Airport luggage thefts reportedly on rise with TSA

You can add one more hassle to the list when traveling: thieves making off with items in your checked bags. And, there’s not much you can do about it.

One traveler found his expensive camera, missing from his checked luggage, for sale on eBay. Another reported $160,000 in jewelry gone from her bag. And, a 12-year-old boy reportedly had $265 stolen in birthday money. None of them got the items or money back.

These thefts are unfortunately not unique or uncommon. They’re also reportedly on the rise.

CBS News reported that in 2012, 200 items were stolen every day from checked bags at New York’s JFK airport. In Miami, a local TV station found that 1,500 items have been stolen at the airport since 2003. In just one instance of a theft ring, Delta baggage handlers were found in 2009 rifling through bags in the belly of a plane, taking laptops, iPods, and jewelry, according to The Wall Street Journal.

While theft from checked bags, which disappear from public view as soon as you hand them over, has been a problem since there have been checked bags, airlines believe they’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of claims filed since the TSA took over the inspection and handling of bags.

On Budget Travel, Scott Mueller, the manager of baggage systems for Midwest Airlines, said that the airlines have seen a rise in loss claims since the TSA’s inception. He also argues that TSA employees have more latitude to open bags and rummage through them without oversight – an assertion the TSA takes issue with.

“The airlines did complain to the TSA in 2002 when the problems first appeared. The TSA took some measures to increase oversight of its workers. But the problems are still continuing,” Mueller said.

While airlines won’t acknowledge the amount of theft to the public, Mueller said, the major airlines did meet to share information with each other. “We all said that we had seen huge spikes in reported thefts after the TSA began inspecting bags,” he told Budget Travel.

The problem is heightened, according to a TSA employee who spoke anonymously to Medium, by the lack of oversight and the blurry line between who bears responsibility. TSA points the finger at baggage handlers. Baggage handlers and airlines (not that airlines acknowledge the problem) blame the TSA for thefts. And, no one is held accountable. There are also restrictions that make it nearly impossible to track which TSA employee handled which bag, for safety reasons.

As a result, over 400 TSA employees have been fired for theft since 2003. But Pythias Brown, who was convicted of stealing over $800,000 worth of items while working as a TSA agent, says that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “It was very commonplace, very,” Brown said of TSA theft.

One thing’s for sure: if something goes missing, you almost certainly are not going to get it back.

Airlines, which often spend close to $500,000 a year on baggage claims, often won’t reimburse for valuables missing and won’t accept responsibility.

What can you do to make sure your valuables don’t get stolen? Most people – including TSA, themselves – suggest that you don’t pack valuables in your checked bags in the first place. Many people don’t even check bags anymore, particularly with added baggage fees at most airlines.

And, then, there are the more creative solutions. One victim of luggage theft suggests packing a starting pistol in your bags, which qualifies as a weapon and then requires you to declare the weapon. Declaring a weapon in your checked luggage assures that the bag will be locked and tracked, making it far harder to steal from.