The Transportation Security Administration has paid passengers about $3 million since 2010 for breaking, losing or stealing their items. A USA Today investigation published Thursday found that travelers who filed claims about damaged luggage received payments in about 15,000 cases of 50,000. The number of claims filed and paid out fell over time, dropping 35 percent from 2010 to 2014.
"[The] TSA aggressively investigates all allegations of misconduct and, when infractions are discovered, moves swiftly to hold the offenders accountable," TSA spokesman Bruce Anderson told USA Today. "TSA holds its security officers to the highest professional and ethical standards and has a zero-tolerance policy for theft in the workplace."
The federal agency, which was created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, faces frequent criticism for its search and safety techniques. Its current policies mean about one out of every 20 bags gets pulled out after scanning for an in-depth bag check. Because the TSA screened about 653 million passengers last year, this happens often. Then, travel author Christopher Elliot wrote in the Huffington Post, "agents often rummage through passengers' personal belongings without care."
Passengers who allege the agents damaged or took something from their luggage can file claims for reimbursement ranging from a few dollars to several thousand, USA Today reported. Travelers can submit an online form where they must prove the TSA caused the problem. Elliot has said this process is a black hole -- "your letter goes in, but nothing comes out" -- but the USA Today investigation found thousands of successful cases.
The United States' busiest airports had the most claims filed. The worst offenders were John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Los Angeles International Airport, which together produced about 1,600 paid claims. When the numbers were tweaked to account for volume, Dulles International Airport in Washington and Orlando International Airport in Florida had the highest percentages of passengers with successful claims.