TSA theft: Washington, D.C., travelers find many of their claims denied

Travelers from the greater Washington, D.C. can’t get no satisfaction from the Transportation Security Administration.

In 2007, D.C. travelers filed 569 lost-item claims concerning stuff that was pinched from their checked baggage. The TSA denied more than half, according to Beltway TV station NBC 4.

The channel reports that claims denied ranged from a paltry $3.75 to one for more than $10,000. It seems like even when the TSA decides to pay a claim, it is skint on cash: The most the administration shelled out for a claim was a bit more than $1,600 – which turns out to be less than half of what was originally asked for.

The station features an interview with Amber Lewis, who packed a $400 digital camera in her luggage only to have it stolen. After two months of back-and-forth with the TSA, Lewis finally received a check: for $125 (the airline, undisclosed in this report, threw in another $75).

Both the TSA and individual airlines have ceilings regarding how much they will reimburse (few go higher than $3,000 for a claim). And of course, it’s not surprising that airlines are usually the last to admit wrongdoing: It’s so much easier to generally blame things on negligent TSA screeners.

It seems that the TSA meets claims in full only rarely, if at all. Yet spokesmen for the administration can never seem to explain why this is so. Yes, when making a claim a traveler needs to prove ownership, a receipt proving the item’s worth, and a sworn affidavit that it was indeed lost. But given all this — and the labyrinthine process one must go through to get the necessary paperwork to the right people — there is no rational explanation for the TSA not to pay in full. To pay someone like Lewis $125 for a $400 camera (I’m assuming she made her case properly) is like the TSA reaching some kind of abstract conclusion as to what really happened to the item. If the TSA acknowledges a hand in an item going missing, what criteria does it use to weigh how significant that hand was?

I wish the NBC 4 report, or at least the written version, named some airports. Alas, no.

(Some of you reading will, with justification, have little sympathy for poor Amber Lewis. I mean, who packs expensive items like digital cameras into their checked baggage these days?)

What strange things have been found on planes?

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