January 27, 2003

Travel Tip

I gave some late Christmas presents this year—packets of small, colored cable ties for use on luggage, in lieu of padlocks.

The Transportation Security Administration, it seems, is now advising airline passengers to leave their checked bags unlocked, so that locks will not have to be broken if TSA personnel decide to inspect them. The TSA assumes no liability for bags damaged in the process of breaking locks and apparently will assume no liability for the locks themselves or for any belongings that go missing, either. It does promise to seal inspected bags and notify the passenger. Clearly, however, this procedure subjects checked bags to unconstrained pilferage, if not by the TSA, then by airline employees. (No one in government seems to have thought this through, and I suspect we are expected to be grateful for the new rules.)

This brings us to the cable ties. The TSA actually recommends using these nylon devices to secure your luggage because doing so deters pilferage and yet allows easy access by inspectors as necessary. (Cables ties are difficult to break and cannot be reused, but they can be cut.) Luggage locks never really detered a determined thief, anyway. The problem with most cable ties, unfortunately, is that they are either white (most commonly) or black. What is to stop an airline employee (or bellhop, etc.) from buying a couple of packs of cable ties, cutting off passengers’ ties, stealing from the bags, and replacing the ties with identical ones? Colored ties are harder to find and are less likely to be messed with, at least for now. Neither my local hardware store nor electrical supply house had colored ties, but I found packages of assorted colors at Home Depot.

By the way, I think that opening people’s luggage while they are not present is a terrible idea. But so are most idea of this administration.

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