TSA locks [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: TSA locks

03-22-2008, 04:47 AM
Hi all, I have been reading, with some concern, about equipment being stolen at various airports while anglers have been travelling to and from their destinations and that it is getting somewhat questionable as to whether a person can take gear about the aircraft. I have some trips coming this year, Cuba for bones, tarpon and permit in 2 weeks and Norway in July. I am a little concerned about the gear, especially some nice reels. I was planning to carry them aboard the aircraft in my carry on, but I see that might be a problem.

Have any of you tried locking your gear in your check on luggage with the TSA locks? They are new to me and seem to be the answer, but I am not sure how widely used or accepted they are. I have a hard shell, lockable, rod carrier so I am not concerned about breakage, just theft.

I like to hear your experiences or thoughts. I'd hate to lose my Tibor or a custom made salmon reel.


03-22-2008, 06:09 AM
Lewis, I've not heard of these before, but I've just written TSA about them and asked if they know if any foreign security agencies are in agreement. Thanks for the heads up.

03-22-2008, 08:20 AM
I purchased several of them for my travels. They have a combination lock that you can set to whatever combo you desire and a special key opening that allows TSA staff, with the special key, to open the lock, inspect your luggage and then relock. That way the security people can do their jobs and the potential thiefs cannot. I just hope they are widley accepted.


03-22-2008, 08:42 AM
Where can these locks be purchased ? Every flight I take, I worry that some baggage handler has decided to begin to get into fly fishing with MY STUFF !!!:whoa:

03-22-2008, 09:00 AM
I got mine at a travel supply store, luggage and that sort of stuff. I just checked with the store that sold them to me and the staff have used with with great success throughout North America and Europe.


03-22-2008, 09:18 AM
These have been on the market for well over a year. The problem, already, is that master keys are being sold/exchanged on the "black market." While it is probably better than no lock at all, I'm not convinced it's really worth the bother. The most likely person it would discourage is the "opportunist" who wouldn't normally steal from luggage, but to whom a particular opportunity he/she just couldn't resist. Although no one knows how common it is, I know of several instances that have been in the news where the TSA personnel were doing the stealing. One fairly well publicized one featured a female TSA agent who worked at the Fort Lauderdale Airport. There have been several others. You can also bet that if you fly through an airport that doesn't have the key, that the lock will either be cut off with bolt cutters or your luggage won't be going with you. Europe may be fine, but how about the third world airports we all use to access the fishing in the Caribbean and Central America? I'm not saying to not use them, only that they aren't likely to be the be-all/end-all.

Trevor B
03-22-2008, 06:59 PM
I have taken several trips over the past few years and always with my my reels in my carry on baggage and two rod tubes strapped together and had no problems at all. I usually just pack extra rods and other gear but always in a regular large kit bag type of bag. No brand name luggage that is sure to draw attention to the fact that there may be expensive fishing gear in them.
I would also be interested in finding out more about these locks as I usually lock my bag and on my last trip back from Christmas island was asked to remove the lock while checking in with Air Canada at Honolulu.
This is all of great concern with most Saltwater reels many times costing between $500 and $1000 or more and rods the same, but of greater concern I think is that if something like this happens on the outbound part of the trip then many times the whole trip can be lost as many of these remote destinations have now stores to replace any of this specialized equipment.
Show up at a place like Christmas island without gear and you are out of luck for the week, especially if you travel alone like I do most of the time.

03-22-2008, 10:22 PM
I've made several trips in the last two years, mostly to Latin american countries through the US and had no trouble at all. I ALWAYS carry my gear on - except flies, of course - and for the most part the security personal couldn't care less. Reels in my carry on pack and rods in clearly labels rod tubes strapped together.

I also empty my flyboxes and store the flies in ziplocks in my checked luggage and carry the boxes on. That way even if my flies don't make it I can possibly bum some flies from the guide or another angler and store them in flyboxes the way god intended. Basically I arrive ready to fish with everything but the flies. I've even packed materials and a hemostat in my carry on before, figuring I might be able to find hooks on site and cobble together a few servicable flies if my luggage disappears into limbo. Never had to use it, but it made me feel better.

By and large I do usually get asked about the rod tubes and a simple, "They're my fishing poles" sounds down-home safe enough that there's no problem. I never say fly-rods or try to make things complicated - I can't see most security personel as fly fishers - but everyone on earth has heard of fishing poles. Even when the personel spoke spanish. A simple "yo soy un pescador" cleared things up. If you can't remember that, the short version "pesca" (fishing), with a few mimed motions should do the trick.

