Theft from baggage: The TSA reponds to our readers
We asked the TSA to respond to the many questions that readers posted to our recent item, "Has the TSA stolen from you?"
Here's our Q&A;:
How many complaints a year are there of lost or stolen items from checked bags?
Of the roughly 2 billion passengers who have traveled since TSA assumed responsibility for screening in 2003, approximately 67,000 passenger loss claims have been filed to date. That is well under one hundredth of one percent, or a claim rate of 3 per 100,000 passengers.
When an item goes missing from a checked bag, it is often impossible to determine where the loss occurred given that checked bags pass through so many hands. Remember, TSA has possession of the bag only long enough to screen it for explosives. Bags are delivered to TSA by the air carriers or their contractors and we return all bags to the airlines after screening. TSA never even touches the bag at the connecting or at the destination airport.
We estimate that for every TSA employee that touches a bag, six to ten airline or airport employees and contractors touch the same bag out of the view of passengers.
Are TSA workers the only person at the airport with the legal right to open bags for inspection, excluding law enforcement?
Several of the readers of our blog say that there's one large difference between TSA workers and airline workers. They say it is easier for a TSA worker to act alone when committing a theft of a passenger’s goods because TSA workers often do inspections alone. Are the working conditions for TSA workers more conducive to individual acts of theft than the working conditions for airport workers?
Because TSA screens every bag for explosives electronically, only a very small percentage of checked bags are actually opened by TSA security officers. Bags are only opened to resolve an alarm and searches are conducted often in public areas by well-supervised security officers who work in teams. At the end of every bag search, a notice is placed in the bag indicating that TSA needed to open the bag.
Are TSA luggage inspectors subject to background checks?
All TSA security officers are subject to a background check.
What is the TSA policy about notifying passengers that their checked bag has been inspected?
Security officers place a notice of inspection (NOI) in each checked bag they open for inspection.
Let's say a passenger files a claim with the TSA that one of their items has been lost, pilfered, or damaged during the inspection process. Will the TSA only process the claim if the passenger says he or she found a slip of paper from an inspector?
TSA thoroughly investigates every claim we receive, whether a NOI is present or not. TSA’s Claims Management Branch has a team of trained examiners who investigate and assess the agency’s liability when claims are filed.
Let me make sure I understand. Let's say a passenger does not find a paper in the bag announcing that it was inspected. Will the TSA still process the passenger's claim that an item was lost, pilfered, or damaged?
If the TSA does not process a claim from a passenger who says that one of the items from their checked bag was lost, pilfered, or damaged, will the TSA automatically forward the claim to the airline? Or it up to the passenger to file a claim separately with the airline?
TSA processes and assess the agency’s liability when claims are filed. We will not automatically forward claims to the airlines. If the claimant wishes to file a claim with the airline they will have file on their own.
Let's say that a passenger files a claim that an item has been lost or pilfered during the inspection process. And let's say that the TSA discovers that the passenger is right. Will the passenger be reimbursed for the item’s value if the item is an electronics good or a piece of jewelry?
TSA recommends that you not pack valuable or fragile items in checked baggage. However, if a claims examiner determines that TSA was negligent then the agency will pay for the full or partial amount of the depreciated value of the item.
What is the best webpage on the TSA website for the fine print on the TSA’s policy regarding the previous question?
What is the best TSA webpage to learn how to file a claim for a missing or damaged item?
If the TSA rejects a claim, can a passenger appeal the case to the TSA Ombudsman by sending an email to TSA.Ombudsman@dhs.gov?
The mission of the TSA Claims Management Office (CMO) is to reimburse passengers who have experienced damage or loss of their property due to the negligence of a TSA employee. However, TSA also has a responsibility to be good stewards of the taxpayer's dollar. Therefore, in some cases, we must deny claims made against the agency.
If we deny a claim and the passenger is dissatisfied with the action taken, they have two options.
1. They may request reconsideration of the denial. They must submit a request along with any new evidence or information that supports their request to the address below. Failure to provide any new or additional information supporting their claim will likely result in TSA upholding the denial.
TSA Claims Management Office (TSA-9)
ATTN: (YOUR CONTROL NUMBER) Reconsideration
601 South 12th Street
Arlington, VA 22202-4220
Second, passengers may file suit in the appropriate U.S. District Court no later than six months after the date their denial letter was mailed. This information is not intended to imply that any such suit would be successful. Passengers may exercise this option if they disagree with TSA's decision on a request for reconsideration.
Please note: Small Claim Courts have no jurisdiction over Federal Tort Claims. Any legal action concerning a Federal Tort Claim must be brought to a U.S. District.
[Editor's note: Several readers asked the following question: Why doesn’t the TSA require its inspectors to put their name or identification number on the documents, for enhanced accountability? When the TSA responds, we'll share its answer with you.]
