Baggage blame

TSA and passengers aren’t sure why stuff goes missing

Passengers at Sacramento International Airport lost more than $6,000 in items between 2007 and 2010, according to Transportation Security Administration records. The goods disappeared either at TSA checkpoints or after the baggage had been checked.

Among the items listed as missing are clothing, cameras, laptop computers, MP3 players and iPods, books, jewelry, and cosmetics. At the high end, one passenger was reimbursed $1,075 for laptop that vanished at a security checkpoint. At the low end, another passenger received $8 for locks that went missing on luggage.

Still, significantly more claims were denied by TSA—181 cases denied and 42 approved. Among the claims TSA turned down were ones for musical instruments, a GPS device, barber supplies and, interestingly, a grandfather clock.

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez stressed that the incidents didn’t necessarily involve theft.

“If a laptop is dropped on the floored and shatters,” he explained, “a passenger may file a claim. [It] doesn’t mean an item was stolen.”

He told SN&R that roughly eight or nine people handle baggage in transit, and it is hard to pinpoint when something goes missing.

“While claims are filed by passengers, we’re unable to classify them as stolen or lost, because we simply don’t know,” he said. “Many times, passengers file claims of theft only to find the item they thought was stolen on their counter when they get home.”

He added that security theft is “not an issue” at Sacramento’s airport, and the number of lost items is low considering the volume of traffic that passes through the airport and the number of TSA screeners, about 450.

Even so, TSA has dismissed one security checkpoint screener for theft at Sacramento’s airport, firing the officer in January 2008 for allegedly stealing about $300 from a carry-on bag.

Nationally, TSA has reportedly dismissed about 200 officers for stealing since 2008. This month, an officer at Los Angeles International Airport was arrested on a charge of felony grand theft. In February, two TSA screeners in New York were arrested for allegedly stealing $40,000.

To cut down on stealing, the TSA monitors officers with cameras and requires they carry personal items in transparent bags. Screeners are also supposed to leave a note in bags they inspect, though this can backfire.

In January 2010, a tourist passing through LaGuardia Airport in New York found his laptop missing and no note. The tourist did find a TSA security wand in his bag, however.

As for incidents in Sacramento, Melendez said, “Passengers can obviously file a police report, with local authorities, but as for us, we accept claims, and really, there’s no way to know if it was stolen or lost.”