Also, you should buy trip insurance which covers lost or stolen lugguage. A typical package for medical, trip delay/cancellation, and lost or stolen baggage is usually under $100.

My 2 cents,

Bob Bergquist
03-23-2008, 05:52 AM
The trouble we are having in the Bahamas is that currently US security will allow reels coming in but Bahamian security will not allow them going out. We are talking to them about it, but it is hard for them to want to speak about security measures. My advise is to carry them on coming over, then check them going home to avoid hassles and drawing attention to the fact the reels are in the bag.

I would guess that some angler was tiffed at being delayed by having to retrieve his check baggage and put them in complaining that he wanted to have control over his "$1000 reels", and poof, $1000 dolloar reels are getting lifted and infact targeted now.

cc charlie
03-23-2008, 07:06 AM
Bob is right on. You can take the reels and flies in, but not out. MY last trip I just removed the spools and put them in the checked baggage. Less painful to replace than a complete reel.

CC Charlie

03-23-2008, 10:19 AM
I already mentioned this but I do have a friend who used the Fed Ex proceedure and Fedexed his stuff directly to his hired guide and has done that for years.He states that he can get insurance for this and the fedEx system is good, not to mention that the guide and other guides are known in the Bahama community as working guys and theft from them is a no no... and the theives know they can be identified by the local's and talk among themselves. The delivery guys are known too, etc. It's not a bad method to avoid all this other stuff. I suspect some have done this and they may have stories of problems with this as well. I also always wonder how local theives dispose of flyreels. I supose there is a secret black market to do so.... I have not seen any suspicious reels on ebay, but don't know for sure. It's not like they stop you on the streets of Nasau like trying to sell you cuban cigars.

Trevor B
03-23-2008, 10:54 AM
Indeed this has become a major problem and concern as security measures tighten and many are traveling more and farther to fish, I guess it all depends on the security at any given airport as to what they will allow through or not.
I like the term " fishing poles" and downplaying the cost of these items as word does get around that people are traveling with $1000+ pieces of gear, that in its self will create a market for this stuff.
Read the carry on policies of most airlines and they tell you to carry on valuable items and not put them in checked luggage, I can understand the issue with flies and such forth but not reels ?

03-23-2008, 09:44 PM
Heading for Acklins Island next week, and disturbed to read the comments about carrying reels and flies in carry on baggage. We went last year and I had all rods in tubes and reels in my carry on with no problem, both into and out of Nassau and Acklins. Is there some change this year? Also took a portion of the flies in carry on and a very small amount of fly tying materials, again with no problem.
What is the objection to reels?
Is there some strategy about separating the reel body from the spool and putting one or the other in carry on?
Has there been much of a theft problem in or out of Nassau relative to fishing gear?

03-24-2008, 05:48 AM

Yes, I think there's been a change in coming back out in Nassau. I'd brought my reels in and out of the Bahamas for 10 years, or so, and this is the first time I've had a problem. I guess it must be a new ruling in Nassau.

Bob had informed our guys to put our reels in our checked baggage this year (unfortunately, somehow I missed the message, so mine were in my carry on). What seems to be the problem is not the reels, per se, but the lines. Until there's some sort of change in the ruling, in the future I plan to take my reel frames in my carry on and stash my spools with lines (perhaps in my wading shoes) deep into my checked bag. Carrying line-winding stuff seems impractical, especially if you're carrying blue water reels with 500 yds or so of gel-spun.


03-24-2008, 08:35 AM
I think a more accurate way of describing it is that they've stepped up enforcement. We've had problems in Nassau dating way back to the trip we took in November, 2001, only about two months after 9/11. Those problems seemed to happen on almost every trip for at least one of us so, as a group, we decided to start flying from Ft Lauderdale directly to Androstown. Like most everything else down there, a lot depends upon the efforts of the person on duty, but I don't think they'll allow a reel with line attached as a matter of policy, and I think that policy has been in effect for several years.

03-24-2008, 01:00 PM
Thanks for the info. Boy, I can't imagine that fly lines represent a serious terrorist threat. So flights into Nassau from Atlanta should be OK for taking complete reels/lines in carry on. What about flights within Bahamas on Bahamas air - to Acklins? For return flights from Nassau (on Delta) you think that lines are not permitted in carryon??
What about taking the lines off and into checked baggage, but leaving the backing on the reel spool and taking the complete reel, minus fly line, in carry on??
What a hassle.
I would not be packing reel spools in my wading shoes, as I plan to wear those aboard the flights on the way there. Maybe coming back.
On flies, do you suppose that smaller patterns on size six or eight hooks might get through, whereas large hooks would be a problem?

