TSA lost my hat — how do I get it back?

Bill Marcolongo lost his hat when he was flying from Philadelphia to Anchorage last year. Or, more to the point, he thinks the TSA lost it.

“It is my belief that my luggage was opened during the trip to Anchorage,” he says. “I think the hat fell out of my luggage and was not returned.”

The hat has special meaning to Marcolongo. “It was one of those floppy brim jobs — a present from my sister when she visited The Grand Canyon,” he says.

He thinks a TSA agent filched the hat, and he wants it back. So he emailed the agency charged with protection our transportation systems.

A hat did not make the trip From Philadelphia to Anchorage with a connection in Minneapolis. I know it was packed because when packing I had to make a choice between two and choose the hat I had from Sedona.

I find it hard to believe that someone would steal it and suspect that sloppy work by a TSA person who looked at the contents of my luggage knocked it to the side and did not return it to my bag.

Here’s the TSA’s form response:

Thank you for your e-mail.

On February 17, 2002, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) assumed responsibility for security at all airports in the United States. TSA was required by law to replace contract screeners with a workforce of Federal screeners by November 19, 2002. Incrementally, airports were staffed with Federal screeners until TSA met that mandate. One of our key objectives has been to ensure that all passengers consistently receive professional and courteous checkpoint processing while maintaining our high level of security. Along with expanded training on the enhanced security procedures, each Federal airport screener receives training on professional and courteous conduct to make the process run smoothly and reduce the inconvenience to the public.

Each airport establishes procedures for handling lost and found items. TSA follows those procedures where they exist. The airports in those instances are responsible for holding and disposing items under applicable local laws. Items such as locks, tags, straps, and other external luggage pieces are often lost or damaged as the baggage goes through the baggage handling equipment and may or may not have been found by airline airport personnel.

In an airport where no policy exists, found articles are collected, stored, and disposed of under General Services Administration rules. TSA is unable to identify and return all items, but may be able to locate and return items on a case-by-case basis. We suggest you contact the airport at which your items were confiscated or lost.

We work very hard to achieve consistency in the security processes. As we inspect screening operations at airports and receive feedback from the traveling public, we address inconsistencies and ensure corrective actions are taken, when necessary. We will continue to do all that we can to inspect screening operations and provide written procedures and training to specify how the process is to be applied.

We encourage passengers to visit our website at www.tsa.gov for additional information about TSA. All travelers are encouraged to visit the section on travel tips before their trip. The website has information about prohibited and permitted items, the screening process and procedures, and guidance for special considerations that may assist in preparing for air travel. Passengers can go directly to these tips at http: www.TSATravelTips.us.

We hope that this information provides you with a better understanding of the screening process and the procedures necessary to ensure safety.

TSA Contact Center

This is no answer. This is nothing more than a form reply that’s intended to make passengers like Marcolongo go away.

I mentioned a few strategies recently that he might consider in appealing this boilerplate rejection and I’ve also published a few management contacts on my customer service blog.

“I assume this is my loss?” he says.

Yes, probably. In order for Marcolongo to make a successful claim, he’d need to get an original receipt for the hat (impossible, since it was a gift) and he’d probably have to endure a lengthy wait.

I’m sorry to say, this is a lost cause. But it does make you wonder about the TSA claims process. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it’s rigged to make air travelers — even those with legitimate grievances — give up in frustration and walk away.

Then again, his luggage may have been pilfered by a baggage handler. In which case he would have probably received a similar response to his complaint.

(Photo: TheGiantVermin/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Squidg


  • y_p_w

    Of course it’s not fair. But what are they going to do. Does anyone really think they’d be honest and state that they know that there is likely a high rate of petty theft by their employees?

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Really? Stealing something as random as a hat? Has the OP contacted the airport’s Lost and Found? Frustrating, but in reality, that hat is long gone (or it’s pitifully sitting on some dusty L&F shelf). Strange the language that the OP used, though. “It is my belief that my luggage was opened…”. If TSA opened it, wouldn’t they leave a notice? “I think the hat fell out..”

