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How do I open a TSA lock when I forgot the combination?

Securing a padlock on luggage — Photo courtesy of Erdark // Getty Images

Using a TSA lock on your suitcase is a great way to protect your belongings while making it easier for TSA agents to work. But, since the lock requires a combination, it gives you something else to remember besides all those passwords floating around in your head. And that means there’s a chance you’ll end up forgetting about it.

Do not worry. We’ll show you how to open a TSA lock when you forget the combination, so you can continue your journey even when the code escapes you.

What is a TSA lock, anyway?

A TSA lock is a lock to which only TSA officials have a key. You set the combination yourself, and if a TSA agent needs to look inside your bag because they see something suspicious on the scanner, it can be easily opened with their master key. If you are using a lock that is not TSA-approved, the only way for the agent to gain entry is to cut the lock or the bag itself, which could damage it.

Many suitcases already come with built-in TSA locks, but if not, you can purchase one separately.

How to open your TSA lock and reset the combination

If you forget your TSA lock combination, there are several methods you can try to open it. And, yes, you have to open it before you can reset the suit. Because there is no standard solution for this, you will 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 to 999, starting with 000, 001, 002…and working your way up to 999. Although, admittedly, this seems time-consuming, they assure that it should take 30 minutes or less, especially if the first digit is a 0, 1 or 2 (something to keep in mind when inventing a new combination) .

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

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

Here is another method that has worked for travelers with TSA locks:

  1. Depress the locking mechanism by pressing the button or pulling the lock.
  2. Slowly turn the first dial until you hear an audible click, which signals that it is the correct number.
  3. Repeat the process for the next two dials.
  4. When all three digits are correct, the lock will open.

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

  1. Set each dial to 0 so that it displays 000.
  2. Rotate the shackle 90 degrees from the lock position.
  3. Press and hold the shackle while you set your three-digit combination.
  4. Release the shackle and return it to the locked position.

To reset most built-in locks, simply slide the lock button in the direction of the arrow, set your new passcode, 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 their luggage is safe while others don’t want to worry about remembering one more thing. The fact is, of the 1.4 million checked bags the TSA checks daily, only about 5% of checked bags are actually opened by agents for further inspection.

Our advice? Use a TSA padlock and store your combination securely in your phone for complete peace of mind.

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