TSA broke into my checked baggage and damaged its contents

by Anshul
a close-up of a security checkpoint

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is responsible for screening of passengers and all their baggage at airports across United states. It is standard procedure for TSA to screen and open (if necessary) any checked bag, and I have had my bags opened several times before. On my last international trip, TSA not only cut through the locks and opened my checked baggage, they caused damage to the contents. TSA damage claim, here I come!

My routing back from Vietnam (to Canada) included connections in Narita (NRT), Japan and Washington DC (IAD), USA. I had checked in two pieces of luggage which contained clothes and some packaged food items, among other trinkets I picked up in India and Vietnam.

Baggage screening in NRT

At NRT, while waiting to board my flight (to IAD), I was surprised to hear my name called out at the gate. I checked at the gate desk and was informed that one of my checked bag had been pulled aside physical screening and would need to be opened. I noticed my bag was placed beside the entrance of the jet bridge, the gate agent walked me to the bag. Another officer, introduced herself and asked me about a small metal can in the bag. The officer (almost apologetic tone) requested me to open the bag so she could inspect manually. I was happy to open the lock on my bag and let her complete a check. The officer was extremely polite and carefully removed layers of my packed goods and found a zip-lock bag which indeed contained a metal can – a liquid metal polish I had picked up in India. She noted the description on the can and mentioned that it kept popping up during electronic screening. Without hesitation, I offered for the can to be discarded if it was an issue (I was headed to the US after all! ). The officer asked me if I was sure and thanked me for my co-operation. She proceeded to put the contents back as they were and locked my bag. The process took about 10 minutes and I was on my way, boarding had commenced.

Baggage Screening in IAD

Upon arrival at IAD, I was expected to pickup my checked bags and drop them off at another belt before proceeding to my connecting flight to Canada (standard process). Except, my bags never arrived! ANA staff on site confirmed that my bags were in IAD but had been taken to a different terminal, accidentally (so they claimed). I waited another 45 minutes for my bags wondering if I would miss my connection, <20 minutes to boarding. Finally, my bags were brought to me by the ANA staff and looked no different than when I saw them last, in NRT. In rush to make my flight, I loaded them on a trolley and brought it to the baggage drop-off area. A little damp from the running but I made the flight – thank you Nexus!

Once home, I realized that the locks on my bags were missing. ‘TSA baggage check’ immediately crossed my mind. I unzipped my first bag and found it exactly as below;

TSA damage claim

The luggage straps were undone, contents of the bag were all over the place and deep red stains across my clothes and bag.

TSA damage claim

Upon inspecting damage further..

TSA damage claim


TSA officers had not only opened my bags to inspect the contents, they had done it recklessly. A bottle of chilli paste was removed from it packaging (wrapped in cloth + ziplock bag) but thrown back in the bag without it. My best guess is that the bottle hit one of the sides and cracked in the bag during transit.  My clothes took the full brunt of the chilli paste and the glass shards from the bottle.

Now I know the real reason for my baggage delay in IAD, the TSA was doing its “due diligence”.

Recourse – TSA damage claim

TSA has a formal claim process for lost or damaged property caused during screening process. The claim can be submitted by email to TSAClaimsOffice@tsa.dhs.gov along with supporting evidence and can take up to six months for the TSA to investigate. A claim can be filed within 2 years of the incident and is a separate process from a claim submitted to the airline.

Take Away and final thoughts

I am all for security and baggage screening. The difference in how physical screening of my baggage was handled at NRT vs IAD is night and day! While I don’t expect TSA (or any US security authority for that matter) to be as polite and courteous as officers in NRT, I do expect them to do the bare minimum and leave the contents of a bag as found or repack a bag in a way that it does not cause damage. I hold the TSA responsible simply because they opened my bags, removed contents, but failed to place the contents back in its original packaging before “repacking”. The contents were left loose and dangling in the bag, causing damage during transit.

Has this happened to you? Please share your experience with a comment below.