03-24-2008, 01:42 PM

I've had no problem except this one time flying home from Nassau last week. I've had no problem flying Bahamas Air to and from Acklins . . . however . . . I recommend you stash your spools, at least, in your checked bag. As has been stated, perhaps these rules have been around and are only now beginning to be reinforced more broadly.

I don't know about flies, but I do know that some people have had problems with flies, but I think I recall they were large hooks (billfish, etc).
Have a great trip. Acklins is wonderful.


cc charlie
03-24-2008, 02:47 PM
I can't imagine that they would allow backing on the spools, they took my 10lb test spool of tippet in Dec. plus my forceps which did'nt even have a cutting edge. Keep in mind this is only on the way home from Nassau, no problems going in to NAS or Acklins.

CC Charlie

03-24-2008, 06:52 PM
After a reading a lot of these posts and other travel related sites, I will be locking my bags. My friends in law enforcement tell me to make it difficult for someone to get at your stuff. Thieves are a lazy lot and if they have to work to get at something, most of the time they will move on to easier targets.

Also, one thing that we have not discussed in this thread is the possibilty of someone not taking something from your luggage, but rather put something in your bags. Call me paranoid, but I have no desire to be a mule for someone shipping drugs to North America. Hard to explain to customs why you have all that hash in your rod bag.

03-24-2008, 07:44 PM
Just be sure they are TSA locks. Other locks will either be cut off with bolt cutters or your bag will be left behind. It probably is the wisest approach as long as you are aware of its limitations.

Tim D
03-25-2008, 07:36 AM
I guess my question is do the travel authorities in the Bahamas not follow TSA rules, but have their own organization? I ask this because the TSA website clearly states what should be carried on versus checked.

"Fishing Rods / Poles - Fishing Rods are permitted as carry-on and checked baggage. However, please check with your air carrier to confirm that it fits within their size limitations for carry-on items. Ultimately, it is the carrier's decision as to whether or not it can be transported as carry-on baggage.

Expensive reels or fragile tackle such as fly's should be packed in your carry-on baggage".

I guess my fear would be if they are not adhering to TSA rules, then they may also not allow the TSA locks.

Has anyone had these same issues in Mexico? I have a trip planned end of April to Pesca Maya and want to make sure I'm not going to run into some of these same issues.


03-25-2008, 08:23 AM
You might want to read the thread called New TSA Rules Suck. In it, there was a lot of discussion about this exact point. Number 1, the TSA is a USA function. No one else in the world follows it exactly, though some countries at least make an effort to coordinate their rules. Many, if not most, countries have tougher standards than we do. I'll bring this up again here. The TSA rules state you should bring your rods on board. It says nothing about rod tubes. I've been with guys who've tried to carry-on their rods and were told they could bring on the rods in the rod socks, but no rod tubes. Individual agents seem particularly concerned about aluminum rod tubes. Though they're really no more of a potential weapon that the Cordura covered sewer pipe tubes, they do seem to be refused more often. The TSA site says to bring your expensive reels as carry-on. However, they generally do not like the "string" that's on those reels. Although it probably happens only about 10% of the time in the US, guys are turned away unless they strip the line and backing off their reels. That is a significant problem with security in foreign airports, but does happen here, too. You can bring flies as carry-on, but by that they actually mean your #20 Pale Morning Dun Emergers and not your 6/0 Billfish flies. Bonefish/permit flies may or may not be allowed. As I've mentioned several times before, there is also a note on that website that appears more than once that says that final discretion on what's allowed as carry-on rests with the agent(s) on duty at the time. Of course, no one ever adds that to the thread when they copy the TSA regs. Most of these tackle items will go through as a matter of course in most US airports (except maybe the 6/0 billfish flies) but you have to be prepared for what you're going to do if something gets rejected, because if you fly enough it will happen.

03-25-2008, 02:31 PM
Tim D.

I asked that question in Nassau when the TSA equivalent there told me I could not carryon reels. I was told by the Bahamas TSA Supervisor that they did use the TSA guidelines. When I showed him a computer printout of the page you refer to he said "That could be printed off anywhere on the internet" I asked him if they had any TSA guidelines that he could check. He said "Our stuff is not up to date". I told him that had been there for 3 or 4 years "He said he couldn't check it now".
He was not going to budge.

This happened to me in Nov. 2006. They are still doing it so apparently they still have not checked? I find that hard to believe. I am sure that they are getting questions on this and many are getting more upset than I did. It looks to me that for some reason they are making an effort not to allow reels with line into the US. I think this could even be coming from the US TSA. I have had no problems (7 or 8 trips in the last 4 years) flying within the US or within the Bahamas carrying on reels with line. They don't even bat any eye going through the Bahamasair check point.

