hell that the Europeans seem to be able to screen bags without needing to scatter our equipment and dirty underwear all over the place.
    Hope to meet some day. I think we probably know a lot of the same dinosaurs.

  10. Just makes you wonder. In Germany my pelican case went through carry on xray. The operator asked me how I liked my D3 and 200-400mm, This without opening the unlocked case. While in the USA TSA uses the most powerfull screen device made and they can’t even identify a tripod. Bob maybe you should put on a special photography workshop for TSA screeners. LOL

    Have a great workshop and hope to see you in Canada some time on one.

  11. Bob, The tripod and flash definitely cause a search but I have always gotten the TSA note…perhaps because I didn’t have a lock. Sounds like you need to take a deep cleansing breath and have a glass of wine! BTW, I saw you at the Javits but you were in conversation and by the time I got back to where you were, you were gone. Sorry I missed you. Did you have a speaking session?

    1. Hi Renee: I was up there doing a video interview for Nikon….sorry I missed you. B

  12. Bob,

    I guess I’ve taken your “travel light” advice to extreme. I pack it all in a Lowepro backpack and carry it on. I realize I’m lucky in that I don’t have to bring more stuff.

    I get so tired of being approached and questioned by “authorities” and regular ol’ civilians thinking they’re doing some great civic duty asking me what I’m doing (as if the camera and tripod weren’t enough info for them!) I think I’d snap if I also had to deal with TSA rifling through my bags. You’re a bigger man than I!

    Hang in there. It’s gotta get better!

  13. I once had a “TSA-approved” lock cut off and tossed inside my bag. There was no note. Since then, I stopped locking my bags and, even though there is always a big tripod packed inside, my bags have never been opened. At least, not that I could tell: No note and nothing seemed out of place. And, so far, nothing stolen. Guess I’m just lucky.

  14. LOL… Bob, “stuff” happens in the security world. I am more concerned about your ending statement..? You don’t seriously expect the TSA to dissapear. after all this is hundreds of thousand new government jobs with full benefits, medical, vacation and retirement plans.. created to protect us from…. while at the same time roughly 16.000 Americans are killed by drunk drivers each year. Me thinks we could spend the TSA budget on drunk driving and save more lives than we ever TSA ever will. But I am glad my tripod travel safely.

    Thank you for a great weekend.


    1. Bo: Enjoyed hanging out with you in class! Keep in touch,Bob

  15. Bob, Glad it’s you out there and not me. Whew! Why would anybody want to go near an airport these days? The fun of travel is history but you remain courageous. It’s because you love what you do. . . and it shows! Keep it up. You’re the best.

    1. Chuck: I learned from the best! You. Bob

  16. Sorry to hear that you have had so much trouble. I rarely travel within the US anymore, so I don’t have much contact with the TSA, other than flying in/out of Honolulu.

  17. OK, I’m late getting in the line-up here – for some reason your automatic feed of entries stopped working in my email box – but with broken laptops, updates, etc., I wasn’t in the blogger loop much anyway the past month.

    I have lost 4 locks just in 2009 and have written to TSA about it – and got a letter from them that the San Francisco agents are sub-contracted, so my letter was forwarded…that was over a month ago. I wrote complaining that these four were just the tip of the ‘iceberg’ of all the locks they’ve stolen from me on national flights. I’m not expecting a lot from this but I can’t let it just go by the wayside!!

    Incidentally, I have used electrical cord plastic ties, the self-locking type, and provided extras inside the case right on top if they go in there. Surprisingly that has worked a few times – so why the bleep can’t they just put the dang locks back on? grrrr….

  18. Of course, take a closer look and I’m not seeing zipper pulls attached to closed locks. The ones with the TSA logo are definitely opened… jerks.

  19. We had quite a few customers who traveled to US complaining about TSA locks and bag check system. And yes, few people told me that they couldn’t get their TSA approved locks back. I don’t know in America but TSA locks are rather expensive in Australia. Customers weren’t too happy!

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