Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fly if you must, but DON’T CHECK YOUR BAG

TSA Rife with Thievery

On the way to Petaluma, Jan. 10, 2012, Sis and I stopped at a rustic roadside shopping area at Duncan's Mills. There, in a tiny shop called Studio Nouveau, I saw the earrings I've always wanted: lacy silver 2" ovals fringed with dangles and set with sparkly stones. My sister watched me hold them up to a mirror and enthusiastically pronounced them perfect. Then, even though she is a subsistence mountain woman who could ill afford it, she immediately bought them for me. I put them on right away. The rest of the day she kept glancing over at me, beaming because her little sister looked so great in her gift.
And that’s what disappeared from my suitcase on January 11, 2012, in the San Francisco airport at approximately 6:00 AM.

I'd tucked them carefully into an athletic knee wrap (brought in case a yoga injury acted up) and placed between layers of clothes. For the TSA to have even found it, it must've been exactly the sort of thing they hoped to find.

Understanding the invasive security measures necessary in these terrorist times, I wasn’t that concerned when I found the Notification of Inspection card in my luggage. Then I discovered the heartbreaking loss.

Yes, I’ve made the calls, filled in the forms, made the reports, etc. Now I’m doing the research. It seems TSA theft is rampant nationwide.

In 2009, a half dozen TSA agents at Miami International Airport were caught boosting an iPod, perfume, cameras, a GPS system, a Coach purse, and a Hewlett Packard Mini Notebook from passengers’ luggage. Since then, travelers passing through the airport’s checkpoints have reported as many as 1,500 items stolen, the majority of which were never recovered.

 A TSA screener at Newark Liberty International Airport was found running the largest one-man theft ring in the short history of the agency, netting an estimated $400,000 via the resale of stolen high-priced electronics. And he is just one of some 500 TSA officers fired or suspended for stealing from passenger luggage since the agency’s creation in November of 2001.

Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate ( reports TSA sleight of hand even while inspecting carry-on pieces right in front of you. Just Google “TSA theft.” You’ll be as appalled as I am by the endless list of incidents.

The TSA’s response to these facts?  According to Howard Portnoy’s June 20, 2011 blog on the agency considers these stats acceptable. The ratio of crooks to non-crooks, they point out, is less than ½ of 1 percent. Out of more than 110,000 employees, only 200 (a number obviously out of sync with police records) have been accused of stealing. Well, let me tell ya something: that placating statistic doesn't mean a thing when it happens to YOU. In the meantime, you can look forward to invasive pat-downs, irradiation from scanners, and the knowledge that the agency has an iffy record detecting legitimate threats.

“If that doesn’t make you feel all warm and cuddly when you fly,” Portnoy concludes, “nothing will.”

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