Apparently Travel Sentry locks can only be opened:

  • by their owner,
  • by the TSA, CATSA and "other security agencies".

How do they work technically?

Is there some electronics embedded with authentication capabilities?
Do the security agencies have a kind of master code/key?
Do they have a big database giving the code for each individual lock? In that case I guess the lock has to emit some kind of identifier?

Apparently some have just a code, some other have just a key hole:
Travel Sentry lock Travel Sentry key hole
And some have both, see the pictures on Wikimedia Commons.

  • 10
    In my experience, the TSA just cuts them open anyway.
    – Volker
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 6:05
  • 12
    They don't work really, they are absolutely useless. You could get into one with a bent paper clip.
    – GdD
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 8:05
  • Also, putting any advanced electronic on such a crappy device is just like putting a caveau door on a tent. Commented May 26, 2015 at 19:36
  • I have a lock like the blue one on the left. It has a keyhole on the butt end of it. That key is obviously a very generic master key that only the TSA is "supposed" to have but I'm sure any interested criminal has already copied. These locks really serve only to keep casual browsers out. A real thief could open, or just break, these locks in seconds. I think they're more for peace of mind than anything. It IS nice to have the indicator that tells you if the TSA opened it. Commented May 28, 2015 at 21:15
  • They are very insecure. The master keys were leaked a few years ago, so anyone can 3D print the keys to open the locks: github.com/Xyl2k/TSA-Travel-Sentry-master-keys
    – Augusto
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 8:58

2 Answers 2


They're all master keyed. On each lock you'll see a number ("TSA007" or such) that signifies which key on the ring the TSA agent needs to use to open the lock.

It's bad enough that anybody can buy a few of them and disassemble the locks to know exactly which keys to cut (as one could with any keyed-alike lock). The effort to open them is far lower than that, though: they're embarrassingly insecure locks on their own. You can watch somebody in this video pop open 3 locks in a row, each with seconds of effort using the same generic jiggler keys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtJx3j7AhQk

  • 13
    Security theater for your luggage... Looks like a lock, opens... ahem... no that's too crude. Commented May 26, 2015 at 7:04
  • I'm a very amateur lock pick, and even so, the ones that I have I've found I can rake open literally as quickly as I can open them with a key.
    – Xander
    Commented Jul 20, 2019 at 19:59

The idea of the TSA padlocks is to be used on luggage and travel bags for international flights. They are not designed to be used for high security purposes, so they will be extremely easy to pick open, but when in an airport would someone have the time or the equipment to pick open your bag while you were not looking?

They all have a key override which is meant to only be supplied to the security officers so they dont have to cut off your padlock when they search your bag. If you do not have a TSA padlock then they will just cut it off and bin it.

Some TSA padlocks come with a a colored indicator so you can tell that your bag has been searched, the indicator changes from red to green.


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