TSA steals property from checked bags then denies claim: anything we can do?

In May my wife flew to Japan to visit family. She has taken this trip many times, but this is the first once since 9/11, and consequently, the first that TSA has the right to inspect checked luggage.

She had an expensive pocketbook she just bought as a gift for her sister in one checked bag. When she got to her destination and opened the bag, the pocketbook was missing. She called the airline, but was told that a claim would have to be filed with TSA.

This was done giving all the details, receipts for the property, etc and just today we got a form letter saying the claim had been denied, because “…the claimed loss was not a result of the negligence or wrongful act of its employees.” (my emphasis)

Are they trying to convince us the bag was lost by black magic? Or that their employees have the perfect right to steal whatever they want?

The kicker is that they inform us that if we are dissatisfied with the action taken on the claim, we may file suit in the appropriate U.S. District Court. Wonderful, for only a few thousand dollars of lawyer’s fees, we can win our claim for some $300. What a copout.

While we sent a letter back protesting this, obviously little chance anything will be done.

Years ago I’d have send copies of the letter to my congressional delegation, but I have no faith that any of these guys care a hoot for constituents any more.

Any ideas on what else we could do to rattle their cage?


This gives you tips on how to handle a complaints and take it up the appropriate chain if it is not handled to your satisfaction.

And here is the more official site with a link to complain:

Aviation Consumer Protection Division

Call your senators. I have found that a well-worded complaint in the right ears works wonders. My mother was having a hassle with an insurance company that dragged on for months. Once Feinstein’s office got involved, it was settled in a week. I may disagree with her politics, but she does service her constituents.

After the TSA got done with the bag it was given to the airline.

They moved it to the plane. Maybe that was their employees, maybe it was a subcontractor. Then it got loaded on the plane & carried to the destination. then somebody unloaded it, perhaps an airline employee, perhaps an airport employee or a 3rd-party contractor.

A couple more people working for somebody ahdned it before it got to the carousel where yuor wife picked it up.

Along the way people from another half-dozen companies & contractors could have been near the bag, although not authorized to be so.
Given all that, how are you certain the TSA’s employees pilfered the goods as opposed to the airline’s or …?

I’m not suggesting the TSA is perfect or above theft; I bet they steal a lot more than we’d expect. But to assume it must be TSA in the absence of evidence is just that, an assumption.

Who accepts the responsibility for the bag when it is checked, and returns the responsibility to you when you pick up the bag at the distant end?

It’s probably the airline, but if the answer turns out to be “Nobody”, that’s BS, but then I’d do the complaint procedures above or the Senator’s office.

I used to be a TSA luggage screener. If your bag was opened, we were required to put a notification in your bag letting you know we went through it. Out of the two years I was a screener at Dulles, we opened probably 50 bags. There is a process for opening luggage, but I can’t go into detail on the protocol. I typed it all up, but decided it was a bad idea to post it.

There are about 5 other people on each screening team, there isn’t going to one person just going through people’s bags and taking things without the team leader seeing everything that happens. There is also one supervisor in each basement section. These people watch everything you do. Chances are, you guys thought you packed it and didn’t or it got stolen by an airline employee. When screeners are screening bags, there are so many bags coming at once, we don’t have time to open up people’s bags. Only if a bag alarms on the ionizer do we open the bag. And that’s rare.

The bags are coming at us three at a time. We screen them, tag them and put them back.

It’s a very fast, but efficient process.

Not to mention there are cameras everywhere in the basements of airports. I had one right over my head in three different places at Dulles.

But hey, anything is possible I guess. Doubtful that TSA did it, though. Do you know how much high dollar stuff we saw daily? Temptation is always there for some I guess, but I doubt that a purse is one of them. Also, we were subject to rigorous background checks.

If there was no TSA search notification in your bag, i think you really need to get on the airline’s ass about this. They tried to fob you off on the TSA, but you need to go back to them and make clear that it was their responsibility to get your stuff to the other end without loss.

Did your bag have a TSA lock on it? If it did, only TSA can open it, and the lock would show if that happened.

If your bag did not have a TSA lock you are SOL.

I agree that it is unlikely- but certainly possible- to have been the TSA. She needs to get on her airlines ass, unless* they* can show that it is the TSA’s fault, then it’s theirs.

I agree it was probably the airline’s fault. I’ve seen stuff on the news where they’d busted a bunch of people at the airport for stealing stuff.

