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History of TSA Locks

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Travel Sentry® was founded in 2003 and was the first locks to be manufactured to the Travel Sentry Approved standards went on sale on November 12, 2003. Initially, only key and combination padlocks were manufactured using this standard. In 2004, the first luggage with integrated Travel Sentry® locks were introduced.

John Vermilye is the founder and CEO of Travel Sentry®.  After the 9/11 attack, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta recruited a team to quickly assemble the TSA and as a consultant (creation of the checked baggage screening process) John was part of a team that developed the Travel Sentry Approved standards. He trademarked the diamond logo to be used on these locks and founded Travel Sentry. All factories manufacturing locks with this trademark are required to pay an annual licensing fee along with a cost per lock as is also all firms that import/distribute the product into the USA.

The Travel Sentry system is used by security agencies in Austria, Canada, Finland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA.  The system is licensed by over 500 companies worldwide: primarily luggage brands, lock manufacturers and distributors of travel goods.

John Vermilye
A 30-year veteran of the airline business, John began his career as a baggage handler at Boston's Logan Airport while he was an undergraduate at Harvard University. Upon graduation, John joined Eastern Airline's management training program and spent the next 15 years with the airline. In 1985, while head of Corporate Baggage Operations, John was elected to chair an international industry working group organized to overhaul baggage security procedures following the bombing of Air India flight 182. As a result of the group's analysis, the ubiquitous bar coded baggage tag was adopted to better and more efficiently facilitate baggage handling and security. 

In 1988, John was recruited to oversee baggage policy and procedures for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. John advanced through a series of leadership positions during his tenure with the IATA, including serving as Director of Industry Standards for Airports, Passenger and Baggage Services. In his final post with the association, John was appointed to Vice-President of Marketing where he directed all commercial activities including economic and market research, training and development, publishing, and seminar and conference development. 

Firms that develop and license TSA standards used in travel security, including a standard for luggage locks that can be opened by aviation security agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration:

  • Travel Sentry founded in 2003 and the primary company discussed in this blog
  • Safe Skies came along a few years later as a competing entity for Travel Sentry filing their first patent in 2006

How it Works

Travel Sentry® Approved locks and luggage enable airport security officers to open luggage for physical inspection when required without the need to cut off or break open locks. This means that passenger luggage can be left securely locked for the entire trip and not delayed or damaged for security inspection.  The TSA recommends that TSA accepted locks be used, as luggage locked using other methods must be opened by force in order to be inspected. 

Luggage locks accepted by the TSA can be opened by the authorities using publicly known universal "master" keys. There are 7 of these master keys (depending on which factory the locks are manufactured in) starting from TSA001 to TSA007

Travel Sentry does not manufacture locks or luggage and does not sell any products. Rather, Travel Sentry sets the standards for this system in cooperation with governments and partnership with the luggage and lock industry. Travel Sentry manages the system for participating governments and provides the necessary tools, training and ongoing support.