$31 million worth of lost valuables on the TSA's watch

A Fox affiliate managed to get ahold of the TSA's raw data on luggage theft on their watch and is reporting that a whopping $31 million worth of valuables disappeared from the aviation system in the past three years. Many of these items went missing from within suitcases, pilfered in transit after the TSA inaugurated its no-locks policy on checked bags. Now that's security.
A former KCI baggage handler, who asked us not to identify her, said she knows theft happens even in Kansas City.

"There was never anybody who said I did that," said the baggage handler. "But there was always talk. So and so found something in a bag. Shoes were one. Another one was perfumes, really expensive brands."

She said the best time for luggage to be tampered with is when it's in the baggage hold area. That's where it is stored before it's loaded onto the plane.

"You will have one person down there and all they are doing is transferring bags to different carts," said the former baggage handler. "It only takes one person. So you would just be in a room by yourself."

She said one way to get away with the crime was to rifle through a bag and then put it on the wrong plane headed to the wrong city. When the luggage is finally located, it would be unclear where the crime took place.



  1. I asked a TSA official on a call-in radio show some months ago about how they could consider a system where things are constantly being taken *out* of luggage to be secure, since things could just as easily be put *in*. His response was a 5 minute diatribe on how noble our baggage handlers are. What TSA has done is to create a system where neither themselves nor the airlines responsible for any loss or damage that happens to luggage so long as the suitcase gets there eventually. I’m sure the airlines, TSA and the handlers are all quite happy about that.

  2. After reading this, I feel an urge to print out a small poster sized Goatse. Then, said image would be strapped to my bundle of luggage inside the bag, facing upward to the unsuspecting pilferer. At least that way, there’d be one ring that they’d remember, and couldn’t have.

  3. Threatening notes in your luggage for inspectors is some sort of crime, I think. And a Goatse poster is definitely threatening.

  4. TSA = terror support agency.

    more than providing actual security, they give the appearance of security (read: your senators and representatives posturing, fear mongering, and politicking for votes)…

    …slowing down business travelers, destroying productivity and gdp, helping the terrorists win. after all, don’t the terrorists wish to harm our capitalist society?

    maybe we should ask the terrorists for forgiveness (whether or not they are deserving) get OUT OF THE MIDDLE EAST, quit pissing off them and the rest of the world, and maybe we would be safer???

  5. I have had a few items removed from my luggage in the last few years and I always find a note that my luggage has been inspected inside the suitcase.
    I fly frequently betweeen the USA and Europe so the odds of this occuring are pretty good, but the items missing from my luggage over the years have been pretty wierd…most notably a few clearly labeled plastic canisters of fairly expensive paint pigment.
    I had bagged them with a note explaining what they were and asked that I be notified if there was a problem.
    Nothing but a note stating that items had been removed from my luggage. There was never any response when I tried to get an explanation.

    For some reason they thought the unmarked plastic tub of tahiniin the same suitcase was perfectly innocent!

  6. If you absolutely must check luggage that you are worried about being stolen, check it with a gun. A starter pistol will do if you dont want a weapon, less legal hassles in many locales upon arrival.

  7. A friend visiting in Seattle found a new lap top computer in his luggage when he unpacked.
    Had no idea where it came from or whose it was.
    Just another day at TSA (SNAFU).
    No one back at SeaTac airport seemed interested in getting it back either.

    FYI Seattle ranks #4 in the USA for such foul-ups and general pilferage of checked luggage.

    No one in power seems to notice or care…..

  8. @ #6
    I’ve heard that a flare gun works even better. It counts as a firearm as far as the airlines are concerned, so you get the full locked luggage and only key treatment. But you don’t need the go to the trouble of buying a real gun.

