Did screeners steal my headset during a security check?

Here’s a real whodunnit that almost every air traveler can relate to.

Ferdinand Burayag lost his noise-canceling headphones while transiting in Singapore’s Changi Airport recently. Actually, he believes the electronics were swiped while he was screened.

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His story will resonate with anyone who has lost something valuable when they’ve flown. We already know that the TSA reportedly steals from passengers, but I don’t have to tell you the problem isn’t unique to America’s federal screeners.

The real question, as I review Burayag’s account and his correspondence with Changi’s security is: What really happened? Was the headset stolen, lost or simply misplaced?

The incident happened last November, when he was flying from Melbourne, Australia, to Manila by way of Singapore.

While in transit in gate F59 entering security check from 16:05-16:30, I was asked by a security person to put the belongings in my pocket in a security bin.

After going through the security check, I found a pouch which contained Sennheiser earphones were lost and could not be found anywhere. I was very disappointed and upset to lose it, but more concerned to the fact that these were lost during a security check.

Burayag complained to the screener within a few seconds of noticing the missing headset, but it was nowhere to be found.

I asked them to check the security camera, but they told me it will take days to check everything. if I wanted to to that, they said they would unload my belongings and I wouldn’t make my flight to Manila. I decided to file a complaint when I got to Manila.

He called Changi and asked them to look for his headset, but they couldn’t find it. So he filed a written claim and received letters from multiple departments within the airport, dead-ending with this one:

With reference to your feedback submitted via our website on 18 Dec 2010, we thank you for bringing the matter to our attention. We will also like to apologise for the loss of your personal items during the security check.

Currently, we do have strict protocols and close monitoring on the security screening procedures. Thus, we do believe that the above is a one-off incident. Nonetheless, we are most definitely taking your feedback seriously and we will further investigate the matter to prevent a re-occurrence.

We have contacted Lost & Found Office and do regret that the items were not found. We will keep a keen eye and if we do recover the items, we will deliver them back to you immediately.

We do apologise once again and hope that we have to chance the make your next experience with us an excellent one.

It’s possible that a security screeners stole Burayag’s headset in broad daylight, while he was being screened. But most theft of personal property takes place when no one is looking, and baggage screeners have easy access to checked luggage.

I think it’s also possible that the headset was left on the plane or somewhere else, and that Burayag only noticed the missing device after going through security. Or perhaps another passenger accidentally took the headset when it came through the magnetometer.

But if this went down as he believes it did — if, indeed, the headset was swiped by security while he was being screened — then this could be part of a much bigger problem that needs to be investigated.

What do you think really happened?

Update (9 a.m.): I’ve updated a reference to the TSA stealing from passengers after several comments from readers. I have reported the TSA’s theft problems on several occasions, and had only meant to link to one of the articles, not to start a debate about how biased I am. Incidentally, I am biased — in favor of the traveler. I make absolutely no apologies for that.

(Photo: dion hincliffe/Flickr Creative Commons)