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Feds seek power to break locks off passengers' checked airline baggage

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

OTTAWA - The Conservative government would like to know how air passengers feel about their checked luggage being broken into — by airport security screeners.

Transport Canada is seeking feedback on a plan to give security screeners the power to break a padlock or seal — such as plastic shrink wrap — off a bag when an X-ray flags a concern.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority screens all checked baggage before it is placed on a plane.

The agency's screeners may open unlocked luggage to examine contents, and in such cases will place a notification card inside the travellers' bag to let them know it has been inspected.

However, screeners cannot force open a locked bag. They must inform the airline, which in turn tries to locate the relevant passenger. If the traveller cannot be found, an airline employee may break the lock so a screener can inspect the bag, or the luggage will be held at the airport and not put on the plane.

Transport Canada, which is soliciting public comment until next Monday, says air industry experts expect passenger volumes in Canada to continue increasing each year — meaning more inspections.

"As the numbers increase, it will be more difficult and time-consuming for airlines to locate passengers, or if not, break the lock or seal," says the consultation notice. "A process that was once manageable could become more inefficient and use up more airline resources."

The "most effective and efficient solution" is to have the air security screeners, rather than an airline representative, break the lock or seal when a bag requires fuller inspection, Transport Canada says.

Marc-Andre O'Rourke of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents several of the country's largest carriers, had no immediate comment on the proposal.

The consultation notice says that if the air security authority gets the new power, it "might not reimburse passengers for the cost of a broken lock."

If the screening authority were to cut plastic shrink-wrap off a bag to conduct a search, it would not rewrap the luggage, the notice adds.

In the United States, the Transportation Security Administration screening agency is permitted to break a lock to inspect a bag.

However, the agency says it has worked with several companies to develop locks that can be opened by security officers using universal master keys so that they may not have to be cut. The locks are sold at airports and travel stores.

Comments on the Transport Canada proposal can be made at http://tc.sondages-surveys.ca/s/AS_SA/?l=en

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/140408/feds-seek-power-break-locks-passengers-checked-airline-bagga