A seemingly consistent stream of headlines catches travelers’ attention regarding Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Transportation Security Officers (TSO) being arrested for theft from checked baggage. While statistically very few thefts occur, the ones that do and get those who get caught make headlines.
Since the TSA moved to 100% screening of checked baggage the question of how the agency can protect the contents of checked bags has repeatedly come to the forefront of the conversation. The agency is in a tough position when it comes to baggage screening, as it must work within the facilities and architecture of the airports it operates within while being mindful of the contestant need to move checked baggage from the check-in counter to waiting aircraft in an expeditious manner.
In many airports baggage moves from the check in counter to a baggage screening area hidden from the view of the traveling public. In some airports checked baggage screening is performed in areas with poor coverage by security cameras and direct access to airport exits allowing TSOs easy access to transition from airside to landslide without any security barriers.
In some airports and terminals passengers can actually watch the TSA inspect checked baggage. Airport terminals with open and public TSA baggage inspection have a far lower instance of items missing from checked baggage, which is not surprising at all.
While the TSA could shift its checked baggage screening to public areas, this is not practical at most terminals due to space, design and infrastructure. In addition to logistical and spatial challenges related to the TSA screening checked baggage within the public view, doing so adds on additional costs, including the requirement of contracting third-party baggage handling companies to transport the checked baggage from the screening area to the baggage sorting and delivery areas in the terminal.
So … while theft-per-checked-bag statistics involving TSA TSOs are low … the TSA is left trying work within constraints outside of its control to ensure checked baggage is secure from thefts, even as its TSOs open bags for inspection. The only answer at this time is the same answer that has been required all along, the TSA must ensure that no blind spots exist in its security camera coverage of baggage screening areas, baggage screeners must work in teams, including a supervisor and TSOs not have direct access to pre-security areas without a security barrier between them, from the baggage screening area.
The TSA has slowly added security measures to ensure checked baggage security over the past ten years, frequently working in a reactionary manner rather than getting ahead of potential problems … much like how the agency addresses external security concerns.
If you are worried about theft from checked baggage there are some things you can do to protect yourself. Never check cash, jewelry, or any valuable items you can avoid checking. Fashionable luggage looks nice, but basic luggage is a lower risk than a set of Louis Vuitton bags for entry and theft. If you place valuable items in your checked bag, and there times it has to happen, make sure you snap a photo of everything in the bag and retain the serial numbers to everything in the bag. If you use a lock on your bag, ensure it is a Sentry Lock, which is approved by the TSA and other security agencies around the world, these locks can be opened by airport security for search, then relocked.