Affordable Europe: Florence discounts
In Florence’s crowded historic center, it can feel like there are as many Americans as locals—and tourism board and province officials want it to stay that way. They were in New York recently to introduce the Fiorino Effect, a series of wide-ranging discounts they hope will keep Americans visiting despite the weak dollar. The promotion kicks off May 15—timed to the start of Il Genio Fiorentino, a 10-day festival—and runs through December 31. It provides a 10 percent discount at participating hotels and restaurants in Florence and neighboring small towns like Reggello and Barberino Val D’Elsa. Among the more affordable options, Giovanni da Verrazano, a 10-room hotel overlooking the main piazza of Greve, Chianti, made the cut for our Secret Hotels of Tuscany feature. And we’ve previously recommended the family-run Albergo Serena, an 18th-century building with patterned stone-tile floors, well-worn furnishings, and a convenient location by Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station. Americans will also get free admission to the Palazzo Medici, a 20 percent discount on exhibits at the Palazzo Strozzi, and a 15 percent discount on performances at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Be sure to mention the Fiorino Effect when booking your hotel room and download the voucher before you go. It has an image of the fiorino (florin), a gold coin introduced in the 1200s by Florentine bankers and that enjoyed a heyday as the preferred currency for trade. The promoters are quick to compare it to the role played by the dollar—for now, anyway. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL What $100 Buys in Florence
Affordable Europe: Save on trains
In Western Europe, trains are a cheaper and more convenient way to get around than many of the other options. City center to city center, with no check-ins, no baggage fees, and no extra costs to reach out-of-town airports. Here are tips on how to book your trip. If you only remember one website, remember www.bahn.de. Its online timetable will give you train times for almost any train journey anywhere in Europe. For Germany: Alas, the website www.bahn.de only sells tickets for journeys within Germany and many international trips to, or from, Germany. But it does these tasks well. For France: The French Railways website will sell tickets for any journey within France, and for the direct international trains from Paris to Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany. They don’t make it easy for overseas travelers to book, so there’s advice on how to use it at www.seat61.com/France.htm. For Italy: The Italian Railways website will sell tickets for any journey within Italy, and for direct international journeys from Italy to France, Spain, Switzerland, and Germany. For Spain: The Spanish Railways website will sell tickets for any journey in Spain, you may have to use it in Spanish, but there are some special web fares that save 60 percent over what you will pay at the ticket office on the day of travel or if you buy from an agency. For Britain: See my previous post. Don’t assume you need an expensive railpass, even though they are heavily advertised. If you go direct to the European train company websites rather than booking through U.S. agencies, and book in advance on a no-refunds, no-changes basis, you can find some bargains out there. For example Paris-Geneva from €35, Paris-Amsterdam €70 return, Paris to Milan from €35. —Mark Smith, writing from England, for our Affordable Europe series.
Where the dollar is strong: Iceland and South Africa
The dollar has gotten stronger against Iceland's krona (by about 22 percent) and South Africa's rand (by about 26 percent) in the past couple of years, according to the Wall Street Journal. Here's some trip inspiration for these two countries: Iceland has some of the planet's most spectacular (and unusual) natural scenery, not to mention it's the closest European country to the US. The most economical ways to go to the Land of Fire and Ice is to book an air-hotel package through Icelandair Holidays. For example, there is this Real Deal: Iceland Tour, 5 Nights, From $1,859 This whirlwind tour begins and ends in hip Reykjavík, with stops at breathtaking attractions like Skaftafell National Park, the icebergs of Jökulsárlón, and scenic volcanic valleys. Round-trip airfare, five nights' accommodations, some meals, and guided tours from $1,859—plus taxes of about $100. The vacation wing of Icelandair also allows you to "build your own package"....which enables flexibility on number of nights, activities, etc. Should you want to forgo a package, then book your flight with Icelandair, and investigate staying at a guesthouse, which can be much more affordable than hotels, especially in Reykjavik. In summer, many working farms open their doors to visitors for overnight stays too. For listings, check out the Accommodations section of the tourism board's website: Visiticeland.com. Because it's so easy to get around Iceland, we'd also suggest renting a car and exploring on your own, i.e. not spending the extra money for organized tours to places you can easily visit on your own. And don't miss out on the amazing community mineral pools and hot pots-they're inexpensive but you'll leave feeling like a million bucks. South Africa is also a better bargain for Americans than ever. The one hiccup is finding an affordable airfare. That's part of the appeal of the vacation package being offered by Foreign Independent Tours: 10 Nights' South Africa Air/Hotel/Car, $2,599—plus taxes and fees of about $231. The deal includes round-trip airfare, 10 nights' accommodations, car rental, some meals, and game drives at the Amakhala Game Reserve. See our recent Real Deal. If you're thinking about renting a car for a day trip to the vineyards, note that most South African rental agencies put a 200-kilometer cap (about 125 miles) on free daily mileage. Two of the biggest draws near Cape Town—the Cape of Good Hope and the Winelands—are both about an hour from the city. Depending on how many wineries you want to visit, you'll probably have to pay extra. To guarantee unlimited mileage, you should secure reservations before leaving the U.S. Hertz and Avis both operate widely in South Africa, charging about $45 a day for a compact stick-shift car; automatics are typically twice as expensive. Because the dollar is so strong right now in South Africa, you may want to consider hiring a guide, who would double as their designated driver, starting at about $60 a person—or from about $200 per carload. You'll probably travel in a minibus, but at least you won't have to worry about driving. Some of our readers have reported good experiences with Beautiful Cape Town Exclusive Tours. As always, feel free to chime in with your own tips for visiting these countries.
Hotels: Bedtime stories as a new perk?
I don't know about you, but I can't remember the last time someone read me a bedtime story. It used to be one of my favorite things as a kid, particularly when I could talk my grandfather into doing it—almost every night. Recently, big kids got the chance to relive the childhood pastime at the Andaz Liverpool Street, a Hyatt hotel that just opened in London. For a couple of weeks, they had a "Reader in Residence" (journalist Damian Barr) who read to guests free of charge. Hotels are always trying to dream up some new quirky amenity. For example, The Benjamin—a luxury hotel in New York City—has a sleep concierge whose job it is to pick the perfect pillow for you. Will it be buckwheat or water-filled tonight? I generally find these offerings a little too gimmicky, but I have to admit that even I was intrigued by the reader-in-residence program. What do you think? Would you sit by the fireside and let a total stranger read stories to you? For that matter, what would you like to see offered at a hotel?