I know this probably doesn’t apply to a trip to Japan, but I simply don’t check bags. If I can’t fit all my stuff in carry-on, I’ll mail the other stuff (gifts or valuables) to the destination. I’ve heard too many horror stories of stuff getting lost or stolen. It’s just not worth it to me.

Thanks for some enlightening information. As I wrote, this is the first time my wife has flown since TSA started inspections, so we thought the blame probably lay there because,

  1. United Airlines told my wife to contact them when she first called from Japan upon discovering the items were missing,

  2. Not knowing any better, assumed the chance of a TSA employee having the opportunity to take the items were logical, and

  3. Finding at the TSA site, there are provisions for filing a claim for missing/lost items, they must indeed have some problem with this sort of thing.

The information I now read from several of you with experience, points out that is unlikely with the checks in place, so now have to assume that probably it was somebody else, either a United employee or a contractor. There was no notice in the bag that it had been inspected.

In either case, United should be the ones to deal with it, and the fact they misled my wife just makes us suspect they were trying to avoid any responsibility.

It is odd, however, as the checked bag was an old, beat up one, and can’t imagine why anybody would be tempted to open it to see what was inside. That’s why we thought it was an inspector.

I finally got through to United’s customer service and was given another number to call Monday, so will give it a try, but probably futile.

Thanks again for all the input.

It’s understandable that one would think it was TSA if the airline is saying it wasn’t them. If you don’t know TSA’s protocol on checking luggage and don’t work there, how would one know what goes on? Totally understandable.

Again, it is highly unlikely that it was TSA, but anything is possible in this day and age. hence the reason TSA has a lost and found and a “file a report” section. When I worked there, we were only allowed to insure items up to $1500 as well.

Anyways, there are just so many people working around the luggage while TSA is checking it, somebody would’ve seen somebody open it and take something out. When a TSA agent opens bags everybody is alarmed, because by doing so, that means something is wrong, something alarmed on the machines and curiousity takes over.

TSA is only allowed to have the luggage in possession long enough to check it (a few minutes) and then it goes back into the airline’s possession.

Good luck and sorry this happened to you.

Damn, I want to go through your airport. I probably had my bags opened 20 times in the last year alone.
I have had suitcases opened on one leg, left the notification inside and had 2 notifications at my next stop.

Yeah, Dulles is so busy, we really didn’t open that many bags. But I’m only talking about in my pod where I physically worked. Not TSA as a whole, there were I’m sure lots more than 50 bags opened in the whole airport.

Also, the only reason your bags would get opened is if they alarmed for explosives. Do you handle explosives? Work on a military base or anything like that? Do you handle fireworks?

Was the bag locked? What kind of locks? I’m assuming there was no evidence of tampering or you would have mentioned it.

Some thieves know how to get into some bags without breaking locks. One tip I’ve seen (for next time) is to use nylon ties (get 'em at the hardware store) as a tamper detector, along with whatever locks you use. You have to cut them off when you want to open the bag, but if a thief does it will be immediately evident that your bag was opened.

I have also got to believe that it is possible for thieves to get TSA master keys on the black market somehow. There are just too many TSA inspectors to think that there has been no breach of security. Maybe diggleblop can comment.

No, nothing that goes boom. I do carry tools, and sometimes various test leads for test equipment. I assumed that it was due to what showed up on the X-ray

There were really no master keys when I worked there. Maybe there is now, but we used lock cutters to get in bags. That’s another thing, somebody would’ve definitely seen that taking place.

It is possible and sometimes if something looks like a bomb it may be cracked open, but very rarely. There are lots of things that can look like explosives, but the bags are only opened if they are alarmed for residue. The first step is to swab it for explosives, if it doesn’t alarm, the bag is tagged and sent back for loading.

Were you a screener pre-9/11? Because I have had bags checked and relocked by TSA since then, and I don’t handle explosives of any kind (unless you count my kids…).

Is that still the only reason they open bags?

And my super-duper travel lock specifically says that a TSA employee can unlock it without cutting it off.

Exactly. There is a new lock spec that allows a TSA master lock to unlock it. They are sold with a special logo indicating so.

My MIL found out the hard way that her locks were the old-fashioned kind. TSA completely destroyed the built-in locks and then taped the suitcases closed. Very conspicuous.