Taking Something Always.
That’s what TSA means to airline passengers like Edward Fleiss, a sales manager from Huntington, N.Y. When screeners inspected his wife’s carry-on bag at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport recently, he claims her designer eyeglasses were swiped.
“Great sleight of hand,” he says. “We didn’t even know they were gone until we got to Los Angeles.”
Letters to the Transportation Security Administration — that’s what TSA actually stands for, in case you were wondering — were met with a form response. “Dear traveler, thank you, but no reimbursement on a $500 pair of glasses,” he recalls.
Thieving TSA? You might be forgiven for thinking so.
Since it was created in 2001, the agency has fired about 200 employees accused of stealing. Although the TSA has taken steps to discourage these government workers from helping themselves to our personal effects — including background checks on new hires, video cameras in screening areas and rules forbidding backpacks or lunchboxes at checkpoints — more and more passengers like Fleiss are coming forward to say they’ve been ripped off by the very people who are supposed to protect them.
It doesn’t help that hardly a week goes by without another story about alleged TSA pilferage making headlines. Here’s one from a Miami TV station, where 1,500 items have been reported stolen at the airport since 2003. Here’s someone who had his engagement ring filched by screeners in Los Angeles. Here’s another one involving a 12-year-old’s heartbreaking loss of $265 in birthday money.
You don’t need a travel columnist to tell you this agency has a problem. The evidence speaks for itself.
But here’s what you might not know. The stealing isn’t as random as the TSA may want you to believe. Fleiss visited an optometrist for a replacement pair of glasses, and learned that since the TSA was created seven years ago, he’d seen a “marked increase” in patients requesting receipts for insurance claims relating to security-related thefts. “He said there is a huge market for stolen designer eyewear frames in the New York area,” he added. “You put it together.”
One aviation insider I spoke with believes stealing is a systemic problem the federal agency is unable to control, particularly at problem airports like New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Philadelphia International Airport. Not all of the screening areas in U.S. airports are under surveillance, and the TSA’s rules have a big loophole that shifts liability for stolen baggage claims to the airline when luggage is delayed, he told me. In other words, there’s little incentive for the stealing to stop. “It’s the 800-pound gorilla no one wants to discuss at TSA,” he says.
I contacted the TSA to get its side of the story. Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman, sent me an e-mail to say the agency is concerned about theft. “TSA aggressively investigates all allegations of misconduct,” she wrote. “When infractions are discovered, it moves swiftly to end the federal careers of offenders.” She added that travelers with questions should visit the TSA’s Web site for claim information.