TSA Checked Baggage Theft Prevention & Reality

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.

Below is a photo of the TSA’s checked baggage inspection area, out in the public view, at New York’s JFK International Airport, Terminal 1.


Happy Flying!







  1. Aren’t there certain tricks, like adding a starting pistol to an equipment case, that then requires pre-screening and ensures your luggage stays locked for the duration?

  2. Checked bag at JFK and got it at GRU. Sentry Lock was there and bag looked fine. Got the hotel and opened to see a TSA note inside that my bag had been checked. Missing 3 boxes of designer fragrances, brand new cell phone in the box (was a gift), battery charge and rechargeble batteries. Still not sure if items were stolen at JFk or at the arrival in GRU.

  3. I feel there are two problems at play:

    1. Public TSA screening imposes burden on the passenger and increases the opportunity for theft. You have to check in, then take your bag to TSA. If the area is public, the bag can be stolen or misplaced, or ‘snuck past TSA’ into the post-screening area. Traveling through some airports you see this area gets backed up and messy very fast. With a touchpoint when taking the bag to the screening machine, a 2nd touchpoint to unload, and a 3rd to take bags from public screening and loading into the airport baggage system, that adds 3 more people who touch your bag.

    2. It’s not just TSA that has access to luggage, whether visible or not. Once luggage leaves a passenger, it goes to TSA inspection, but after that goes to handling when taken from the baggage system to the carts to the plane, manual loading to the aircraft, unloading from aircraft to baggage cart, and then loading on to the baggage claim delivery system. 4 more manual touchpoints, all of which have a point of failure.

    Some level of theft is probably unavoidable. Adding 3 manual touchpoints in TSA screening doesn’t seem like the right answer, and it leaves the other 4 touchpoints unresolved. Wouldn’t it be better to have in-line screening requiring no additional touch? With live videos of that, and other touchpoints, on public monitors if you feel that would reduce theft.

    Or another alternative could be where TSA screening occurs before check-in, then the bag zipper is ‘sealed’ by them. And the customer can then lock the bag.

  4. I think bears mentioning that the main culprit in items disappearing from luggage is the same as before TSA came into existence. TSA uses equipment for the majority of their screening efforts resulting in them actually physically touching few bags. The airlines on the other hand pick up and move your bags over and over at your starting airport and the destination. Airlines have loved TSA coming on the scene because they have a convenient whipping boy to point at. My recollections from the “good old days” is that theft and damage happened to luggage just as much when I traveled before 9-11 as after. While there are a few bad apples in every basket, the airline baskets have proven themselves slightly rotten for many more years that those TSA ones.

  5. I think AS’s idea of screening before check-in has merit. Here’s another case study. Checked bags at JFK, Terminal 7, Monday Jan 9 for 1830 departure. Flew Qantas QF108 to LAX. Direct connection to QF94 to Melbourne Australia departing LAX 2330. Bag partially open on collection from carousel at MEL. Six year old, low end camera and lens kit missing. OK, My fault. Accepted. Never again will I pack anything of even modest value into checked baggage and Sentry Locks will be mandatory from now on.

    1. How do such items just walk out of secure zones without challenge and why can’t baggage handlers be screened as they clock off shift? It makes a mockery of all the rigorous check-in security if anything can be taken from, or more insidiously, placed inside travelers’ bags by people who freely move between secure and public zones.
    2. Airline Business Class bag tags are probably as big an attraction to air-side thieves as prestige brand luggage.

  6. In the perhaps 150 trips I’ve traveled since 9/11, all but 3 times have the Thieves Stealing from Americans stolen things from my bags, from a 1 1/2 inch pen knife to digging through medicines. It is so bad that I never know what will arrive in my bags. I don’t have the money to send everything via FedEx or other delivery service and certainly not from Europe. These people are the worst, and what would make it easier to steal than their demand to either leave a bag unlocked or use the same cheesy TSA lock that protects nothing? By the way, it doesn’t matter in my case whether I use a good or poor bag because they’ve gotten into everything! Bitch and you don’t fly. They have taken away all our Bill of Rights and complaining does absolutely nothing except maybe mark you more.

  7. Important message about TSA
    THIEFS at Newark!

    TSA stole my coach bag and designer perfume from the checked bag with TSA lock. They tried to open the next checked bag with non TSA lock and damaged my samsonite bag by cutting its lock and then zipper. They couldn’t find anything attractive to them and put the note in my bags.

  8. I lost 2 weeks of expensive prescription drugs on a flight from Boston to Washington DC today. The drugs to be taken each day were in separate small plastic ziploc pill pouches. I am out $350 for these drugs, none of which were pain killers or narcotics. No wonder so many airline passengers stuff their carry-ons to bursting or carry several carry-on bags. I’m fed up with the TSA and with the airlines. I shall drive next time.

  9. There are thieves at Newark Airport! I travelled to the USA for a holiday, on my return my bags were checked and to a designer fragrance was missing. These guys must be desperate for perfume! I agree it makes a complete mockery of the security system, it’s clear their employees lack honesty and what’s more alarming is that this behaviour will be systemic in the organisation. Very worrying, something needs to be done about it before they really start messing with people’s luggage. Shocking but not surprising that all these instances are never investigated.

  10. TSA is a joke. First of all a 5 year old can get that job and then it;s a bunch of minorities who want to steal nice stuff. I hate checking bags because it is at your own risk and it shouldn’t be like that. I cannot stand how TSA think they are all high and mighty. There is absolutely no training to become TSA and they don’t even carry pepper spray. A JOKE!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.