Anonymous August 25, 2023 - 11:21 pm

I just arrived in Bogota. Came from Amsterdam via Atalanta to Bogota. I had my laptop in my suitcase carefully wrapped in towels. You can guess it… The took my laptop out the towels and put in on top of my stuff and closed the suitcase. Laptop broken. Had to use it for work. Crazy janks thinkin they are so important. To bad my flight back to Amsterdam also goes via the USA but that will be the last time in transit via America. First jank I see in Europe will get his jaw broken.

Anshul August 26, 2023 - 8:10 am

Yikes! Transitting US is always a bit of a hit/miss. Anything with a battery in a checked bag typically gets pulled in the US. I hope you file a claim with the TSA and pursue it fully.

Faisal April 10, 2023 - 1:29 pm

I am still in transit to my final destination in Argentina from Canada via US. In Buenos Aires I needed to have a stop at an outdoors shop to pick a couple of appropriate waterproof dry bags for my expedition in Argentinian Patagonia.

I hadn’t noticed anything until I had to open one of my luggage bags in the shop to see if the items fitted in the new dry bag. I was shocked to see the lock being removed and a cable tie being wrapped instead. I am aware of the TSA screening but never had this happened to me before. This time it was via US which is always a pain in one way or the other.

I opened the bag and noticed that two of my very expensive photography lens filters that I had gotten shipped just before starting the trip, were gone. Although the TSA notice said “checked ok and nothing was removed”, I know that something happened there at Vancouver airport. Can’t say if the deliberately removed the glass filters (in their leather cases) or just haphazardly put away some items while checking and forgot to put them back in. No way to know. I am still in shock. Not only will this damage my photography trip, it has also hit a dent in my pocket of at least a thousand dollars. I am extremely disappointed and heartbroken.

Has anybody ever heard back from their claim? Do they even take notice? I am totally clueless where to go and who to talk to 🙁

Anshul April 10, 2023 - 5:31 pm

So sorry to hear this Faisal. I hope you submit the claim through TSA – don’t expect to hear back right away, but you will definitely get a response in 2-3 months time. I would recommend connecting with the credit card insurance company to see if you can recover some of the costs against lost items from the bag. Good luck, and keep us posted!

Tatiana April 2, 2022 - 9:51 pm

My grandmother whom is traveling from Columbia to America, was sadly disregarded. TSA fitfully ripped the top of her luggage open in order to check her bag causing damage to what she Carrie’s her luggage in. A relatively big bag although she had a lock which could have been cut of the destroyed her luggage back which cost much more than a lock. I feel horrible they did this to her it was quite unnecessary but I don’t think anything was stolen or destroyed other than her bag which she’s had for such a long time. I wish they would have more diligence when handling peoples stuff, by treating others how they would want there stuff treated. International travel should not be handled this forcefully there are better alternatives to checking luggage.

Anshul April 2, 2022 - 11:36 pm

Sorry to hear this Tatiana. There is no excuse to not be welcoming, and gentle with baggage handling by TSA. Am still waiting to hear from someone that says things are getting better. Unfortunately dosent appear to be the case..

Lorna June 11, 2021 - 8:04 pm

I just opened my suitcase about 10 minutes ago and found that my bag had been completely rearranged and my laptop is absolutely DESTROYED alongside a framed piece of art work, glasses, my glasses case, and a bottle of vitamins had been opened and dumped out. This is absolutely absurd

JAG June 12, 2021 - 12:35 am

Welcome to the “club” of people that had the same disgraceful experience with TSA inspection of luggage. You can (and should) file a complaint but I have not heard yet from anyone that their claim was successful.

Anshul June 12, 2021 - 5:06 am

Sorry to hear about your experience Lorna. Its the shock initially that someone went through the contents without your presence, and also damaged or destroyed it. Hope you file the complaint, I have heard mixed bag of results from these claims. Good luck!

Darby Muller September 9, 2019 - 12:25 pm

Just got back from a cruise and they ripped open a bag of sand I got from an island and literally DUMPED the entire thing all over my belongings.

guest May 15, 2019 - 2:20 pm

Today I also find a ticket in my back from inspection. However, they lost my locker and suitcase went on the trip unsecured. I’m going to check whether everything is inside.

