Do you still have receipts for that TSA-approved lock?

Like many air travelers who are wary of having their luggage pilfered, Bobby Caldwell took every step he could to protect his property on a recent flight from Albuquerque, N.M., to Chicago. He packed his belonging in sturdy suitcases and secured them with TSA-approved locks.

And it worked. Sorta.

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None of his belongings were stolen. But a funny thing happened with the locks.

“When we arrived, we found that both bags were missing their locks,” he says. “At home we searched the bags thinking maybe they were removed and put inside the bag after a check of the bags contents. Needless to say the locks were not to be found.”

TSA-approved locks, by way of background, are special locks to which TSA agents have a master key. If the lock is missing, it’s a safe bet that a TSA agent has removed it.

Caldwell assumed it would be simple to get the TSA to replace the locks. After all, who else would have stripped his luggage of the locks but then left the contents of his bag intact?

So he contacted TSA. Here’s how it responded.

Thank you for your e-mail. In regards to locks on baggage, please be aware of the following:

Please include a repair estimate and original purchase information to help substantiate the claim form. An SF95 claim form is attached for you to fill out. You may submit your claim by fax to (571) 227-1904/2940, by e-mail to [email protected] or by mail to 601 South 12th Street, TSA-9 Arlington, VA 20598-6009.

We are sorry that you experienced problems during your travels and hope this information is helpful.

Thank you
TSA Claims Management Branch

Let’s have a closer look at the page the TSA referred to in this email. One line in particular stayed with me: “Please understand that unseen forces besides TSA may have contributed to your lock missing or your baggage damaged in transit.”

In other words, don’t assume it was our fault.

I asked Caldwell about the locks. Here are a few details:

The locks in question are one gray Samsonite combo lock, about seven years old, cost about $7, the other was black, Lewis N Clark combo lock, purchased on 11/25/11, at Sears, Vernon Hills, Ill., for about $10.

There are no receipts saved for either lock.

After years of using locks on baggage we never had any taken off and not put back on.

We know that two locks worth a total less than $20 is not a lot of money, but we feel that maybe protocols weren’t properly applied here. Instead feeling like happy holiday travelers, we feel more like victims.

Looks as if the TSA has taken a page from the airline playbook. While acknowledging responsibility for lost or damaged items, airlines often insist on being shown original sales receipts — receipts that their passengers rarely have.

The TSA could easily team up with a luggage manufacturer to send vouchers for new luggage locks to customers like Caldwell. Instead, it throws the book in his face. In fact, the entire claims process, with its forms and time limits, makes passengers believe they’re getting the cold shoulder from the government.

“I don’t think we got a fair shake from the TSA,” he told me. “Their demand for receipts, under the circumstance, is unreasonable. The demand that we submit claim forms within two days is unreasonable. Also, TSAs failure to answer our question about protocols about searches of locked luggage leads me to think they don’t care about the property or feelings of the hapless traveler.”

I hate to move this into the “case dismissed” file, but I think I’d have more luck changing the TSA’s policy on luggage locks than getting it to cough up $20.

(Photo: Daru Man/Flickr)

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