03-25-2008, 11:17 PM
It's not just the Bahamas. We've had trouble in Guatemala City, San Josť in Costa Rica, Cancun, Belize City, and numerous places in Canada. And again, it's not the reels that usually concern them, it's the line on the reels. Remove the line completely and I doubt you'll ever have a problem.

03-26-2008, 12:52 PM
Iíve had the TSA locks cut off my bags and discarded twice while coming back from Belize.
They donít even leave a note that your bag has been inspected.
The locks may work in the US but they are a waste of time and money outside the country. :tsk_tsk:

Tim D
03-26-2008, 01:23 PM
I gotta say this is all a bit concerning considering I have a trip to Pesca Maya next month. There doesn't seem to be any good option. I'm certainly not going to take 300 yards off backing off 3 reels only to put it on when I get there, then take it off again when I leave. And if they are cutting off TSA locks outside the US, that doesn't work. And airlines won't insure your bags enough to cover stolen reels.

What the heck are you supposed to do!:mad:

03-26-2008, 01:29 PM
It's not just the Bahamas. We've had trouble in Guatemala City, San Josť in Costa Rica, Cancun, Belize City, and numerous places in Canada. And again, it's not the reels that usually concern them, it's the line on the reels. Remove the line completely and I doubt you'll ever have a problem.

I have seen that there are problems elsewhere but it seems that its rare inside the USA and with flights inside the Bahamas (not so sure about flights within the other countries you mention). It seems that the problem is with flights heading into the US. Thats why I think it is possible that the TSA is advising other countries to deny reels/lines on flights into the US.

03-28-2008, 08:55 PM
airlines won't insure your bags enough to cover stolen reels.
What the heck are you supposed to do!

Ok, so check out trip insurance online or even ask the lodge you're headed to what one they recommend. If you're booking through a fly-fishing agent, they'll definitely have a recommendation. That way if your stuff is lost or stolen you'll be reimbursed.

Of course, that's no consolation if you arrive there without your fishing gear for a week of fishing. BIG TIME BUMMER. Having said that, for the most part I've never had a problem with either rods or reels leaving or entering the US. Flies, yes.

My recommendation on the way to your destination is to simply remove the spools from half your reels and pack them into your checked bags. Carry the reels and the other spools on with you. That way if you have a problem with the security guys, you've still got some loaded spools in your checked bags and you're only out a couple lines. On the way back home load all the spools into your checked bags and carry on the reels. That way if you are ripped off, you've only got to collect for new spools and line from your trip insurance agency.

As for rods and tubes. I've never had any problems with my aluminum Winston tubes, but I can see there being an issue. They're pretty heavy-duty. So, carry some rubber bands or small velcro straps with you. If asked to remove the rods and check your tubes, place the rods in their socks butt-to-tip and wrap tightly with the bands or velcro. The delicate tips are then protected by the heavy butt sections. The only real problem then is having heavy bags crush a guide in the overhead. Make sure the rods go on top of everyone's bags and you're cool.

After that, all you can do is hope for the best.


03-29-2008, 06:30 AM
Gear guys got it easy...


Hey basser - how do I use this thing???

:lildevl: :lildevl:

03-29-2008, 06:58 AM
I don't try to carryon the metal rod tubes. I pack the rods I carryon in the hard cardboard tubes that they ship rods to you in when you buy one. I cut them to the right size for 4 piece rods and cap and tape the ends. Little bigger than the factory tube but you can get 2 rods in them. Can't see them calling a cardboard tube a weapon. I carryon enough to fish with and pack enough to fish with in my checked bag, thinking one will make it to my destination. I use the metal tubes in the checked bags.

Bob Pauli
03-29-2008, 09:26 AM
Thank you for your great posts--informative and helpful.

Re locks, I have used both TSA and electrical tie-wraps. The plan for me is that on arrival, and collecting my baggage, I know that if the original locks / tie-wraps are gone, someone has been into my bag. That let's me check for lost items and file forms immediately with airline baggage. Not a perfect system by any means, but the lazy thieves will leave a trail.

I have found many TSA slips inside, but never anything missing.

O B Laden has made travel a crapshoot

03-30-2008, 01:12 PM
"Fishing Rods / Poles - Fishing Rods are permitted as carry-on - that seems to be the case in the US but its definitely a NO GO in Europe (Lufthansa ,BA and Aer Lingus I know from personal experience). So beware coming thro' Europe.


