Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Beware bag searches by America's Transport Security Administration
Every day our travel guru answers your travel questions
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Monday 31 December 2012
Q. My luggage had been opened by TSA security staff as I left the US. Although nothing was missing, they undid my careful packing. Clothes were crushed and other items left scattered about the case. Do I have any redress?
A. America's Transport Security Administration oversees the searching of passengers, their carry-on bags and their checked-in luggage. The screening of checked baggage, searching for suspected bombs, takes place between the check-in desks and the aircraft. As in the UK, X-ray is the first check. But the TSA warns: "While our technology allows us to electronically screen bags, there are times when we need to physically inspect a piece of luggage". Unlike in Britain, where this takes place in the presence of the passenger, security officers check it without reference to the owner.
Among frequent flyers in the US, there is plenty of folklore about the triggers for TSA staff opening a bag: closely packed books, cheese and electrical equipment (especially when in the same case!) are among the suspicious items.
Once the screeners have identified a bag, they will open it - even if that means breaking the locks. If you prefer to lock your case, then you can buy a lock that TSA officials can use a special master key.
I understand the only grounds for a claim is if you lose something. You point out that nothing was missing, but for the benefit of others I have created a short link - bit.ly/TSAclaim - to the right website.
Many of us do everything we can to avoid checking in bags under any circumstances. Searches by TSA staff are just one of the possible hazards.
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