David Cogswell | October 13, 2016 12:00 PM ET
What Not to Pack
After a recent flight when my bag rolled down the conveyor belt at my destination, it looked different from how it had looked when I checked it in.
The suitcase has an expandable top that can be opened with a zipper. Unzipping it allows the top to open like an accordion and give you a couple of extra inches for packing. I always start a trip with the top zipped tight. That way I can open it for the return trip and gain some extra room for things I may have picked up during the trip.
After this trip when I recovered my suitcase the top was unzipped and left in the open position. The zipper for the expansion device is parallel to the zipper that opens the bag. If you aren’t familiar with the bag, it is easy to take hold of the wrong zipper and instead of opening the suitcase to instead open the expanding top.
I had just gone through the tedious process of packing, unpacking and repacking in preparation for the trip. At the check-in desk I had loaded the bag onto the conveyer belt myself, so I was well aware of the state of the bag when I turned it over to the airline.
When I saw that the top had been zipped open, I had no doubt that someone had opened the bag. I assumed it had been inspected by authorities, as has happened to me a number of times. On those occasions I seemed to recall that there was usually a note in the bag that explained that my bag had been inspected.
When I noticed that the bag had been tampered with, I opened it and took a look. There was no notice from TSA. Things were jumbled up. What I had packed tightly had become loose when the top was opened and there was room for things to toss around. Otherwise, things appeared to be roughly intact. I counted myself lucky that I had passed the inspection and not been detained or jailed for some reason. I was free. End of story, an isolated incident soon forgotten.
Then later, when I was unpacking, I opened a jar of prescription drugs that I had packed in the checked suitcase and discovered that what had been 50 tablets was now five.
How very strange! I puzzled over this, trying to figure out what had happened to those pills. How could that discrepancy have occurred?
As I was discussing the question with some friends, someone said that stealing from checked baggage is actually quite common, and prescription drugs are one of the things that are targeted by such thieves.
I was curious about this, so I googled it.
And sho nuff.
If you google the subject of stealing from checked luggage you will find a plethora of articles about it.
CNN showed some footage from hidden cameras of baggage handlers at Miami Dade airport going on a “shopping spree” through people’s luggage. CNN claimed there were 30,621 claims filed with the TSA for missing valuables lost in checked luggage or at security checkpoints from 2010 to 2014 with a value of $2.5 million. That just counts those who bothered to file claims. I was not one of them.
New York JFK had the most claims (what a coincidence!), followed by Los Angeles, Orlando and Miami.
Miami police arrested 31 baggage handlers and ramp workers for stealing from 2012 through 2015. CNN reported last year that the Transportation Security Administration had fired 513 officers for theft since 2002.
Pythias Brown, a former TSA officer at Newark Liberty International Airport told ABC News that he was “part of a culture” and that stealing from luggage is “commonplace.” Before he got caught he spent four years stealing cameras, clothing, laptops, video games and various other things. He started selling the things online and at the moment he was arrested he was selling 80 cameras, video games and computers on eBay.
Power can certainly corrupt, and it’s not hard to imagine how giving a near-minimum wage worker the excessive power to search through thousands of suitcases could lead to problems.
Brown said many TSA officers are unhappy with their low-paying jobs and being generally treated badly. The discontent breeds cynicism that in some cases goes so far as to inspire some to take advantage of their abundant opportunities for helping themselves to things they find in other people’s luggage.
Stealing from luggage was too easy, Brown said, and he got addicted to it. Eventually he got careless and got caught.
Prescription drugs are one of the categories of things that the baggage thieves look for. I googled “prescription drugs stolen from checked luggage,” and found many people telling practically the same story as what happened to me.
According to Travelers United, airlines’ “contracts of carriage” include no liability for lost cash, electronic gear, jewelry, prescription medication, computers, musical instruments, valuables and breakables in checked luggage.
Bottom line, putting valuables into checked luggage is not a good idea. I had never packed a prescription drug in my checked luggage before. I learned my lesson. I’ll never do it again.
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