    The wishy-washy language doesn’t help get a settlement. Better to say: “I packed it. It wasn’t there at my destination. It was either stolen or negligently lost”. Not sure if that would’ve mattered at all, but at least it takes the ambiguity out of it…


  • http://twitter.com/Neil_Melbourne Neil-MelbourneMtblog

    While it may be boilerplate, it’s pretty good advice. Call the airport and check lost & found. After he has done this, then you send the letter.

    If I lost a hat in a train station, I wouldn’t write a letter to Amtrak. I’d go to the station and check there.

  • Vacation Rental Guru

    That is terrible. It just goes to show that ‘security’ for one aspect of flying impacts ‘security’ in another. IE our personal belongings!

  • TonyA_says

    There’s a lot more places in the ground handling system where things can get stolen. Why automatically blame the TSA? Isn’t that unfair?

  • absherlock

    I voted “no” but only because they hold all the power. Perhaps it could be set up so that all luggage examinations are on video from the time the package is opened until the time it’s resealed. Doing something like that and maintaining it digitally shouldn’t be too onerous for an organization that large and well funded.

  • LostinTravel

    No, there is not always a note when the bag has been opened – which leaves doubt as to whether the TSA or the baggage handlers got to it.  I have had items “go missing” and when I complained the TSA pointed at the baggage handlers and the baggage handlers pointed at the TSA.  I understand the “wishy washy language”, the passenger doesnt want to point fingers, he wants his hat back.  Your substitute language is just fine too. His begging tone did not get results, likely nothing really would.

  • LostinTravel

    Maybe we need to resort to kindergarden remedies and put nametags in all our clothes so they can be identified!  I left my raincoat at the dentist’s office for a month, they pointed it out to me when I returned for my next appointment – I was sure it was mine because my business card was in the pocket.  I put my card somewhere inside any bags or electronics just in case I lose them or if snatched so I can identify them.  Not foolproof, but it must help to be prepared because I haven’t lost anything important after I started this.

  • emanon256

    When I wrote TSA and complained about the agent who refused to allow me to opt-out of the nude-o-scope, I got a canned/form reply about their new technology and how safe it is and that people have the right to opt out recommending that I contact the local airport’s TSA office if I still had issues.  When I did, I got a letter back with the exact same copy as the one form the main TSA, simply stating the technology is safe and that I have a right to opt-out.  TSA is the biggest joke in the world.  The majority of people who apply for those jobs only do so because they love being on power trips and love putting people in their place and seek a job that allows them to do so.  Then the few people who are good that they hire can’t manage all of the bad ones and burn out quickly.

  • Pdoggs

    I had a hairbrush and a comb go missing from my luggage once and no there wasn’t a note.  What I suspect happened was when my bag was opened they fell out since they were among the last items I put in there.  Whoever opened it didn’t notice them fall out (or didn’t care).

    I have noticed that when there IS a note it is rarely in the main part of the luggage where you’d see it right away.  My bag has been opened on the last 3 flights I’ve taken and always I’ve found the TSA note tucked in a small pocket, never in the main luggage compartment that I’d see right away.

  • Pdoggs

    So if you gave your luggage to Amtrack and they lost your hat you’d go to the train station and assume you left it there and just don’t remember it?  I could see if Mr. Marcolongo left his hat at Security but he didn’t, he had it in his luggage when he gave them the bag and then it wasn’t there when he opened the bag. 

    Now it may not have been the TSA who took the hat, it could have been the airline but either way the hat isn’t going to be at Lost and Found. 

  • sirwired

    He seriously thinks a TSA agent risked his job to steal a floppy (used) cloth hat?  Unless the TSA accidentally hired a klepto, I’m not seeing this as real likely.

  • pauletteb

    This isn’t even worthy of a column! TSA probably did lose his hat during a routine inspection, but to intimate that an agent would filch someone’s obviously worn headwear is a bit out there. It’s not like it had any value other than to the OP. Just the thought of putting someone else’s hat on my head makes me queazy. Moral of the story: Never put anything you can’t afford to lose in your checked luggage!

