The new Travel Sentry baggage locks, designed so that federal security screeners can gain access to locked luggage without breaking the lock, didn't work out as advertised for Aileen Kostopoulos of Burlington.
The locks were introduced on Nov. 12, intended to remedy a big inconvenience of the new security procedures at airports. The US Transportation Security Administration had asked all air travelers to leave bags unlocked or run the risk of having locks broken off if their luggage required inspection.
Kostopoulos and her husband bought the new locks. When they flew to Tampa on Dec. 4 their bags and the locks arrived intact.
But on the return flight, one bag arrived with tape wrapped around the outside, a note inside from the TSA saying the bag had been inspected, and no lock.
Kostopoulos thought perhaps the security screeners in Tampa hadn't received the tools and codes needed to open the Travel Sentry locks, and were forced to break the lock to inspect the bag. She wondered how many other airports were in that position.
''Will I keep running into this on my travels?" she said.
The answer is no. All US airports have the tools and codes to open Travel Sentry locks, and TSA officials in charge of inspecting bags have been trained to use them.
What happened in Tampa is a mystery. TSA officials are taking no responsibility for the incident, but one of three things probably happened. Either the lock was not working, the tools to open the lock were not available, or the TSA screener failed to notice the Travel Sentry lock and broke the lock off by mistake. The latter is the most likely explanation.
John Vermilye, an airline luggage specialist who coordinated the development of the Travel Sentry locks, said the Tampa incident was the fourth since the locks came on the market. Having so few problems far exceeded his expectations, he said. ''This is a mess-up, and these things will happen," he said.
What surprised me is that most Travel Sentry lock manufacturers and their retailers have agreed to give customers another set of locks if something goes wrong. Most of the replacement policies require return of the cut lock, a copy of the TSA's notification of inspection, and the name of the airport where the incident occurred.
Kostopoulos, who was not aware of any replacement policy, said she didn't have her old lock to turn in. But Robert Padgett, a spokesman for Brookstone, the retailer where she bought her locks, said the chain would be happy to make an exception in this case and give the couple another set of locks. ''We'll honor it," Padgett said. ''It's a brand-new process."
Padgett said sales of the locks have been so strong that Brookstone is sold out at most of its locations. He said the company is expecting a new supply at the start of the new year.
A new federal report not only tells which airlines and airports are experiencing problems with flight delays but also begins to shed some light on why.
Congress passed legislation in 2000 requiring airlines to report not merely when their flights are delayed (defined as 15 minutes after their scheduled arrival or departure time) but also the reason. It took quite a while for regulators and airlines to work the kinks out of the system, but they recently issued their first report, covering the June-October period.
In October, airlines nationwide were on time 86.39 percent of the time, the third-best performance since records were first kept in 1995.
The cause for delays was broken down into five categories, but weather-related causes are spread across three of the categories and account for the bulk of delays.
Jet Blue had the best record in October with a 90.4 percent on-time rating. Alaska Airlines had the poorest showing, with only 80.6 percent of its flights on time, or nearly a fifth of them delayed.
At Logan International Airport, 87 percent of the flights were on time in October. Extreme and nonextreme weather played a factor 5.38 percent of the time, while 4 percent of the delays were caused by flights arriving at Logan late, making the Logan departure late. Security delays were the culprit .03 percent of the time.
The final 3.6 percent of the delays at Logan were due to circumstances within an airline's control, such as maintenance or crew problems, baggage loading, fueling, or aircraft cleaning. Logan had the highest incidence of these delays in October of any of the 31 airports surveyed.
A review of the data from earlier months showed no consistent pattern at Logan, and officials who manage the airport said they weren't surprised by any of the numbers.
Bruce Mohl can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.