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TSA: Lock This Way

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By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 14, 2008

Q. I'm based in Europe but make several annual trips to the United States. Last trip over, I bought a couple of TSA-approved padlocks. But we just returned from Rome to find that the locks had been snipped off -- along with most of the zipper pull. Leaving bags unlocked seems an open invitation to any baggage handler with a little spare time, but locking invites the security people to "make their day." What is best today? Twist ties?

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Scott Lewis, Kiev, Ukraine

A. Transportation Security Administration-approved locks sound great because they can be opened by security officers with universal master keys, but we occasionally hear from readers whose locks were cut off by screeners and their suitcases damaged. It seems safer (at least, easier on the suitcase) not to use locks at all. Of course, this means you can't pack any valuables or irreplaceable items in your checked luggage (no cameras, laptops, expensive jewelry, medication, etc.), but you shouldn't be doing that anyway.

TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne says that if you do use a lock, "we absolutely recommend using a TSA-recognized one. The officers are very aware of which locks are recognized and which are not." She says that if the TSA has searched a bag, the agent will leave a note on it. If your luggage was damaged during screening, you can file a claim at the agency's Web site, http://www.tsa.gov; click "For Travelers," then "Claims Management Office."

My husband and I are going on an escorted trip to London and Paris, but many lunches and dinners are not included. In London we will be staying in the West End, and in Paris on the Rue Scribe. Can you recommend any inexpensive bistros or cafes in those areas?

Barbara Adler, Chevy Chase

There are great deals right now at top restaurants in London's West End, says Paul Chibeba of Visit Britain, the country's tourism office ( http://www.visitbritain.us). Among his favorites:

· The Michelin-starred Arbutus (63-64 Frith St., http://www.arbutusrestaurant.co.uk), which offers a pre-theater menu at about $31 for three courses.

· Christopher's American Bar and Grill (18 Wellington St., Covent Garden, http://www.christophersgrill.com), with two courses for $28, three for $35.

· Masala Zone (48 Floral St., Covent Garden, http://www.masalazone.com), an Indian chain restaurant. "I ate there with friends for lunch, and when we split the check, the cost was only just over £10 [about $18] each, including wine."

· Wahaca (66 Chandos Pl., Covent Garden, http://www.wahaca.co.uk), with "incredible Mexican food at affordable prices. But be sure to arrive before, say, 6:30 p.m., as they don't accept reservations and it gets super busy later on."

In Paris, Katherine I. Johnstone of the French Government Tourist Office ( http://www.franceguide.com) found affordable eateries in walking distance of the Rue Scribe:

· Chartier (7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, http://www.restaurant-chartier.com), is "an old workers' restaurant dating back to 1896. [Fixed-price] menus for about $31."

· Le Jardinier (5 Rue Richer, http://lejardinier.lesrestos.com), is "a simple little restaurant but with great food from a chef who is a veteran of the Plaza Athenee and le Bristol." Set menus of $43.

· Domaine de Lintillac (10 Rue Saint Augustin, http://www.lintillac-paris.com), with a $12.50 lunch menu. "Good cuisine from the southwest of France, lots of duck."

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.

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