  • TouchyFeely

    Slow week Chris?  A hat?  And how is this different than any other business in the country.  You could get the same response from a rental car agency, hotel, transit system – anywhere you lose something.  But you say, they are the ones that opened the bag?  True, but do you honestly expect them to admit fault???  Come on.  No company is going to do that on their own.

  • Suze215

    No surprise there. We’ve lived in the Philadelphia area for 12 yrs. We moved here from NYC and thought the latter was bad but Philly takes the cake for stealing from suitcases. My husband never used to lock his luggage and now does b’c so much has been taken from his/my case(s). I’ve even taken to splitting up my shoes. One in a carry on (or his) and one in the case so they can’t steal shoes. I’ve always locked my cases and use TSA locks. Philly bag handlers cuts off the locks or break them off completely–and no TSA letter to say they checked my bags so we know it’s stealing. This happens all the time to friends and family who leave from here. Anything worth any value they steal. Try and avoid leaving from this airport.

  • cjr001

    Considering what some TSA employees have been fired and/or arrested for, can you really dismiss anything as being out of the realm of possibility?

  • Pdoggs

    I think it’s very much worthy of a column.  He says that he suspects, “that sloppy work by a TSA person who looked at the contents of my luggage knocked it to the side and did not return it to my bag.”  That the hat fell out of his bag and wasn’t put back in. 

    Is a hat worthy of a column?  Maybe not.  But is the fact that things can go missing from your bag and the TSA just responds with a form letter requiring original receipts an issue worthy of a column?  Yes. 

  • AirlineEmployee

    TSA ..”procedures for handling lost and found items”…..

    T.S.A.  =  They Steal it All
    right upt there with Try Staying Awake and
    Thousands Standing Around

  • DaveAlaska

    When the government thugs dig through your loot, sometimes something looks like it would be cool to keep.

  • Daisiemae

    There is no line they will not cross….because they can. No action is too trivial, too inappropriate, too immoral, too illegal, too petty. They do anything and everything that is possible for petty, emotionally maladjusted, criminal minds to conceive….because they can. There are no consequences for any of their actions.

    Sir wired is mistaken….no TSA agent would be risking his job for taking a hat. Look at the far more serious crimes TSA screeners have committed with very minor (if any) consequences. Quite a number of them are placed on retirement with full pensions and benefits…all funded by their victims: the taxpayers.

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    I’ve had my suitcases opened and no note left in the past.  How do I know?  Because on a trip from Tucson to Biloxi/Gulfport, with a layover in Atlanta, my underwear disappeared.  I know I packed it.  It was just – gone.

    Kind of creepy, really.

    And neither TSA or the three airports my bags went through could have cared less.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Yeah, it definitely seems like in this scenario, the traveler has zero power. We can only rejoice every time one of these lowlife creeps is fired for stealing…


  • DavidYoung2

    You’re not being objective.  Some guy had a hat, then he doesn’t.  So he’s blaming the TSA based on what?  Nothing? Suspicion or speculation?  Really, who’s going to ‘steal’ a used hat?

    Lost my car keys?  The TSA stole them!  
    Misplaced my camera?  The TSA stole it!  
    Broken a shoelace?  The TSA did it!

    Your hatred has left you blind to rational thought.  some guy lost his hat, or forgot to pack it.  Sorry dude.

  • Pdoggs

    And you’re being naive if you think people just lose things out of their checked luggage and it has nothing to do with the TSA.

    Do some people likely forget items and blame the TSA?  I’m sure that happens.  But I am SURE I packed a brush and comb which went missing out of my luggage once.  Below another poster had their underwear go missing. 

    Fact is things do get taken or fall out of bags and are not put back in them.  I don’t think anyone stole my comb and brush but I packed them in my bag right before I left, my guess is when the bag was checked by the TSA the comb and brush fell out and they weren’t put back in when the bag was closed. 

  • y_p_w

    My hatred?

    Not really.  I’ve never really had a bad experience with the TSA.  However, there have been documented cases of TSA employees helping themselves to other people’s property, and I’m pretty sure that the TSA higher-ups know it.