Joshua November 27, 2018 - 12:37 pm

A few years ago we got a discount flight from Toronto to Shanghai and back which went through Chicago. We had taken some professional wedding photos which had been beautifully framed. I had kept all of the framed photos in their original packaging and stored them all inside a padded laptop bag which was then placed in the suitcase.

When we finally got home, we saw that same inspection notice and the laptop bag had been left open with some of the pictures dangling out and partially removed from their original boxes. There was broken glass everywhere, I just couldn’t believe they wouldn’t at least properly place it back as I had stored it. I wish something could be done about this behaviour.

Points Miles and Bling November 27, 2018 - 12:58 pm

The insensitivity on hand is incredible. Not sure what we can do other than make sure we continue to file TSA complaints and hope that someone is taking note. Sorry for your experience, as you can see with other comments, you are not alone. Sad state of affairs.

Lee October 18, 2018 - 5:12 am

This has happened to nye the last three flights I’ve taken. Coming back from NOLA in July, I opened by bags to discover greasy marks on my clothes.

After arriving in Dallas on Sunday, I discovered that an entire bottle of hair oil had spilled out into a ziploc I had some of my things in. The cap head physically been broken off my shower gel, leaving it to leak all over my clothes. I guess they didn’t bother to screw the top on the oil. Arriving back from Dallas, my bag was wet with the contents of the second bottle of hair oil. My clothes had oil all over them.

Points Miles and Bling October 18, 2018 - 5:18 am

Sorry to hear that Lee. Its sad how many have shared their experience publicly and yet the flawed system continues to run. Hope you filed a tsa claim, thats the only way to get then to pay attention.

Parrish Nored September 14, 2019 - 10:29 pm

The same exact thing happened to me. Trying to decide about doing a claim…………..

Frequent Flyer October 8, 2018 - 3:29 pm

Just flew from MSY to SLC. I opened my bag to find an inspection notice and SOMEONE ELSE’S BELONGINGS! Not only do I question if my belongings are all there, but someone else is missing work information, a personal notebook from a conference they attended in New Orleans. It has a week of notes and contacts, but I have no way of knowing who the owner is. I have contacted TSA to file a claim, but this is unacceptable. If they cannot ensure your belongings are going back into your bag, they should not remove anything!

Points Miles and Bling October 18, 2018 - 5:16 am

Any response from tsa about your belongings? Madness. The tsa process is deeply flawed and agregious.

Miles and More July 29, 2018 - 11:20 pm

I have had locks cut or opened several times but nothing major happened until my last trip. One time a brand new Gillette shaving foam cream I had inside the luggage, it did not show up at the other end of my trip so I assumed it was considered risky by TSA. The last time the TSA opened my suitcase on a trip it was flying out of Boise with connection through San Francisco, then, a nice brand new sports shirt $50 I had just purchased the day before the trip and I made sure it was packed inside the luggage, it disappeared and I found a TSA note that it had been opened and inspected. Upsetting.

Points Miles and Bling July 30, 2018 - 1:33 pm

Sorry to hear about the unfortunate incident. You should definitely file a complaint and include as many details as you can. Unfortunately, you will be at the mercy of their cameras catching any violation. The opening of the bags are supposed be be under supervision..so they say. Good luck. Keep us posted if and when you hear back..

JAG May 3, 2018 - 6:51 am

I returned from MSY through ATL in AMS (Netherlands) from a congress and at home found my bag to had an “inspection”. I had packed two travel plugs and some OTC medication I bought at CVS (unopend). When I opened the bag at home, it was completely ruined. My best suit had no buttons anymore, also the buttons of two jackets and of two of the four shirts were ripped of. Why??? The medication was all opened and spread throughout the bag (some had been in strips, and they had taken the effort to push them out of the strip!). Why??? The laces of a pair of shoes were slit open! Why??? The paperwork in a plastic map was torn into pieces! Again, why??? I contacted TSA, but it was soon clear: “you are not an US citizen, we don’t argue with you”. This must have been a deliberate action, because I know that they don’t do these inspections alone and I thought it is also videotaped. From what I read in the other posts, they do the same to US citizens but at least they can file a claim (although I doubt that anyone will ever be reimbursed). I have travelled to the US hundreds of times and I fully respect the work of the TSA because it has allowed me to travel safely over the decades and therefore I have always accepted the increasingly more humiliating procedures of entering and leaving the country. This visit to the US was to receive a Lifetime Recognition and Achievement Award. But it will have been my very last visit !

