Saturday, November 22, 2008

TSA And The Airlines Loosing Less Bags

The netherworld of lost, damaged, delayed, pilfered and stolen baggage is a strange, complex and exasperating place, but odds are good that you won't end up there this week.

Five of every 1,000 passengers have filed luggage complaints with the airlines so far this year, down from 7 per 1,000 during the same time last year. The Transportation and Security Administration - the inspectors who sometimes open your luggage - have even fewer complaints - just 5 claims per 100,000 passengers.

Although encouraging, these statistics mean nothing if you are one of them. Your biggest concern, besides finding something to wear, is finding who is responsible - the airline or the baggage inspectors.

"Sometimes TSA may forget to place a personal item back into your baggage or may damage an item while repacking your baggage," the authority warns travelers on its web site. "Most of the time, there is no way of determining fault."

If it was the airline, the most you can get for your lost luggage is $3,000 - regardless of the contents. On Dec. 1 that amount goes up to $3,300.

Although the TSA has settled claims for as much as $9,000, the average settlement is $76.67. Only half the claims end with a payment.

"All I can say is that it is an imperfect system," said David Rowell, publisher of, which monitors travel and travel technology.

"There are a lot of hands that touch your bag between the time you check it at the curb and pick it up at the luggage carousel," Koshetz said.

More than 125,000 claims have been filed with the authority since the agency began screening baggage in 2002. The claims - from losses at security checkpoints and in the TSA's baggage inspection area - range from a watch worth $18,250 to greeting cards valued at $700 and a $450 wig.

Theft by TSA employees has been a concern. As of February 2008, the agency had fired and sought prosecution for about 200 employees accused of stealing, either from checked bags, passengers' carry-ons or fellow employees. That is out of more than 100,000 people employed by the TSA.

In one case, a TSA baggage screener at Los Angeles International Airport attempted to lift a high-priced watch from Paris Hilton, then had second thoughts and put it back. A co-worker reported it and the employee was fired and prosecuted.

"If theft is found we move to end that employee's federal career," Koshetz said.

The TSA is installing so-called "in line" systems in many airports that move the majority of checked bags through security without requiring they be opened.

"Unless an alert goes off that there is something hazardous in the bag," Koshetz said, "we don't even touch your bags."

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