I often receive complaints about mishandled or stolen items from checked bags. A missing gold bracelet and a broken laptop screen are just two examples of recent incidents. Here's what you need to know when your items arrive damaged — or not at all.
See Also: Bag those baggage fees.
Don't Blame the TSA
If you contact the airlines when something goes missing, the knee-jerk response is usually to tell you to file a complaint with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Now, I may be lukewarm toward the TSA's many counterintuitive security procedures, but airlines love to use the TSA as a scapegoat. You may have heard about a handful of crooked TSA workers who were caught pilfering bags, but this is an insignificant few, what with the agency employing 45,000 screeners across the United States. And remember, TSA screeners are videotaped during the inspection process, so it's unlikely an employee would want to risk losing his or her job.
On the other hand, airlines delegate the loading and unloading of baggage to airports that use job contractors with hiring standards nowhere near as stringent as those of the TSA. That's not to say all baggage handlers are bad, just that the TSA is not the weakest link.
Exceptions Are the Rule
Now here's the real kicker. If an item is broken or goes missing, you'll need to file a claim with an airline. But as you'll see from every airline's contract of carriage, the list of exclusions for liability is a mile long. For example, take a look at American Airlines' contract:
"American does not accept in or as checked baggage any of the following items: antiques, artifacts, artwork, books and documents, china, computers and other electronic equipment, computer software, fragile items (including child/infant restraint devices such as strollers and car seats) jewelry, silverware …