By Catharine Hamm
10:30 AM EDT, April 14, 2014
Question: On March 7, I flew to Sacramento from L.A. for an overnight trip. I packed light — just a dress, belt, shoes, sweats, nightshirt, a bag of toiletries and my iPad. When I arrived at my hotel and opened my bag, there was a notice that the Transportation Security Administration had gone through my luggage. When I was getting dressed, I noticed my belt was missing. I had carefully packed it in the see-through zipper compartment of my suitcase, as I didn't want it to fall out. It was my favorite belt, old, vintage, worn and funky. I guess someone at TSA liked it because they just took it. You can imagine how infuriated and violated I felt. If someone took my iPad it would have been more understandable, but an old favorite belt?
Answer: "Checking your luggage is asking for trouble," the 1988 movie "The Accidental Tourist" tells us and goes on to say, "And most importantly, never take along anything on your journey so valuable or dear that its loss would devastate you."
That's not to blame Richstone but to remind us that what we love should stay behind, which also seems a great argument for not taking kids on vacation.
Her dilemma also raises several other issues, including how and when to report a loss and what's covered.
Most critical: Report the missing item immediately. TSA screens 23 million bags a year at LAX, so finding an item is a bit like the proverbial needle. If it's gone from your bag, use this TSA link, http://www.lat.ms/1e99fbv, to make a claim. There, you'll discover, according to the website, that "TSA has 16 airports that utilize private screening services and does not handle claims for incidents that occur at these airports." (LAX isn't one of the 16, but San Francisco is.)
It's important to report items as soon as possible because TSA uses closed-circuit TV in its screening rooms, and it may be possible to track what happened. But TSA keeps the video record for only about a month, in most cases.
You may still be suspicious of TSA in light of the report last month about a ring of thieves filching valuables from luggage. That wasn't TSA, but baggage handlers. "Basically everything of value — be it electronics, jewelry and items — that could be stolen in seconds would be removed from bags," LAX Police Chief Pat Gannon was quoted as saying in a March 28 Los Angeles Times story.
That Richstone's iPad remained in her bag provides an opportunity to remind travelers that the loss of some items isn't covered. This is often explained in the airlines' contracts of carriage (sometimes called "conditions of carriage").
For example, American Airlines says it "does not assume liability for … in or as checked baggage: 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), eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses, non-prescription sunglasses and all other eyewear and eye/vision devices whether lenses are glass, plastic, or some other material, furs, heirlooms, keys, liquids, medicines, money, orthotics, surgical supports, perishable items, photographic, video and optical equipment, precious metals, stones or jewelry, securities and negotiable papers, silverware, samples, unique or irreplaceable items or any other similar valuable items."
It's been awhile (like never) since I packed my furs, but I often put a second pair of glasses or my contacts in my checked bag, and I sometimes pack my keys. No more. And I'll certainly leave the silverware at home.
In fact, I'll leave at home anything of value, although I know I've taken along things in the past that I shouldn't have. That includes the teddy bear my father brought home when he returned from (according to him) single-handedly winning World War II. Why would I risk that?
"People take their precious possessions with them, even though logically they know there's a risk of losing them, because when people leave home, they want to take their 'Linus blanket' with them," said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist and author who is on the clinical faculty of UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute. "So they make impulsive decisions to bring things along that make them feel connected to something that comforts them."
I guess that's why there are hotel bars. Sorry, Teddy. Your traveling days are done.
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