Who’s responsible for this pilfered luggage?


Beth Graham’s daughter’s luggage is pilfered, but it’s not clear who is responsible — the TSA or her airline.

Question: My 18-year-old daughter recently flew from Portland, Oregon, to Jacksonville, Florida, connecting through Atlanta. Her flight on Delta Air Lines was delayed more than three hours into the wee hours of the morning.

When she arrived home, a book with sentimental value, which she had been given for graduation, was gone from her luggage. Also missing: three books she purchased using her graduation money (she’s a photographer, so they were expensive nature photography books) and all of the souvenirs she had purchased for family members.

She was devastated. I have provided all kinds of documentation to Delta and TSA, but no one is responding to me. Delta told me it was the TSA’s responsibility to handle the claim, but the TSA keeps passing it between the airports she passed through on that trip.

I just want my daughter to be able to replace the books that were stolen — the souvenirs can’t be replaced at this point. We’re talking about $300 here, but neither company is being responsive! I know it’s a small amount of money, but it’s the sentimental items that are so devastating. I hope you can help. — Beth Graham, Fleming Island, Florida

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s luggage. The TSA and your airline should have done a better job of preventing this incident and handling your daughter’s claim. The TSA is responsible for checked baggage from the time it is presented for screening until it’s been cleared after screening. The rest of the time, it’s the airline’s department.

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Given that the TSA had control of her luggage for such a short amount of time, I might have started the claims process with Delta. If it bounced you back to the TSA, you might have appealed to one of Delta’s customer service managers. I list their names and contact information on my site at: elliott.org/company-contacts/delta.

This game of pingpong between the TSA and an airline is fairly unusual. The trick to fixing it is to keep a detailed paper trail — no phone calls — and to copy both the agency and the airline on your correspondence, to ensure that they aren’t telling you different stories. Apparently, Delta strongly believes the TSA had your luggage when it was pilfered.

I started by asking the TSA about your case. How could it be sure it didn’t have your daughter’s missing items? A TSA inspector in Portland called you and said the agency knows because it has video surveillance of all TSA bag screenings. By providing the TSA a time and luggage description, it was able to watch the footage of your daughter’s bag being searched and all items returned.

The TSA inspector told you that Delta often “passes the buck,” claiming that it doesn’t handle the luggage after TSA inspections, except to load it on the plane.

You appealed this to Delta’s executive contacts, noting that you now had video surveillance of the screening. A Delta representative called you and said that while the airline doesn’t agree that the TSA was not responsible, it would write your daughter a check to cover the items taken from her luggage.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • sirwired

    The TSA has video proof that they didn’t pilfer anything (and a pile of books next to the inspection station would be kind of obvious), but Delta “doesn’t agree” they were responsible?

    That’s nice.

  • NotThatBrooklynGuy

    Yet again, a company does the right thing after being pummeled.

    Let’s mix Winston Churchill’s “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.” mixed with some Red Green “I’m a man, but I can change, if I have to, I guess.” to come up with the airline’s mantra:

    “You can sometimes count on Delta to the right, if they have to, after being exposed to bad publicity, maybe”.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Ha… nailed it! Thanks for the LOL. :-)

  • Jadeveon Clowney

    How do we know the TSA actually has the video and has looked at it? Just because they said so? Did they show it to the OP?

  • Lindabator

    but that is not to say someone else down the line didn’t also go in – that HAS happened before.

  • Bill___A

    This whole TSA / Airline baggage pass the buck thing is a bunch of bunk. We, as passengers, check our bags with the airline. We also are able to check the bags upon their return to us – from the airline. No one is checking at the point that the bag comes back to the airline from the TSA…so it is a catch 22. Perhaps the airlines can handle the claims on behalf of themselves and the TSA, and work out the costs between them.

  • AAGK

    I am so glad this worked out! Such an odd theft. It is difficult to imagine anyone stealing bulky photography books. I am a rare books collecter and the resale value on those is probably $10 each. I am so glad she was compensated. I wonder if suitcase locks would have helped her here (I know they are sometimes cut by the TSA).

  • Grant Ritchie

    Several years ago, something similar happened to me. My prescription pain pills disappeared from an unlocked bag, and I encountered the legendary TSA stone wall. Yes, Virginia, it does exist, “Couldn’t’ve been us. We’d’ve left a notice of inspection. Had to’ve been the airline.” Yeah… right. My fix? A set of those special locks that can only be opened by TSA. Now that they can no longer blame anyone else, I haven’t had a thing go missing since.

  • judyserienagy

    I realized the other day that I hadn’t had my luggage opened by TSA with that little note for several years, so I thought maybe they had discontinued the procedure. For the record, when they used to inspect my suitcase, nothing was ever disturbed, nor was anything ever missing.

  • Tom Reale

    They now sell those locks with an added safeguard- you can tell when they’ve been opened by TSA when they use their special key. Just bought a set but haven’t tried them out yet. Here’s the URL for them: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B012ZWEZS8?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00

  • Grant Ritchie

    Thanks, Tom.

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