  9. Here is my solution: Boycott air travel. Especially American and United Airlines. It was their half-assed security that created this mess in the first place…

  10. i do not check luggage anymore. having things stolen out of my bags is but one reason why.

    i take a carry on that is slightly beyond most of the regulation sizes allowed…no one stop you anymore, and it does not look OBVIOUSLY bigger.

    i then take a back pack as my personal item…that thing expands to hold lots if necessary.

    of course i am also contributing to the overhead storage madness…i also jump zones for boarding to get there when there’s still space.

    gotta work the system when the system is broken.

  11. so where are the RFID tag traps? If TSA or the airlines actually wanted to do something about theft, they could use what any Home Depot does to catch shoplifters.

    I like the flare gun idea.

  12. I’m completely dissatisfied with the TSA and our newfound sense of pervasive surveillance. However, this article doesn’t really provide any way of assessing how much effect TSA policy has had on theft. There are no data from before the threat level hysteria, and the article even mentions that carousel theft may have declined due to heightened security at the baggage claim. The reporting is a bit weak in this regard; but then again, the article seems intended to point out the magnitude of the problem rather than TSA accountability. The BB post implies that TSA no-lock policy has enhanced theft. Maybe there are figures that support this assertion, but that’s something of a distortion of the article.

  13. I like how some frequent travelers avoid this TSA garbage completely and just FedEx their luggage to their destination.

  14. “It only takes one person. So you would just be in a room by yourself.”

    Do they have security cameras in the areas where baggage handlers are free to rifle through our bags?

  15. pack a dummy bag of old clothes and crap and leave a quart jar of mouldy sauerkraut open in it. Make sure whoever opens it will get it all over themselves. “Ah gee, did that come undone?”

  16. Also, airport terminal food sucks… on the TSA’s watch.

    I have been unable to find an estimate of the average dollar value of checked luggage lost per year. Has it gone from $5 milion/year to $10? Or has it gone from $15 million/year to $10? Without context, it’s not a useful statistic… except in the hermetically sealed bubble of TSA haters, for whom every sentence ending in a period is usable evidence of TSA perfidy.

  17. “Do they have security cameras in the areas where baggage handlers are free to rifle through our bags?”

    Even if they did, it wouldn’t matter if nobody was watching the cameras or reviewing the tapes. If the airlines stick baggage handlers in a room by themselves, do you think they’d pay a rent-a-cop to watch them? Plus it would be trivial for a handler to bend over a suitcase and block the view from a camera.

    I had an iPod stolen from checked luggage. Yes, I was stupid, and yes, it shouldn’t have happened anyway.

    The “war on terror” is not winnable, like LBJ’s “war on poverty”. People who feel aggrieved lash out violently and unpredictably with the intention of frightening people into a course of action. We just call it “terrorism” these days instead of “anarchist bomb-throwers” (19th cent) or “scalping” (17th cent). All you can do is try to prevent it, and try to minimize the damage when it occurs. But that approach doesn’t scare voters into electing demagogues.

  18. Tom, it’s not a matter of the average dollar value, or how much is stolen each year. In this case, (based on what I’ve read) context doesn’t matter either. If I steal a loaf of bread to feed my starving family, it’s still theft. As is taking anything out of a piece of luggage that it not ‘illegal’. Its not how much, it’s that it’s happening at all. When I was young I lived near a factory that made car parts (small parts, easy to steal). Every employee had their bag ‘inspected’ on the way out. Just a peek, nothing big. Why can’t the TSA add this to employees at airports? This I think would stop most thefts. Think of it this way, if you know you might get caught, you likely wouldn’t do something. If theres NO chance of getting caught, it just goes on unchecked…

    And yes…Airport food sucks.

  19. It would be SO easy to set simple traps to catch TSA bag handlers that steal. How do they explain not doing it?

  20. In other words, even one stolen bag per year is unacceptable… as long as the TSA is there to blame for it. Luggage lost before the TSA punching-bag appeared… not interesting. Potential trends – improvement or the opposite – in loss rates during the TSA’s tenure… not interesting. All that matters is that the TSA is there, and some stuff gets stolen. This makes perfect sense.

