Five tips to ensure the TSA doesn't steal your stuff
By CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
Tribune Media Services
Taking. Something. Always.
That's what TSA means to airline passengers like Edward Fleiss, a sales
manager from Huntington, N.Y. When screeners inspected his wife's carry-on
bag at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport recently, he claims her designer
eyeglasses were swiped.
"Great sleight of hand," he says. "We didn't even know they were gone until
we got to Los Angeles."
Letters to the Transportation Security Administration - that's what TSA
actually stands for, in case you were wondering - were met with a form
response. "Dear traveler, thank you, but no reimbur***t on a $500 pair of
glasses," he recalls.
Thieving TSA? You might be forgiven for thinking so.
Since it was created in 2001, the agency has fired about 200 employees
accused of stealing. Although the TSA has taken steps to discourage these
government workers from helping themselves to our personal effects -
including background checks on new hires, video cameras in screening areas
and rules forbidding backpacks or lunchboxes at checkpoints - more and more
passengers like Fleiss are coming forward to say they've been ripped off by
the very people who are supposed to protect them.
It doesn't help that hardly a week goes by without another story about
alleged TSA pilferage making headlines. Here's one from a Miami TV station,
where 1,500 items (www.nbc6.net/news/15617249/detail.html) have been
reported stolen at the airport since 2003. Here's someone who had his
engagement ring filched
by screeners in Los Angeles. Here's another one involving a 12-year-old's
(http://SportToday.org/) of $265 in
You don't need a travel columnist to tell you this agency has a problem. The
evidence speaks for itself.
But here's what you might not know. The stealing isn't as random as the TSA
may want you to believe
visited an optometrist for a replacement pair of glasses, and learned that
since the TSA was created seven years ago, he'd seen a "marked increase" in
patients requesting receipts for insurance claims relating to
security-related thefts. "He said there is a huge market for stolen designer
eyewear frames in the New York area," he added. "You put it together."
One aviation insider I spoke with believes stealing is a systemic problem
the federal agency is unable to control, particularly at problem airports
like New York's LaGuardia Airport and Philadelphia International Airport.
Not all of the screening areas in U.S. airports are under surveillance, and
the TSA's rules have a big loophole that shifts liability for stolen baggage
claims to the airline when luggage is delayed, he told me. In other words,
there's little incentive for the stealing to stop. "It's the 800-pound
gorilla no one wants to discuss at TSA," he says.
I contacted the TSA to get its side of the story. Sari Koshetz, a TSA
spokeswoman, sent me an e-mail to say the agency is concerned about theft.
"TSA aggressively investigates all allegations of misconduct," she wrote.
"When infractions are discovered, it moves swiftly to end the federal
careers of offenders." She added that travelers with questions should visit
the TSA's Web site for claim information
I've got a better idea. Why not make sure your valuables aren't taken in the
first place? Here are five tips:
Don't try to beat the system
If you think you can avoid a TSA theft by steering clear of LaGuardia or
Philadelphia, think again. Reader David Cumpston had a $50 bottle of cologne
stolen from his bag in San Francisco. They lifted a box of Montecristo
cigars out of P.J. Zornosa's bag in Florida. "Hope someone enjoyed them," he
grumbles. And Jeanne Rose lost one shoe - a brand-new Merrick clog - in
Atlanta. Why just one shoe? Who knows? Point is, you can't predict where a
TSA thief might strike next.
TSA-approved locks are useless, so don't even bother
Anyone can access your luggage after you've checked it. Anyone. Don't
believe me? Here's how to break into a bag without the benefit of a TSA
master key (http://SportToday.org/).
Besides, the TSA likes to confiscate the locks after they're done rummaging
through your belongings, according to readers like Paula Craig. "Sometimes,
I get the Dear Paula, we have been through your luggage letter - and
sometimes not," she says. "It's maddening."
Don't pack anything valuable in your checked in luggage
That's not just a bad idea because a TSA agent or an airline baggage handler
might take something; it's also a terrible idea because if an airline loses
it, you probably won't be reimbursed for it. Joe Zinno, a retiree from
Seattle, slipped his digital camera in his luggage, from which he believes a
TSA officer removed it on a recent trip. He contacted the agency to make a
claim, and after "a very long time" it responded with a form letter. "They
said there would be no compensation," he recalls. Airlines don't cover
electronics in checked luggage, either.
Better yet, leave all of your valuables at home
Packing your valuables in carry-on luggage is no guarantee the TSA - or the
airline - won't be able to get to it. For example, you might have to
gate-check your carry-on if there's no room in the overhead bin on the
plane. Or, like Fleiss, an agent could pull a fast one at the passenger
screening area. Cheryl Wahlheim, an information systems manager from
Boulder, Colo., had jewelry stolen out of her bag by what she suspects was a
TSA employee. Making a claim proved impossible. "They sent me a form letter
and basically I had to present them with a document containing pictures of
all the stolen jewelry, receipts for all the jewelry and the current cost of
the jewelry," she says. "Since most of the things were gifts given to me
over the years, I had no receipts and no pictures."
If you can't live without it, carry it on your person
Items like wedding rings, cash and other valuables should be carried through
the checkpoint, wherever possible. Mauranna Sherman of ***burg, Va.,
wishes her husband had kept a close eye on his medication when he passed
through the TSA screening area a few years ago. "When we reached our hotel
several hours later, it wasn't in his bag," she says. "We had to call our
house sitter, who used her own money to deliver it to our family in Texas
the next day. What a hassle."
Bottom line: if you want to see your valuables again, don't let a TSA agent
There's one final myth about TSA thefts that needs to be busted, and it
involves the claims process. In speaking with airline passengers who claim
the TSA took their property, I hear about the same frustrating conclusion
almost every time. In the end, they were denied compensation.
Well, the end isn't really the end. You can appeal your case to my
counterpart at the TSA
(www.tsa.gov/join/benefits/careers_benefits_ombudsman.shtm). Its ombudsman
In 1975 "Rollerball" predicted a future full of random ***, political
corruption and corporate greed. Guess we dodged the bullet on that one