Theft from baggage: The TSA reponds to our readers

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012

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

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)


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.]

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