Looting Luggage

Safeguarding your valuables against airport employee theft

As a publicity executive, Jeanine Cooper Taylor jet sets across the country several times per month. On a recent trip from Miami to New York City, she checked a silver, metal Michael Jordan bag, which was about the size of a briefcase. “When I arrived in New York to claim my luggage, my bag was cut open with my expensive designer shades and magazines missing,” says Taylor, president and CEO of JCEC Public Relations, headquartered in Atlanta. “There was a sticker on the outside of my bag which read ‘Checked by TSA.’”

You’ve been told to beware of professional thieves or hustlers who try to steal your luggage. But airport personnel may be the culprits, taking your precious cargo from right under your nose. Here are a few simple ways to protect yourself:

  • Carry valuables on the plane.
  • Purchase hard-sided luggage to reduce easy access.
  • Keep your wallet and vital documents, like tickets and passports, on you at all times.
  • If your flight has a stopover and you exit the plane, take your carry-on luggage.

According to the Transportation Security Administration, 400 million pieces of baggage were checked in at airports in 2003 through July and there were 11,000 claims filed for lost, damaged, stolen, or delayed luggage.

“The pilferage of luggage is very difficult to pinpoint. There is probably the least amount of theft with TSA employees. The majority of theft tends to occur while luggage is in the possession of airport subcontractors,” says Kevin Coffey, president, founder, and principal of Corporatetravelsafety.com and author of Traveler Beware (Corporate Travel Safety; $14.95).

To report a theft, contact both a TSA supervisor and the airport police. Some airlines require notification within 4-24 hours. “I filed a claim with both TSA and JetBlue,” says Taylor. “JetBlue stated that those items are not covered and my only recourse would be to check with TSA, particularly since they checked inside of my bag.”

TSA will pay claims when absolute responsibility can be established, and co-pay claims with airlines when responsibility cannot be determined. It will research and determine the current value of missing items. “While airlines will pay $2,500 for lost luggage, the carriers typically will not replace items of value that are lost or stolen,” says Coffey.

“The public deserves an absolute commitment to customer service. TSA will work with the traveler to quickly handle any claims and concerns they may have,” says Brian Turmail, spokesman for the TSA.

Protecting Your Valuables
Get additional insurance coverage. Credit card companies like American Express (www.travel.americanexpress.com) offer programs like the Premium Baggage Protection Plan for $9.95 per person, per trip. Also, check your homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies, and the airline carrier for coverage.

Wrap bags in shrink wrap. For a small fee, you can have your luggage sealed at the airport in a stretch-wrap, tamper-resistant plastic film once the TSA has inspected the luggage. Although Miami is the only U.S. city where the service is currently available, expect future expansion.

Wear a waist pack or backpack. It’s more difficult to cut or unbuckle a waist pack versus a

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