Clipper for luggage
tim at dierks.org
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?
A Baggage Lock for You and the Federal Screeners
By JOE SHARKEY
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
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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