Maybe the TSA is damaging less of our luggage

Then again, maybe not.

Before I get into the substance of this post, let me acknowledge a few of my biases. Although the Transportation Security Administration has never damaged my checked baggage — because I don’t check my baggage, probably — they did kinda ruin my last New Years Day.

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And Kari just had an unpleasant run-in with a TSA agent in Honolulu yesterday. Seems one of the kids hadn’t finished their water on the flight from Atlanta. Instead of allowing her to dump the half-ounce of water or drink it, she was forced to throw the entire aluminium bottle ($3.50 at Wal Mart) away.

She was at the end of her rope after 10 hours on a plane. I’m taking, nail-spittin’, fire-breathin’ furious. I thought she was going to get herself arrested. She didn’t, thank goodness,

Anyway, we all have our TSA story to tell. I get a question about a TSA-related luggage claim about once a month. TSA receives an average of 45 claims a day, which is roughly .0018 percent of all bags screened.

But asked for the exact number of claims, denials and payouts, TSA only could point me to this section on its site where it dumped raw numbers into an xls file.

Not helpful.

My TSA contact then sent me the payout numbers for lost and damaged luggage (see graph, above) and promised to research the other figures and “let me know the timeframe” for the request. That was more than two weeks ago, and something tells me the agency has more important things to worry about.

Still, as I review these claim numbers, I wonder: If the number of claims has remained relatively constant — and that’s a big assumption — then why have payouts plummeted? Is TSA damaging less of our checked luggage? Or is it just not paying damages, as a matter of policy?

The numbers we have raise more questions than they answer.

If TSA doesn’t respond, I will probably file a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I’m just afraid that if I do, the agency will dump all of the raw numbers into a useless spreadsheet again.

If there’s anyone out there with an accounting background who can take a look at the FOIA documents on the TSA site (look at “claims data” part 1 through 3), and can crunch them, please let me know.

I’d like to report more on this story.