    Open the bubble doors please, HAL…

  21. now the truth will start to come out, TSA staff got whistleblower protection;

    “After intense efforts by the American Federation of Government Employees to expand the Transportation Security Administration’s limited whistleblower appeal rights, TSA has agreed that instead of receiving recommended findings of reprisal that TSA can ignore, Transportation Security Officers will now receive decisions that are enforceable through the US Merit Systems Protection Board”

  22. #2 – That would be a great deterant to the hotel maids that go through your stuff as well! I’m printing a poster for every one of my suitcases now. I might even print some for my carry-on bags to mess with the screeners there.

  23. First – locks are allowed. I use them all the time. Yes I had to get new TSA approved ones but that just means they have a master key to open them. Easy deterence to theft by opportunity. Second – long before the TSA was around I knew never to pack valuables in my checked luggage. Anyone who does is a fool.

  24. I had the approved TSA locks on my luggage but was forced to leave them unlocked at check-in (?!).
    Later they were removed from my luggage.
    Go figure.

    Memo to Right Hand: Inform Left Hand ASAP!

  25. The whole TSA thing bums me out. I checked a doll that my grandma had made. TSA cut it open at the seems, they then wrapped taped around it. The left note saying my bag had been inspected for my safety.
    it would be fun to pack a couple hidden cams in the luggage to catch these clowns in the act.

  26. goatse posters? no manila envelope marked “kiddie porn”, containing photographs of assorted baby goats?

  27. how about a suitcase that looks like a suitcase but is really an armored box,welded shut, with no way of opening it?

  28. @ TAKUAN:

    That’s just like those greeting cards that don’t open! Love the idea!

    I also love how we’re allegedly more secure. I haven’t been more afraid in my life. I’m going back to my basement and fishing out my little tinfoil hat…

  29. Tom, you misunderstood what I meant. I may not have been clear. Theft is theft. It doesn’t matter where it happens. Businesses protect themselves against theft. It may be basic bag searches upon leaving a facility, or video surveillance, or whatever. It matters not WHO is in control of an area where thefts are happening (note I didn’t say allowed to happen…), what matters is that that organization is responsible. TSA, FBI, CIA, KFC, IHOP, 7/11, it doesn’t matter.

    And yes, one stolen bag per year is too many. Lost luggage is another deal entirely however.

  30. Agree with LakeLady.
    Arrange your luggage so that only a minimal amount of valuable property, at best, is checked in and available for theft. That they’ve put a $ sign in front of how much has been stolen doesn’t change the fact that theft happens in baggage, has been happening, for a long time. There is simply just more opportunity now.
    If you cant move the mountain, go around. Have some common sense about your property and that there is always the potential of somebody looking to steal it when nobody is looking.

  31. travel with guns. and not flare guns. Real BIG guns. You have a separate security check, and? if your gun is big enough? they look at you with awe.

    Sadly, hard to do on international flights. But my last hop from DFW – SFO with a SPAS12 autoloader? I got grade A service, and all mu other luggage made it through un-mo-lested.

    you will need a hard box with a lock, that goes in your luggage with a lock, but it is so totally worth it to see the TSA inspector’s eyes bug when they see a real live gigantic shotgun built for hunting dinosaurs or riot mobs.

    EVERY single time I’ve traveled sans-firearms, usually international, for work, I’ve picked up my bags to find all sorts of cool missing stuff. condoms, they really like to take condoms, in my experience…

  32. While traveling though Chicago O’Hare Airport (circa late 90s) my entire suite of luggage was lost (3 bags and an acoustic guitar)

    My efforts at locating and recovering my gear were met with a complete lack of interest by both airport officials and my carrier (American)

    Luckily my bags were insured (but not the guitar – it was a last minute purchase)- so I was eventually compensated for my troubles

    Fast forward 7 months and lo and behold what did a shiny brown UPS truck deliver to my front door? – all my luggage PLUS a woman’s handbag (no ID inside, but containing $95.23 cash and some makeup) – and my guitar with a large gash down the back of the body.

