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