Have you ever reached your destination only to find that your suitcase has a note to say it's been inspected, or wondered what happens to your checked luggage on its journey to your destination?
Airports security staff do have the authority to open your checked luggage if they suspect there is something dangerous which should not go into the cargo hold, most of the time they will leave a note to say that your luggage has been inspected, however.
To find out more about your checked luggage journey, we've put together a guide below which will cover why airports would open your luggage, what triggers inspection, what happens to your checked luggage at the airport and what not to do with your luggage to avoid issues.
Before you get angry about airports opening your luggage without you knowing, they only do this to ensure passengers' safety if they suspect there is a dangerous item in the checked bag.
Some prohibited items could be a lithium battery or a power bank, but TSA is mainly looking for anything that could be classed as a bomb. Anything which gets triggered during the x-ray bin when your checked luggage passes through can raise the alarm for a manual secondary search.
If the item is deemed to be dangerous it will be removed, but if it's okay the luggage will be packed back and you will be left a note to say your bag has had secondary screening.
The best way to avoid your checked luggage being opened at the airport is by not packing anything that could be mistaken as a bomb or anything which is prohibited.
We've listed some main triggers for a secondary search of your checked luggage below.
To understand when and why airports open your checked luggage, you might be curious as to what happens to your checked luggage the moment you give it to the baggage handler and it disappears on the conveyor belt.
Well, after checking in and weighing your bag, your checked luggage then moves on to the sorting baggage facilities and security screening.
Either by a robot or manually your luggage is sent off to the right flight, it's then scanned for dangerous items again or flammable items where it might be manually inspected if triggered.
After this, the bag is then sent to the flight baggage cart where it will be loaded into the plane.
To avoid your checked luggage getting pulled out and manually inspected, you just need to make sure you are following the rules about packing threat items and personal items which might need to be in your carry on instead.
However, there is a wide range of other things you shouldn't do with your checked luggage to avoid issues at the airport too.
Should I lock my luggage for a domestic layover?
Yes, you should always lock your luggage, whether you are travelling internationally or domestically, you might also want to consider locking your carry on luggage if you're stowing it overhead.
Why is there a ban on lithium batteries in checked luggage?
Loose or spare lithium-ion batteries in luggage have a high risk of fire, this is because when their negative and positive terminals are exposed they can give off high heat levels causing ignition and short circuit which can then cause fires which are hard to put out.
What are some travel tips to avoid manual inspection?
To avoid manual inspection of your luggage, simply make sure you pack nothing prohibited or shielding like large pieces of metal. If you're not sure about what you should or not be packing in your luggage then always check with the airline beforehand.
Does TSA have to inform me when they open my luggage?
TSA airport security staff do not have to inform you when they open your luggage, this is because they need to take these additional security measures to ensure passengers' safety. TSA will likely leave a note on your luggage however to say they have opened your luggage.
What items can get mistaken for explosives in the luggage?
Some common items which can get mistaken for explosives in luggage are anything large like shoes, toiletries, food products or even books.
Can I get a removed item back from the suitcase?
Yes, most airports will store the item on hold for a certain number of days if the owner wants to collect it, sometimes they can mail the item, but this is not always possible if it does not meet aviation security standards.
Which types of batteries are not allowed in checked luggage?
Any wet or liquid batteries or spare lithium-ion batteries cannot be packed in checked luggage, this goes for any lithium batteries above 100Wh too.
How do TSA open locks?
TSA can open any lock which has a TSA keyhole at the bottom because they have a special key opener for the job.
What happens if my suitcase bursts open during travel?
If your luggage bursts open during transit or travel then TSA will likely try to repack it as well as they can, but they don't always have time for this.
Overall, airports do have the authority to open your luggage if they suspect something is flammable or dangerous, this is why you should always make sure that your luggage is closed with a TSA lock.
TSA will likely leave a notice on your luggage if they open your bag however so not to worry if you see anything moved around, to avoid your luggage being opened we suggest checking the prohibited items list beforehand.