    Needless to say I no longer check backs and carry on only what I need.

    PS – the humiliation rendered to modern airline passengers is indeed beyond belief – I foresee a day when full-on strip searches are conducted with every passenger.

  33. a population so cowed that it does not move around is ideal – for some forms of government.

  34. TSA Turkeys Standing Around. Yes folks, you saw it here first on 1MAR08. They steal from you and expect you to say thanks. I LOVE the Gov.

  35. and what is that I saw, something in the European press saying Americans will soon need permission from their government to travel IN America. That the information presently demanded for international flights will soon apply to all domestic US travel?

    So hard to keep up with these busy, busy little fellows.


    Friday, February 29th, 2008
    U.S. Citizens Must Ask for Gov Permission to Travel

    David Gutierrez

    The Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is moving forward to institute a rule that would require all passengers to go through a government review process before boarding any airplane that takes off or lands anywhere with in the United States.

    The U.S. government already requires international passengers to participate in the Advanced Passenger Information System, providing their full name, gender, date of birth, nationality, country of residence, and travel document type and number to the TSA before boarding. Under the proposed Secure Flight Program, this procedure would also be required on domestic flights.


    If Bush keeps cutting taxes, where will he get the money to keep tabs on us? First, permission to travel inside the US… what next, permission to pee? People watching is an expensive sport.

  38. funny you should ask that…. I am sure that Toto Japan is even now working on a toilet seat that not only washes and dries your little botty, but also checks your papers and drug habits at the same time.

  39. I do not understand why you have to sign something saying you do not hold the airline or the TSA responsible for what they do to your things. I really don’t. What is this crazy system where you are required to hand stuff to someone and say “whatever happens while it’s in your possession is not your fault.” Of COURSE it’s their fault!

    How did that even happen?

    On a recent flight back from the US, when we returned, one of our bags had obviously been dumped on the floor, contents rifled through, toiletries opened but not closed, and then just thrown back in. There was makeup all over everything. My wife opened the bag, pulled out the top we’d bought for her sister, mangled and stained (along with much of the rest of the bag’s contents), collapsed to her knees, and sobbed.

    That is the last time we went to the US, and despite wanting to go there for more schooling, I just find it difficult to bring myself to go. It is not the place I grew up in anymore.

  40. It is not the place I grew up in anymore.

    Honestly, I don’t think that it ever was. The difference is that white people are now experiencing what people of color have always experienced here.

  41. The system must be a jackpot around the holidays. My friend flew home to the east coast and had a Wii in her checked bags, a gift for her sister. Of course, the bag made it with all the Wii packaging- but the contents were gone. TSA said “talk to the airline”, the airline said “we don’t cover electronics”.

    Now this was probably a silly thing to do, checking an expensive and hard to find item. But still, it sucks because there is no accountability, and the thieves know it.

  42. There is an observation here. If TSA employees are stealing, this means the screening process for the employees is not doing the job.

    If anything, these employees should be screened MORE than employees who are NOT responsible for human lives.

    It’s not much of a stretch to imagine a really dishonest employee accepting a fat bribe to slip something INTO a piece of luggage. The whole job is ripe for entrapment, blackmail, etc.

    Answer: Increase supervision on the employees. Increase the pay and benefits to attract better workers. Stiffen penalties to a Federal offense for tampering with the luggage. Pre-screen employees using the same process as high-security jobs.

    The whole present scenario is ridiculous.

  43. The solution has always been readily available and routinely offered.

    But when a society has been so successfully dumbed down by government “public” schools that they do not know how to use words that hold their meanings, they do not understand words that hold their meanings.

    Resolutions of contradictions (solutions to problems) that do not create more contradictions can only be conveyed with words that hold their meanings and therefore not create contradictions within the words right from the get-go.

    Which of countless examples would you prefer? A government of, by and for the people cannot hold a single secret from the people, or it becomes a government of, by and for the government. You cannot have one that does the other. Either resolution is more useful than maintaining the contradiction and the inability to understand it.

