By Robert McGarvey
It’s a traveler’s nightmare. Something is stolen from your checked bag – it’s almost always the good stuff too such as jewelry or a slick camera – or maybe the bag and its content simply are demolished and what you retrieve at baggage claim is scrap. Then what?
Surely you’ll be made whole, particularly when your gripe is with TSA, a federal agency, not an airline.
An NJ.com story’s headline tells you what to expect: Good luck getting money from the TSA for your lost, damaged luggage.
New data via Dorian Banutoiu – which looks at 16 years of claims, 2002-2017, is just as grim. It shows that of 218,000 claims, 101,000 were denied, 9000 are pending, and 83,000 are marked paid.
The NJ.com research crunched data from only the 15 busiest airports – Newark included – and it found that: “Of the 34,127 claims filed at these airports from 2010 to 2017, almost 41 percent — or four out of every 10 requests — were denied. In contrast, about 26 percent were approved for payment or settled for a lesser amount. About 13 percent were under review, and the rest had been canceled.”
In the LA Times, reporter Hugo Martin – drawing on TSA data mainly from 2016 – concluded this: “Of the TSA claims that are resolved, 54% are denied, 24% are approved in full, 12% are settled for an amount less than what was requested and 10% are canceled or closed out for other reasons.”
Martin continued: “The most common items lost or damaged are bags, cases, purses, clothing, computers and accessories and jewelry.”
That’s right, the good stuff. Nobody wants to take my 20 year-old LL Bean toiletry bag, please.
Martin added: “Jewelry, cash and camera equipment are the items rejected by the TSA at the highest rate, at least 70% of the time.”
The data also show that claims made at checkpoints are far more likely to be approved than are claims involving checked baggage. That’s bad news because NJ.com data show that 75% of claims involve checked baggage. Just 24% are at checkpoints.
The average settlement amount over the past 16 years is $199.
Curiously, according to Travel Pulse, “If you are filing a claim, you are more likely to get repaid if you file it in the first half of the year, according to the data, which found that there was a lower average of payments approved in the second part of the year.”
NJ.com added: “Critics say the TSA takes an overly harsh approach, often claiming it can’t find evidence that it was responsible for the loss or damage. And the agency continues to deny the problem of theft at airports, they say, though there’s few other explanations for the losses.”
Theft, according to NJ.com, is the biggest issue: “About 60 percent of all the claims at these airports related to property loss.”
Some airports have so much theft that occasionally local police issue warnings, as happened not long ago at Orlando.
Some grumbles about TSA are genuinely macabre, such as an NFL player’s complaint – with photos to prove his point – that TSA spilled his late mother’s ashes in his bag.
Particularly interesting in the NJ.com data dump is its tally of which airports are most likely to see claims denied and the big winner – by far – is Las Vegas/McCarran where 56% of claims are denied.
The best airport for these matters is San Francisco where essentially all claims are approved.
Newark Airport, for what it’s worth, came in just behind San Francisco, approving roughly 65% of claims.
How not to become a victim? That’s easy. Never pack anything of value in checked baggage. Clothing, maybe. But jewelry, electronics, etc., nope, do not think about it. Carry it on. Or leave it at home.
Also, report any losses as soon as detected, ideally within 24 hours. Procrastination will work against you.
Some passengers are also buying GPS trackers for their luggage – although there’s no clear connection between tracking a bag’s whereabouts and stopping theft of particular content.
The bad news of course is that, in coach, the battle for the overhead bin is as fierce as ever, as a USA Today headline shouted. That forces many passengers to check bags and that triggers many possible miseries.
There is a cure. My advice regarding valuables is if you don’t need it, don’t bring it. Personally I travel with an old Chromebook – not worth $100 – and if it went missing I’d shed no tears. I bring no jewelry. Nothing of any real value. Haven’t in some years.
Spartan? I suppose. But very, very practical in today’s travel marketplace.