Clipper for luggage

Tim Dierks tim at
Tue Nov 11 22:31:09 EST 2003

 From the New York Times. Any guesses on how long it'll take before your 
local hacker will have a key which will open any piece of your luggage?

  - Tim

A Baggage Lock for You and the Federal Screeners

Published: November 11, 2003

AIRLINE passengers will be able to lock checked bags confidently again 
starting tomorrow, thanks to a new customer-service initiative between 
private enterprise and the Transportation Security Administration.

Here's how the plan will work: Several major luggage and lock retailers in 
the United States will announce tomorrow the availability of new locks, 
made by various manufacturers, that T.S.A. inspectors will be able to 
readily identify and open on checked bags selected for hand searches at 

T.S.A. screeners in airports around the country have already been trained 
in using secure procedures to open the new certified locks when necessary, 
and relock them after inspecting bags.

"Literally since we began the process of screening every checked bag for 
explosives in December, one of the challenges has been the ability to get 
into bags without doing damage to them," said Brian Turmail, a spokesman 
for the T.S.A.

The system, developed in cooperation with the T.S.A. and the Travel Goods 
Association, a trade group, was designed around "a common set of standards 
that any company that manufactures, or is interested in manufacturing, 
luggage or luggage locks could follow that would allow T.S.A. screeners to 
open the bag without doing damage to the bag, in a manner that would allow 
the bag to stay secured afterwards,'' Mr. Turmail said. "In other words, we 
can open it, but no one else can."

The locks will be available in various manufacturers' designs. All will be 
geared around a uniform technology allowing them to be opened by T.S.A. 
inspectors using a combination of secure codes and special tools, according 
to John W. Vermilye, a former airline baggage-systems executive who 
developed the system through Travel Sentry, a company he set up for that 

All the locks will carry a red diamond-shaped logo to certify to screeners 
that they meet the Travel Sentry standards. Mr. Vermilye said his company 
would receive royalties from manufacturers.

The system will ensure that passengers using the locks will not have to 
worry about a lock being broken or a locked bag being damaged if it is 
selected for hand inspection. It will also mean more peace of mind for 
passengers worried about reports of increased pilferage from unlocked bags.

"The general feeling of airline passengers is, 'I don't like to have to 
keep my bags unlocked,' " added Mr. Vermilye, who once worked as a baggage 
handler. "As somebody in the business for 30 years, I don't like it either, 
because I know what goes on" in some baggage-handling areas, he said.

An industry study showed that 90 percent of air travelers are now leaving 
checked bags unlocked, whereas before this year about 66 percent of them 
said they always locked their bags.

"I travel all the time, and I always used to lock my bags" until this year, 
said Michael F. Anthony, the chairman and chief executive of Brookstone, a 
specialty retailer with 266 shops, including 30 in airports. Besides the 
worry about theft within the airline baggage-handling systems, Mr. Anthony 
said he was concerned on business trips about unlocked bags in the hands of 
cab and airport shuttle drivers, bellhops and others.

Brookstone airport shops are planning to introduce the chain's own brand of 
new locks with in-store promotions tomorrow, Mr. Anthony said. A package of 
two four-digit Brookstone combination locks costs $20. Luggage and other 
accessories with the lock standards incorporated also will begin moving 
soon onto shelves at Brookstone and other retailers.

Mr. Anthony said that the locks represented a needed air-travel 
customer-service breakthrough, "helping people reclaim a sense of security 
they had in the past" with their checked possessions.

The T.S.A. mandated screening of all checked bags starting last Dec. 31. 
Since then, most of the estimated 1.5 million bags checked daily in 
domestic airports have been inspected by bomb-detecting machinery - but 
about 10 percent of checked bags are opened and inspected by hand.

Initially, the T.S.A. planned to issue a blanket prohibition against 
locking bags, but the agency ultimately decided instead to merely suggest 
that passengers not lock them. The T.S.A. public directive on the subject 
says: "In some cases screeners will have to open your baggage as part of 
the screening process. If your bag is unlocked, then T.S.A. will simply 
open the bag and screen the bag. However, if the bag is locked and T.S.A. 
needs to open your bag, then locks may have to be broken. You may keep your 
bag locked if you choose, but T.S.A. is not liable for damage caused to 
locked bags that must be opened.''

With bags unlocked, many travelers, including business travelers who pack 
expensive electronic gear, worried that their checked possessions were far 
too vulnerable to theft, passing unlocked through T.S.A. hands and into the 
standard airline baggage-handling systems. Reports of pilferage rose this 
year, as did concern about who was legally responsible for claims of theft 
or damage, since both government and airline employees have custody of bags 
at various points.

Mr. Vermilye is a former head of baggage operations for Eastern Airlines 
who later worked as a top executive of the International Air Transport 
Association, a trade group for airlines worldwide. After 9/11, he was part 
of a team of industry consultants working with the T.S.A. to improve 
customer service.

Mr. Vermilye and Mr. Turmail at the T.S.A. agreed that the new system would 
probably make the screening chore easier for inspectors. "With this system, 
they know they don't have to break a lock or damage a bag. They go, 'Relax, 
I know I can open it.' It ceases to become an issue," Mr. Vermilye said.

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