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14/10/2008 – Missing Items From Checked Baggage : Who Do You Contact?
It is all too common that I hear stories of people missing items from their checked baggage. I hear this more often from U.S. travelers than flyers from anywhere else in the world on a regular basis (then again, I don't know anyone who travels through Lagos on a regular basis).
When an item is missing from your checked baggage, whom do you contact? This is a very confusing question. This question leads to the round-robin finger-pointing extravaganza. Once you check your baggage, your bag passes through multiple hands before getting on the plane.
At most U.S. airports there are primarily two scenarios for checking your baggage with an airline to be placed in the aircraft's baggage hold for your journey.
Scenario #1: You check in you hand your bags to the airline counter agent. The counter agent tags your bag then takes your bag. From the counter the bag goes down a belt and passes into an area where the TSA has control of your bag for inspection. Following TSA inspection the bag is passed back to the airline for sorting to your flight.
Scenario #2: You check in and the airline counter agent tags your bag. Once your bag is tagged, you then take your bag to a TSA screening checkpoint. You personally deliver the bag to the TSA for inspection, and then wait for the TSA to screen your bag (in some airports you drop the bag off then walk away). Once your bag is inspected, the TSA hands the bag to a contractor who delivers the bags to a baggage-sorting belt, or back to your airline. Once the bags are dropped off they are then often screened a second time by the TSA while being sorted and delivered to your airline's ramp services. Following this secondary TSA screening, the bags are then returned to your airline for sorting to your flight.
Since checked baggage passes through the TSA and the airline, as well as a 3rd party at times, it is hard to pin-point who may have accessed your bag. Once you report it to your airlines chances are they will immediately inform you that you must contact the TSA. Upon contacting the TSA chances are they will tell you to fill out some forms, then deny your claim.
You can lock your bags using TSA Approved 'Sentry Locks." The problem with Sentry Locks is that not only do TSA agents have access to the Sentry Lock keys, but also others in the airport can somewhat easily gain access to these keys.
If you are traveling with anything of value in your checked baggage your best bet is to insure your bag and the contents. Should anything go missing, the cold hard truth is that you should contact your insurance company.
Until there is some sort of oversight in place for baggage screening, both the airlines and the TSA will continue to send travelers in long frustrating circles. I have a number of ideas for creating a security oversight system for checked baggage, however I'm sure the TSA is not interested in my opinions.
Check with you insurance carrier regarding your coverage and make sure you're covered.