    The dumbed down Americans are simply clueless of how to successfully communicate concepts with language, and thus clueless of how to resolve contradictions which are laughably easy to resolve.

    Extract yourself. And therefore enjoy the comedy of the humans, especially the idiot Americans.

    May you learn the most knowledge of the most concepts, most efficiently. And have fun doing so.


  44. Had a box of Chanel No 5 stolen from a suitcase transferring in LAX. We were transferring from a flight from Mexico City to head to Sydney, so we had to clear customs and let them scan our luggage. We put our luggage on a conveyer belt, walked through a metal detector, walked past a short wall and picked up our bags maybe 20m away. In that time – a minute tops – some fucker unzipped the bag, reached in and stole the perfume. Hope they had an allergic reaction and fucking died.

  45. If these inspectors can take things OUT of your luggage what is to keep them from slipping items INTO your luggage?

    I’d be wary of some misguided (or crafty) individual using there position as ‘Baggage Raider’ to place explosives or contraband INTO bags.

    “Did you pack your own bag?”

    Hell, who knows by the time it reaches its destination.

    ~>Low wages, poor screening, little oversight and no responsibility is simply a recipe for infiltration by the very groups the TSA purports to protect us from.

    “”We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us!”
    Pogo, fellow traveler.


  46. JG, you haven’t noticed the burly, bearded, Harley belt-buckle baggage handlers then, have you?

  47. Only chumps check luggage; carry-on is the way to travel. You can switch flights more easily, you don’t have to wait for your bags to come out, and they can’t get lost.

    Be that as it may, the reason only chumps check luggage is due to all of TSA crazy rules.

  48. Just for the sake of accuracy, the airport in Kansas City is MCI. That always amused me when I had to travel to Sprint headquarters in Kansas City. (Maybe I am just easily amused.)

  49. when you check guns, do they go through the ammo to see if you’ve hand-loaded all those shotguns shells with coke?

  50. hey! watch this!
    “Port workers — including those in port facilities, longshoremen and truck drivers who work in secure areas or with access to ships — are being required to carry identification cards known as Transportation Worker Identification Credentials.

    “It’s one more aspect of increased security that we all have to deal with,” said Dean Haen, manager of the Port of Green Bay. “We are no different than a costal port. We’re all treated the same, and it’s the new world we’re living in.”

    The TSA expects about 1 million workers will go through the vetting process at 147 enrollment sites.”

  51. @ 6 and 8.

    Packing a gun won’t help. They’ll just steal your gun as well. I read an article a couple of months ago about how over 100 guns have been stolen from checked luggage during the previous two years.

  52. I just pack a bunch of dirty laundry around anything I don’t want picked over – it seems to work. And if you think checked baggage is for chumps, maybe you never delighted in checking a 40 lb box of Dukes mayo, White Lilly flour, Toms bbq corn chips, Sundrop, and other delights only available on the lower east coast. Next time I’m going to check 40 lbs of hickory wood for smoking meat. I hope TSA doesn’t rip that off.

  53. no duct taped, brick shaped, clear plastic packages of icing sugar, clearly labelled “icing sugar”

  54. This blog has a history of mocking liquids confiscation by TSA, who tried to make pop-rocks explosive (acetone dioxide) with no time to filter it and set it off.

    But liquids A + B from a hardware store, both which look like water can make WWI trench gas. Says so right on the label. Do not mix Ammonia with Bleach (sodium hypocholorite). Why? Gives off plumes of highly toxic chorine gas. That would not only kill a few hundred passengers, but also any pilots that share the ventilation system of the plane.

    Stealing of expensive perfumes is another thing, and about a hundred bottles of it would indeed add to $31M.

    The solution? TSA people should HAND out FREE bottled water and even baby formula, and for us old jaded types, a jigger of whisky or three.