Points Miles and Bling May 3, 2018 - 6:58 am

I am sorry about your experience. It is infuriating to read how the TSA goes about their business. I hope you would still file the claim, link is included in my post above. It does not matter what your citizenship is, you can file a claim. Take pictures and keep receipts of everything you have had to replace. During my claim, I made the mistake of not including my receipts and also threw away things that were ruined. Didn’t get compensation. Lesson learnt.

JAG May 3, 2018 - 8:43 am

Thanks for your reply! Very much appreciated! They told me that foreigners have no right to file a claim. They literally said: you can fill in the form, we will just throw it in the bin. So if you want to go ahead with it, it is just up to you. Very friendly indeed. I made pictures of everything and that custommade suit was indeed made for this once in a lifetime event. What is still just beyond my comprehension is the amount of effort they put into it and time they must have spend to destroy all this, even to take out the manuscript from the map and tear it into pieces, that is so weird!

Points Miles and Bling May 3, 2018 - 10:52 am

Totally, the system is devised to dissuade folks from filing a claim. I would include a letter detailing your experience and exactly what was told to you, as part of the claim. Keep us posted if you proceed. Good luck!

JAG May 3, 2018 - 11:18 am

Thanks and will keep you posted !

hws January 3, 2018 - 12:40 am

What was the outcome of the filed claim?

Points Miles and Bling May 3, 2018 - 6:56 am

Sorry for the late response. My claim came back with a lump of coal. They basically said “did not find evidence of tamper” and sent me links to things I should and should not include in my baggage. Sham.

Roland Voss October 27, 2017 - 1:59 pm

I travel often (150k/yr). I just returned from Bogota and TSA at IAH thought it was a good idea to break the TSA-approved locking latch off my suitcase entirely. To do this TSA would have to use a crowbar to forcefully break the latch off my $300 Delsey hardside. Other than incompetence or spite there was no reason break the latch as the entire latching system is TSA approved.
They wrapped the suitcase in TSA marked tape and wrapped the latch in with it. Repacking the suitcase was done shoddily but at least nothing was missing.
I dont mind TSA rifling through my bags but I do mind them unnecessarily destroying my property. I wonder what the reaction is should I decide to unnecessarily destroy their property.

Anshul October 27, 2017 - 3:49 pm

Wow. I share your frustration. Breaking a tsa approved lock is a new low, even for them. Take pictures, File a claim for the suitcase. Good luck.

Don Greenlee August 23, 2017 - 9:15 pm

I travel 75% if the time for my job all of it by air, destinations include all of North and South America. I travel with tools necessary for my job which is Data and Voice communications for a Fortune 500 company. My tools are routinely searched by TSA, I carry several metal tins which contain various screws and inserts needed to mount equipment in data racks. Every time TSA searches my tools they open one or more of the screw tins and instead of putting the lid back on the container, which would take 30 seconds max they simply dump the container lidless back into my case! Many times my case comes onto the luggage pick up area opened because TSA can’t seem to be bothered with even closing the two latches on my case! I imagine that the dumping of my screw tin back into my case is a deliberate act, which amuses these people because no one has EVER put the lids back on the tins! Some times they do manage to get the latches snapped back together on the case but not often. On my last trip I discovered one of my tools a $75 dollar tone amplifier broken in half! I am filling out a claim form but not holding my breath for ANY reimbursement. I HAVE to replace the tool now and will.
I don’t understand why this happenes on every trip if they are really so short staffed that they can’t be bothered screwing a lid back on a container or properly latching a case what does that say about the professionalism of the job being done? I don’t feel any safer with TSA rummaging through my luggage just majorly unconvinced every time it done ad I have to reassemble my tools after EVERY TRIP BOTH WAYS. What a disappointment and I feel discrase these people are to an organization tasked with “security” if our travel safety. Who ever is in charge of this organization needs to take a long hard look at the practice of searching luggage and start doing it in a proper manner showing respect to the prosperity they are searching, not a TOTAL lack of it!

