Should you wrap your luggage before flying? TSA warns about risks versus benefits

The Transportation Security Administration has weighed in on the airport wrap battle.

Swaddling suitcases in plastic is a common practice among international travelers looking to prevent damage and theft, as well as unwanted items from getting snuck into their luggage.

However, experts with the TSA claim that this measure might not provide the added security layer that people believe it does.

In fact, wrapping baggage — which is often carried out at airport stations for upwards of $30 — can ironically complicate the security screening process for both travelers and authorities.

Once bags are unwrapped during an inspection, TSA officials won’t rewrap them. Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If a checked bag is flagged during the mandatory bomb inspection, “the 3D X-ray image is sent to a TSA officer to review,” TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers told Travel and Leisure. “TSA officers look at hundreds of X-ray images, so they know what common items look like on the X-ray screen.”

And while the scanner won’t single out these prophylactic parcels, they are not precluded from examination, which, in their case, involves cutting them open by any means necessary. That means wrapped bags are just as susceptible to inspection-induced damage as their naked counterparts.

Once the bag is unwrapped, the TSA doesn’t replace the wrapping, either. However, baggage protection service Secure Wrap — which is available at JFK — does offer complimentary rewrapping after it’s torn open.

As for theft concerns, every inspection room is equipped with CCTV cameras, meaning wrap-happy passengers shouldn’t have to worry about employees stealing items, according to Saraiah Davis, a transportation security manager.

Wrapped bags are cut open by any means necessary during inspection. Getty Images
Baggage inspections are conducted in rooms equipped with security cameras to deter theft, TSA officials claim. NurPhoto via Getty Images

Ultimately, experts suggest that bundling bags is an unnecessary and expensive measure that can lead to an unwrappy ending.

Perhaps the one good use for plastic covering is protecting bags against normal wear and tear during travel. Meanwhile, some parcels need to be wrapped to keep them from coming apart in transit.  

If one of these suitcases needs to be inspected and cannot safely reach the final destination without wrap, the TSA will contact the airline to alert the flyer to their bag status and how they can retrieve it.

In the event that wrapping is unavoidable, travel site The Points Guy advises using reusable fabric wraps or a company that employs recyclable covering.

This is better for the environment and can also make identifying one’s bag on the carousel feel like less of a shell game, according to the post.

For better protection, experts advise affixing bags with a TSA-approved lock, which allows the TSA to open them easily without feeling like they’re unwrapping a Christmas present.

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