    I don’t expect that they would put that in a form letter.  All the form letter says is that things get lost from time to time, but that not sometimes TSA employees willfully take things that don’t belong to them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    Because it’s the TSA that forces travelers to leave their bags unlocked, or to lock them insecurely with a “TSA lock” that we know many other people have the key to.  Whether or not TSA took the hat, TSA is responsible for the hat’s going missing.  TSA takes away from the traveler the ability to lock his bags in a tamper-proof way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

     My solution is: never check bags.  TSA can’t be trusted with any of my belongings.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    If any item ever goes missing from checked baggage, it is the TSA’s fault.  This is because TSA’s procedures are designed to make travelers helpless sitting ducks for thieves.  Passengers are not permitted to lock their bags except with locks that we know are vulnerable to TSA keys. 

    This isn’t about theft, it’s about security.  If TSA agents can tamper with your bags, if they are dishonest and can take valuables out, then they can be bribed to put dangerous items in.  We would be safer if we could secure our belongings to prevent tampering.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    My BF flew out last minute for a funeral and in the rush on/off the plane dealing with his distraught parent he left his ipad in the seatback pocket. He didn’t even realize he had left it until he got a call from a wonderful agent at Southwest Airlines. Housekeeping not only found the iPad, but a SW employee looked at the email account on the iPad found his number in the flight manifest and called him. CALLED HIM to send him back his iPad. 

    This truly flabbergasted me, I would have expected to never see the iPad again. 

  • JenG13

    Yet another reason why I don’t check luggage.  Carry-on only!  If you have to check luggage, don’t leave something that means a lot to you in the suitcase.  Has he checked with the airport’s lost and found?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/LPWESFKZCUTJYTR2FHVVNMPWZQ Toby

    I surely wouldn’t want to wear the hat again, if they could find it. Who knows where it’s been!?!

  • LostinTravel

    There are good people out there!  Perhaps few and far between, but they do exist.  Notice it was Southwest NOT the TSA! 

  • Sadie_Cee

    May God bless them!

  • dsliesse

    I didn’t vote on this one, because the “truth” (as I see it) is somewhere between the two absolutes.

    It’s true that there are a number of incompetent and/or dishonest TSA employees.  On the other hand, it’s also true that there are a number of incompetent and/or dishonest ramp rats.  Every major bag facility has a complete set of skeleton keys; they can open any suitcase they want.

    Perhaps the hat was lost when a bag was opened.  Perhaps one of the far-too-many people who think “it’s not illegal unless you get caught” took it.  Unfortunately, it’s up to the OP to prove it; even if the guys in the bag well (airline or TSA) are responsible, it’s impossible to prove a negative.

    On this trip, the traveler made a connection — so at which of three airports did the loss occur?

    It’s too bad that it’s not practical for all bag facilities to be 100% covered by surveillance systems, as that’s the only way this problem will ever go away for good.

    The TSA’s claim procedure itself is certainly not customer-friendly.  Nobody keeps receipts for everything they buy, and demanding one is unreasonable.  What would be reasonable, though, is proof that the item was in the suitcase in the first place — except that there is nothing that can prove this (like mailing something via registered mail; you have proof that you mailed SOMETHING, but no proof as to what it was).

  • Sadie_Cee

    The only thing a thief needs is an opportunity.  As the baggage screening system operates at present, thieves have endless opportunities to relieve us of our possessions.  Who are these thieves?  As you mentioned, only by installing proper surveillance systems will the TSA ever find out and will the travelling public ever be assured that our possessions are safe from sticky fingers.   

  • TonyA_says

    These are the kind of stories we need to hear more about!

  • SooZeeQ

    My bags have been opened by TSA and I know this because they left a note inside.

    He does not mention a note, so did he lose it himself?

  • flutiefan

    can you please back up that last sentence with links or facts? i’m very interested…

  • DavidYoung2

    Again, absence of rational thought.  “Well, I saw somebody write a story that it happened more than once, so….”  So what?  I saw a guy draw seven cards to a 21.  

    The irrational say, “I saw it happen so it will probably happen again soon.”  The intelligent say, “The fact that it happened once has ZERO influence on it happening again.”

    Therefore, because they caught and fired some people at the TSA stealing, it means what?  Nothing — one person’s behavior has zero predictive value of what another, unrelated person might or might not do.