Bling August 24, 2017 - 9:39 am

Don, I hear you and totally agree with your frustrations. My understanding is that when TSA does open a luggage, it is done in presence of other officers and video surveillance. Given that you face this issue routinely, please take pictures of every thing as found in your luggage, including the TSA note. Document all the details to the best possible extent and submit the claim. Save all your receipts and include in your claim. Unfortunately, the onus is always on the passenger to take action. I suspect 90% of folks don’t bother with it because it is such an onerous process. Please keep us posted if you hear back from them, would love to know their response. Good luck – cheers!

vKqmz July 16, 2019 - 11:03 am

Sounds like all searches should be video recorded and any unrespectful, dignified behaviour SHOULD rightly so cause them their jobs. I think someone with big social media following should post this webpage, but then they all fly private planes. But you get my point.

Points Miles and Bling July 23, 2019 - 4:57 am

Apparently, they are! The searches are supposed to be in front of cameras. Thats what they check when you claim, I presume. Its a bit of a process though…

min June 16, 2017 - 2:03 pm

Just experienced this today when all of my bags were opened up , the chili powder was opened from the zip lock and not sealed back so it was all over my clothes . Another plastic container with dry fryums were opened and not closed so the fryums were in pieces in the second bag . in a third bag , a rose petal sweet bottle was opened and not locked but just thrown in with clothes and all the clothes are stained . In this case my bags weren’t even locked , so I am disappointed that the TSA removed contents, but failed to place the contents back in its original packaging or place(between clothes/padding) to avoid damage before closing the bags .

Bling June 16, 2017 - 7:16 pm

You have a legit claim to make. Make sure you keep receipts for everything, as much as possible (dry cleaning included). Completely unacceptable and infuriating to know TSA gets away with this and much more. Thanks for sharing and please keep us posted if you hear back. Good luck!

Paid to Travel & Drink Wine, American Travel Visas to Europe, Dashcam of Plane Crash - BaldThoughts May 7, 2017 - 5:47 am

[…] TSA broke into my checked baggage and damaged its contents. – Mistake of the flyer, using a non-TSA approved lock.  Even worse mistake by TSA, not putting goods back in the Ziplock.  Totally sucks that he lost his chili paste and clothes were ruined. […]

Lee Huffman May 6, 2017 - 8:55 am

If you use a lock that isn’t TSA approved, they will cut it. That’s on you. However, it sucks that they didn’t put the chili paste back in the ziplock bag. They were probably pissed that they had to cut through the lock and took the attitude of “I’ll show you”. Definite legitimate claim for you.

Bling May 7, 2017 - 6:53 am

My thought exactly. I dont care for the locks, its the handling of contents I have an issue wih. Thanks lee, def filing a claim..

Flight Detective May 3, 2017 - 12:25 pm

I’m curious – why do you lock your hold bag? I have never locked a bag in all the flying I have ever done and I have never had anything stolen from it.

Bling May 3, 2017 - 12:31 pm

I ask that everytime TSA cuts my locks, haha! Wish I had a rationale, totally useless habit. I don’t check bags often, but when I do 😉

Ted May 3, 2017 - 12:49 pm

Use zip ties, they cost pennies.

Logs90210 May 3, 2017 - 11:48 am

The TSA always removes the TSA Locks ($12 each on amazon) and NEVER puts it back on

Bling May 3, 2017 - 11:59 am

Yes, removing locks and not replacing them is standard procedure. Everything else that went down inside that bag during and after screening was far from standard. My claim would be for the clothes/bag etc..

HS May 3, 2017 - 3:42 pm

If TSA does not put the lock back on after opening it, then why bother using TSA approved locks?

Bling May 3, 2017 - 6:11 pm

Oops,misread your prev msg. I meant they dont replace other locks after cutting thru it. As for TSA locks, yes, they should just put yhe lock back on. No first hand exp. I am leaning towards not using locks atall.


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