What to do when you can't keep your baggage in your sights

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As a friend of mine tells the story, she was sitting in her seat, waiting for her flight to leave Mexico, when she heard her name called over the intercom. She and her partner were asked to step off the plane, and were corralled into a security office flanked by Mexican police officers. She was asked to identify her bag and examine the contents. Everything seemed to be the same—except for the case of bullets stacked neatly on top of her clothing. She was allowed a phone call before she was thrown into a Mexican prison and forced to sleep on a cement floor.

In 24 hours, after numerous calls by her family and money transfers amounting to over $7,000, she was released with all records of the incident completely erased. It was a nightmare experience that she wishes she could forget. Assuming her version of events is true—and I believe her 100 percent—the unanswerable questions become: who did it, and why? I have all kinds of theories, involving bribery and dirty police and hotel personnel. But who knows.

A question I can answer is: how do you fly with peace of mind, secure in the knowledge that you won’t have a story like this to tell, even if it’s impossible to keep your bag in sight at all times? All you need is is zip ties, preferably in a distinct color. If you tie your bag with these, you’ll immediately know if your bag has been tampered with. The distinct color ensures that the person who wants to tamper with your bags will not have a similar one so will move on to the next victim.

Not only should you zip tie your two zippers together, but also connect them to the handle. There’s a simple way of getting into your luggage with no evidence, even if you’ve locked it and zip-tied it (see this video). Connecting the zippers to the handle will keep thieves from covering their tracks.

If you’re feeling super-scrupulous, you can even take a photo of your bag after it’s been tagged by the counter, with the zip ties in view. Then, if you see it on the luggage carousel without a tie, or one that’s been compromised, you can call attention to it to airport security before you pick up your bag. At least then, you have an alibi.

Some travelers have asked, “How do you get the zip tie off your bag since you’re not allowed to carry a knife on a plane?” One option is nail clippers, which are now allowed in your carry-on. Another is to place a small penknife in your checked luggage in an outside pocket. If you’re in a pinch, use your car key as a miniature saw.

Oh, and you might be surprised at the other uses that you’ll find for zip ties. You can use them to fix clothing, strap items to your bag, repair a tent or even make an emergency splint.


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