Securing a lock to luggageSecuring a lock to luggage — Photo courtesy of Erdark // Getty Images

Using a TSA lock on your suitcase is a great way to keep your belongings safe while making it easy for TSA officers to do their job. But, because the lock requires a combination, it gives you something else to remember in addition to all those passwords floating around in your head. And that means there’s a chance you’re eventually going to forget it.

Don’t worry. We’ll show you how to open a TSA lock when you forget the combination, so you can get on with your travels even when the code escapes you.

What is a TSA lock, anyway?

A TSA lock is one to which only TSA officials have a key. You set the combination yourself and, if a TSA agent has to look inside your bag because they see something suspicious on the scanner, it can be easily opened with their master key. If you use a lock that’s not TSA-approved, the agent’s only way to get in is to cut the lock or the bag itself, possibly damaging it.

Many suitcases already come with built-in TSA locks but, if they don’t, you can buy one separately.

How to open your TSA lock and reset the combination

If you forget your TSA lock combination, there are a few methods you’ll want to try to open it. And, yes, you do have to open it before you can reset the combination. Because there’s no standard solution for this, you’ll have to experiment to see which one works for you.

Since different locks require different processes, the most effective first step may be to call the luggage or lock company itself (or check their website) for brand-specific instructions.

Travel Sentry, whose red diamond logo certifies that a lock is TSA-approved, recommends trying every possible combination from 000-999, starting with 000, 001, 002 … and working your work to 999. Although, admittedly, this seems time-consuming, they assure it should take 30 minutes or less, especially if the first number is a 0, 1 or 2 (something to keep in mind when you’re coming up with a new combination).

If the idea of that is overwhelming and your luggage features a built-in TSA lock, you can try this:

Use a safety pin to locate the metal or plastic cylinder on the right side of the first dial. The flashlight and camera on your phone can help you zoom in on it.
Turn the dial and, with the safety pin, look for an indentation or gap in the cylinder. Leave the dial at that number.
Repeat the process for the other two dials.
If the lock doesn’t open, turn all three dials down one number.
If the lock still doesn’t open, keep turning all three dials down one number at a time until it does.

Here’s another method that has worked for travelers with TSA padlocks:

Put pressure on the locking mechanism by pushing the button or pulling on the lock.
Turn the first dial slowly until you hear an audible click, which signals it’s the correct number.
Repeat the process for the next two dials.
When all three numbers are correct, the lock will open.

If you forget your combination while the lock is still open, all you have to do is reset it with a new combination. Again, you may be best off checking the brand’s website for individual instructions, but you can reset most freestanding locks this way:

Set each dial to 0 so it reads 000.
Rotate the shackle 90 degrees from the lock position.
Press the shackle and keep it down while you set your three-digit combination.
Release the shackle and turn it back to the lock position.

To reset most built-in locks, simply slide the lock button in the direction of the arrow, set your new code and release the button.

Is it really worth using a TSA lock?

Using a TSA lock is totally a matter of personal preference. Many travelers feel safer knowing that their luggage is secure while others don’t want to have to worry about remembering one more thing. The fact is, of the 1.4 million checked bags the TSA screens daily, only about 5% of checked bags are actually opened by agents for further inspection.

Our advice? Use a TSA lock and store your combination safely in your phone for all-around peace of mind.

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