Do Airports Open Your Luggage? Let's Find Out!

Why Do Airports Open Checked Luggage? - Our Guide!

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. 

Do Airports Open Your Luggage?

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. 

Why Would Airports Open You Luggage? 

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.

How To Avoid Your Checked Luggage Being Opened 

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. 

  • Organic alarm - A surprising amount of organic materials can have fingerprint explosives on an airport scanner. Some to name are peanut butter and anything large, like large tubs of skin cream or even large chocolate bars!
  • Undeclared firearms - Firearms which are not declared are another reason why checked luggage gets manually inspected so much. Airport scanners can even pick up disassembled firearms.
  • Shield alarms - If your luggage contains shield items which block the x-ray from seeing what's on underneath in your bag then this can flare the alarm upon the scanner and require a manual search. Most of the time this is due to large pieces of metal items.

What Happens To Your Checked Luggage At The Airport 

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.

Do Airports Open Your Luggage?

What Not To Do With Your Checked Luggage 

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. 

  • Don't pack prohibited items - Avoid prohibited items like loose lithium-ion batteries, flammable items or even e-cigarettes in your luggage since this can flag up security screening.
  • Check your luggage for loose ends - Luggage with loose ends can get caught up on the conveyor belt due to the material hanging off, this could damage your bag, do the same for checking that zips are close up. We would also make sure that your bag is marked with something identifiable to ensure you don't pick up the wrong suitcase.
  • Pack smart - Never pack all your clothes in your checked luggage, leave a few in your carry-on bag in case your bag gets lost or delayed when you arrive at your destination. Also, pack liquid well in packed baggage, avoid putting them on the outside compartments so they might explode in the suitcase by accident, and try taping the lids to avoid any explosions.
  • Use a TSA approved - It's important to secure your baggage with TSA-approved locks, not only does this make sure your baggage is secure but it also makes it easier for airport security to open your bag if needed to be manually inspected rather than trying to break open a non-TSA-approved lock.

Frequently Asked Questions About Airports Opening Luggage

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.

Do Airports Open Your Luggage?

Last Words

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.

About this Guide

Written By Alex
Last Updated On May 31, 2022
Reading Time 
7 minutes
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