04-11-2008, 11:38 AM
My solution is simple if a bit of a PITA...I strip the line and backing from all my reels, and put it back on at the destination. I then strip them off again before flying home. That way my (near) irreplaceable Charlton's go on board with me. As far as rod carriers I use the Abel carriers which no one has ever looked at as a weapon, they see it simply as another piece of carry on luggage.

And yes it's a pain reeling back on up to 800 yards of backing onto my reels several times but I'd rater do that than lose my Charlton's. It all depends on how important it is to you...

As far as my more replaceable reels, my Abels and Tibors get checked in on the trip home but get the same line stripping treatment on the way to my destination if I have the time...if I don't then I separate the spool from the frame, that way my loss is not as great if they are stolen.

04-12-2008, 07:48 AM
FWIW, I recently had a GPS and VHF radio stolen from a checked bag that was checked in West Palm Beach, and picked up in Providence. Flight went through Philadelphia. On contacting USAir, I was told I had no proof the items were ever in the bag and they couldn't reimburse me. I was further told that one has to submit an itemized list of contents of each checked bag at check-in, and have the ticket agent verify and sign off on the sheet before any claims can be entertained.

...and this is only the last step of my long list of woes with the TSA...

04-12-2008, 10:17 AM
I've never heard of the checklist requirement which I think is BS. However, what I do is take digital pictures of my luggage as I'm packing it so I have a record of what is in there. I wonder what people behind you would do though if you held up check in (sometimes the check in line is long as you all well know) to have a ticket agent go over a checklist for each bag.

04-13-2008, 09:36 AM
FWIW, I recently had a GPS and VHF radio stolen from a checked bag that was checked in West Palm Beach, and picked up in Providence. Flight went through Philadelphia. On contacting USAir, I was told I had no proof the items were ever in the bag and they couldn't reimburse me. I was further told that one has to submit an itemized list of contents of each checked bag at check-in, and have the ticket agent verify and sign off on the sheet before any claims can be entertained.

...and this is only the last step of my long list of woes with the TSA...

But do you have any proof that TSA did the thievery? Baggage handlers were always blamed before TSA came into existence, and I'm still at least as concerned about them as TSA agents. In fact, that's one reason it is so hard to collect on insurance or claims against the airlines---because one cannot prove whether it was the airlines (baggage handlers) or the TSA that caused the theft. I even have separate insurance for my travels and the agent informed me it is very difficult to prove theft. Insurance does not pay until you can prove it was stolen unless you pay for very expensive coverage that covers all forms of loss.

04-15-2008, 11:06 AM
I thought I should also post this here....

Since I lost a rod case with 4 Scott rods on the way back from the Seychelles a few years ago I pack all my tackle in a large suitcase. The new model I bought beginning of last year has TSA locks on it.
It is made from very lightweight polycarbonate and is practically indestructible.
I carry all my clothes and 4 piece rods, packed in a piece of plastic drainpipe, and reels inside the case.

I have not, as yet, touch wood, had a problem.
Even when the airlines fail to get the case on the plane and this has happened only on the return journey, I have not lost anything from the case.


04-15-2008, 03:34 PM
I pack all my tackle in a large suitcase.

One mighty fine suitcase I'm sure, but still, all the eggs in one basket? I hedge my bets by spreading stuff throughout various pieces, including carry-on as permitted. From my experience, that simple measure reduces the risk of delay of all checked gear significantly, and I can get by for a few days with either piece. Of course, Lady luck will have the final say, just as on the flats...

04-15-2008, 07:48 PM
That is my approach also - to not have all the eggs in one basket. I try to load my carry on backpack with rods in tubes, reels, some flies, sunglasses, hat and shade, extra change underwear, two extra pair socks, rain parka, etc. Also, I wear my flats boots and clothes I could fish in all the way from home. It would be no fun getting to Acklins and then waiting 4 days for the next scheduled flight to bring your bag.
I've had trips out west where my long rod tube did not show up until a couple flights later, and another trip where my buddie's rod in checked baggage did not appear until the end of the trip. fortunately we had extras.
Considering the volume of passengers and baggage it is a wonder the airlines don't lose or delay more than they do.

04-15-2008, 08:45 PM
I concur with Pete. During the past two months I've spent two weeks in the Bahamas and three weeks in Australia without a hitch. Per Pete, I've packed five 4-piece rods in a PVC irrigation pipe and my reels in the bottom of my hard-bottom checked luggage. On island hopping flights, it is best to check-in early to insure your luggage arrives on the same flight.

With the vagaries of carriers and TSA agents around the world, it is best to second guess their intentions/desires/directives and be proactive. Check it if in doubt.