    So your comment that they caught one, or maybe more, people stealing has ZERO to do with the instant case.  So why did you cite it? It’s irrelevant so anything drawn from that comment is irrational thought.

  • Lindabator

    But, again, no guarantee it wasn’t the airlines’ baggage handlers and not the TSA.  (I worked for an airline, and can tell MANY stories of pilfering!)

  • Lindabator

    I worked for years for an airline PRE 911 and PRE TSA – believe me, things went “missing” all the time.  HARDLY TSA’s fault – just human nature.  I know how much you despise TSA (understandably), but this problem pre-dates them by AGES!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    Sadie, GOD had nothing to do with this. This was one person doing the right thing because, it was the right thing. 

    Some of us don’t need some magic wizard in the sky telling us what to do under threat of damnation to do the right thing.

  • y_p_w

    What they’re saying is that “it was probably an honest mistake” or perhaps “you might have lost it on your own”.  Those are perfectly reasonable possibilities.

    However, they aren’t saying what we know to be a possibility, which is “Sometimes we have bad apples, but it’s difficult for use to properly police our employees for petty theft.”  The people they hire aren’t necessarily the best of the best.  They’re people willing to work a government job that doesn’t pay that well.  Some are likely the people might consider working retail yet have no qualms about maybe taking a few coins out of the till or pilfering the occasional item (I’ve actually heard of that being a problem even with well-paid employees). 

    I’m saying it can’t be ruled out since it’s happened quite often enough with the TSA that it can be considered a reasonable possibility.  I don’t expect them to admit it, but I’d hope they wouldn’t dismiss the possibility out of hand just because it hurts their image.

  • Ann Lamoy

    Agreed. And if this is one person complaining to Chris, how many others are losing “trivial” items like a hat (or as other people on this post have said, underwear and a brush and comb). Not very expensive items like cameras or laptops but items you still need to replace.

    If with this small sampling of people, we’ve had three people lose small items, how many other people of the millions that fly yearly have lost small items? What seems like a trivial issues suddenly could be a whole like bigger.

    (and on a quick side note, why would anyone pack something important like a camera, laptop or medication? Could someone explain that to me because I could never understand the reasoning behind it.)

  • cybersal

    Are you a baggage handler? Sure sounds like it.  He should know if he packed the hat or not. Strange things are removed by inspectors for what ever reason and not replaced.  
    You on the other hand are showing evidence of hateful personality. Why attack the man, not everyone lies.

  • bodega3

    There are other ways to secure your luggage.  I have never had an issue with the method I use.  The one and only time I had a problem was at an international airport with an international carrier and someone cut open our bag.

  • bodega3

    I think with your fear, that is a wise idea.

  • TonyA_says

    Sommer, locks are IRRELEVANT. Please watch …

  • TonyA_says

    There still is some justice in this country.
    TSA agents actually are sentenced to serve time [in prison].
    The only thing correct in your statement is that we fund prisons.

  • http://twitter.com/Neil_Melbourne Neil-MelbourneMtblog

    Yes, I would check with Amtrak, then lost and found at the station, then finally I’d check with the security guards. The train example doesn’t fit perfectly but you get the point.

    If the hat fell out of the bag, then it would be brought to lost & found (possibly). I’m not defending the TSA but surely you’d cover your bases before writing letters.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sommer.gentry Sommer Gentry

    Another way to lock your luggage securely – transport a firearm and you’ll be permitted to use a non-TSA locking case.  See http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/09/expensive_camer.html

  • hulksters

    just travelled from seatac to palm springs, on way down golf bag locked, they opened, searched, replaced strap.  On return flight the said could not open, pulled us off plane back to desk, give key, back through security, ect.  they searched there and did not put strap back on.  Lost a strap on way down (from other bag) and on the way back.  Have a TSA lock and they hassled us and treated us like a criminal for locking our luggage.  Both TSA AND airline where rude about it.  Point is….. this country has lost value in good old fashion customer service!

    They could care less about you or your stuff.

  • Susan J. Barretta

    TSA stole my Constitutional rights.  How do I get THOSE back?!?