  55. Amazingly, I predict that every person posting comments, as well as the submitter of the original article, will vote for a president and congressmen who continue the TSA debacle.

    (Disclaimer, I am not American and pay extra so I don’t have to fly through US airports.)

  56. “Amazingly, I predict that every person posting comments, as well as the submitter of the original article, will vote for a president and congressmen who continue the TSA debacle.”

    Why is this amazing? Do you normally never predict things?

  57. Amazingly, I predict that every person posting comments, as well as the submitter of the original article, will vote for a president and congressmen who continue the TSA debacle.

    Don’t quit your day job to become a psychic. Cory is Canadian.

  58. Travel broadens the mind, therefore It must be stopped!

    A gradually increasing annoyance campaign is a good first step. After the annoyance works it’s magic, travel will be made to hurt a bit [imagine the sound of an agent putting on his latex gloves with an authoritative snapping sound], and ultimately it will require dodging and weaving through minefields, climbing razor wire, avoiding the snipers and dogs, and finally scaling a big wall of some kind. It worked so well in Berlin that Israel went and got one, the US is trying to figure out how to build one along the Mexican border, China has a really sweet virtual wall to keep out undesirable websites, and the list continues to grow. So far, the US apparently hasn’t figured out how to build a wall quickly and affordably without hiring a lot of illegal immigrant labor to do it.

    It’s obvious that barriers and walls are making a huge comeback like some outdated, hideously ugly fashion adopted by the young, but they wear it without any sense of irony, or history. Every day I thank the One True God (meaning mine) that such outlandish scenarios can’t happen here!

  59. “Amazingly, I predict that every person posting comments, as well as the submitter of the original article, will vote for a president and congressmen who continue the TSA debacle.”

    We don’t get to vote for issues. Only for people. One angry old white guy. One angry old white eggless wonder. Or a virile half-black man who (death sentence worthy of traditional Islam) converted away from Mohamadism.

    See, the way we work it here, given this system, now corrupted here and there, less so because of BLOGS, is hire the person who has the most power of presence, then we judge him positively or negatively by giving him a cooperative or antagonistic congress, or refuse to elect him to a second term.

    TSA? That’s not what we are allowed to vote for. The TSA just put up a web site. They had to shut it down in a day. Too many millions of comments. And they cannot really tell people how to easily blow up a plane, can they. Should they? No.

    The real problem is just like the situation with school teachers throughout the ages. Minor tyrants, especially those with neoprene gloved STRIP SEARCH warrants, flock to positions of power. Jesus would say to give these people a hug. But that will get you buggered, and your grandma too.

    I think the best policy would be to require *all* TSA agents to already have girlfriends or wives, and put all of them through “male sensitivity training” so they can be sensitive to stressed-out (PLANE LEAVING NOW) males, who, due to testosterone have little patience for shoe searches.

    My god, can’t they add an x-ray machine at ground level for that sort of thing? Or? Or what?

    Another case of minimum wage burocratas (Spanish term) strutting their stuff?

  60. It is complete bull on the system used to check your luggage. It’s impossible to trust a complete stranger. Two weeks ago I lost a 2 DVD’s. TSA told me that because they are not an expensive item such as a digital camera they could not do anything about it. So what is the difference between having something worth 30 dollars stolen from you and a high dollar item? I don’t see any because I’m still out the money for either

  61. Something I hadn’t realized back when this thread was young: the TSA won’t let you put locks on your luggage that they can’t open, but there’s no rule against locks inside your luggage.

    I like chunky stone necklaces, but they’re very heavy. Usually I keep my jewelry in my carry-on luggage, but sometimes I can’t manage the weight. On those occasions, I padlock all my jewelry together, then padlock the whole bundle to the inside of my suitcase.

    Result: it’s all fully inspectable, but you can’t steal a single item. You can only steal the whole thing. Likewise, I’m sure you could figure out how to extract one of my necklaces — but you couldn’t do it fast.

    It’s useful to be more trouble than you’re worth.

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