It’s a moment everyone dreads: That sinking feeling that something’s missing from your luggage.
Maybe your laptop’s gone, or that camera you take everywhere, or that piece of jewelry you knew you shouldn’t pack into your checked baggage. Your mind races through everything you did that day, from grabbing coffee to getting off the plane. But you’re sure you had it in your bag.
It’s a terrible situation. And, data shows, it’s about to get much worse.
An NJ Advance Media analysis of seven years of lost or damaged item claims filed at the nation’s 15 busiest airports, including Newark Liberty International, found the Transportation Security Administration is far more likely to reject travelers’ requests for reimbursement than pay out.
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.
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.
“This is an agency that has a transparency problem,” said Paul Hudson, president of Flyers Rights, a non-profit advocacy organization and a member of the FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee differed. “The problem of theft is well documented and there have been people who have been arrested. So a denial is not credible.”
Michelle Negron, a spokeswoman for the TSA, said claims are denied “when the evidence does not support a finding that TSA was responsible for the loss or damage.”
Claims typically take 60 to 90 days, though they can take longer if they are more complex, Negron said. If you never hear back from TSA, consider your claim denied, she said.
As for theft?
“For nearly all these claims, TSA has no evidence supporting a finding that the loss was due to theft,” Negron said.
So how are so many items disappearing from people’s bags?
About 60 percent of all the claims at these airports related to property loss. In Newark, 1,232 of the claims involved property loss from checked baggage. Most cases of loss or damage involved checked baggage, followed by alleged loss at security screening checkpoints.
Of the items that went missing, baggage/cases/purses were the most common, followed by computers, clothing, jewelry and watches. At security checkpoints, computers, personal electronics, jewelry and watches were most commonly claimed to have been lost.
For the seven-year period at these 15 airports, the TSA paid out nearly $2 million for approved claims and settlements, the data shows. That includes almost $200,000 at Newark airport and more than $300,000 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
It’s difficult for travelers to know who’s responsible for loss or damage. Items could go missing because of an airline mistake, or theft by an airline baggage handler. It could be the result of a TSA employee. Or it could have been taken off the luggage belt by the wrong person.
If a TSA employee opens a bag, they are supposed to leave behind a slip of paper to inform the traveler. According to the agency’s website, many claims are denied when an investigation determines that TSA officers did not open a bag for a physical inspection.
Where do you stand the greatest risk of losing something and getting no money in return?
That’s McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which led the group in denials, rejecting 56.49 percent, or 1,174 of the 2,078 claims filed.
At Newark airport, travelers fared better than the group as a whole. About 33 percent of the 2,510 claims filed during the seven years were denied, while about 32 percent resulted in a full payment of the amount requested or a settlement for less than what was requested.
The average settlement amount across the 15 airports was $87, compared to $117 at Newark.
There’s steps you can take to protect yourself against problems.
For one, travelers’ rights groups recommend against packing anything valuable in checked baggage, including your car keys. They also recommend reporting any potential loss or damage immediately, or within 24 hours to both the airline and the TSA.
Travelers who suspect the TSA was at fault can fill out a form online. Claimants must provide proof of the loss or damage, the cost and TSA’s negligence.