Update: Like Luggage Locks? Leave Them Home, Says One Cruise Line

February 2, 2010
Update, 3:45 p.m. EST: Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz tells us that "It is not mandatory that guests keep their luggage unlocked and the wording in our guest communications is being softened a bit to indicate that we recommend it be unlocked in order to avoid any inconvenience or delay in the delivery of luggage to the cabin ... If luggage is locked (including TSA locks) and potentially prohibited items are identified during the screening process, that luggage will be retained and must be opened by the guest in the presence of security personnel."

De la Cruz points out that there has not been a change in policy in terms of prohibited items; the stricter enforcement initiative is being driven by security management in the interest of guest and crew safety.

(6 a.m. EST) -- Do you lock your luggage before handing it over to the porters at the cruise port? It appears that the folks over at Carnival Cruise Lines are frowning on the common safety practice -- which has sparked a heated discussion about baggage policies, and security, on Cruise Critic's message boards.

Late last week, several Cruise Critic members booked on upcoming Carnival cruises received e-mail notification from the line (which they then posted on the Carnival forum) about a change in luggage policy. The clause in question: "IMPORTANT - All luggage must be unlocked before turning over to the porters in order to avoid any inconvenience to you or delay in delivering the luggage to your stateroom." (You can read the notification in its entirety here.)

"Dumb idea," Cruise Critic member pnjkeith comments. "Give unlocked bags to porters, Carnival has no liability for your bags." Member Nanatravel agrees: "There is no way ... I am giving my luggage unlocked to a porter or crew member. CCL has no liability and try to sue the Longshoreman's Union. Fat chance. Vicky [Rey, Vice President, Guest Services, who signed off on the e-mail] can say what she wants, but it's locked luggage for me."

Indeed, it is important to point out that the policy does not explicitly state that locked luggage will be turned away, only that it might take longer to process and deliver to your cabin. A Carnival spokesman was unable to provide more information -- such as when and why the language change was made to the baggage policy, or whether TSA-approved locks or plastic cable ties are allowable -- by press time, but tells us he's looking into the matter. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, posters have cited several reasons for locking their bags. The most obvious, of course, is that locks keep roving hands (porters' or otherwise) out of your stuff. On a more psychological level, the lock acts as a theft deterrent and provides peace of mind. Locks are also practical -- they keep zippers from opening accidentally, spilling bags' contents out where they don't belong.

But do locks always work? Maybe not. Member Beave8920 posts, "On 10 cruises, twice I've had my locked bags delivered with damage and lost clothes. I would hate to think what would happen if they weren't locked."

And then, there are travelers who don't bother with locks at all, without problems. "A thief can open any piece of locked luggage in under 2 seconds, and will surely damage the luggage in the process," agrees dan40. "You carry your valuables in your carry-on, NOT in checked bags ... Every cruise and every flight I check luggage. Never locked! I have TSA locks on all my [luggage zippers], I use them for pull handles. Have no idea where the keys have gone to. Total losses in 50 years of travel? $0.00."

Still, the majority of the posts we've read by press time are against Carnival's policy. Cruise Critic's Host Mach, who oversees the goings-on on the Carnival forum, has been following the debate and shared his opinion with us via e-mail today: "Here's my problem with the policy ... from the time that I hand over my unlocked luggage to the porters until it arrives on the ship, no one will take responsibility for any missing items.

"As you well know, the porters are not employees of the cruise line and the line won't accept responsibility for the bags 'til they're onboard. If someone takes ownership of the issue and elects to ensure that my bags will not be tampered with without cause, I'll be fine with it. Until then my bags will be locked."

LemurCat weighs both sides, making the final point that, "Need I remind everyone that we live in a post 9-11 world? My bag gets searched at least once a month by the NYPD for the subway. This is a small price to pay to make sure no one's got a block of C4 in their bag."

Then again, Trpnckl has another theory: "I'm not buying this 'it's all about security' bit ... why don't they just be honest about why the change? Let everyone know that attempts to smuggle booze onboard will be heavily monitored and controlled."

We want to know: Do you lock your luggage? What's your take on Carnival's crackdown on luggage lockers? Vote in our poll.

--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor