You arrive at your destination after a flight, only to realize one of your possessions -- a watch, a laptop or maybe a phone charger -- is not in your checked bag. Where could it be? Could it be stolen? Is that even possible?!
Unfortunately, it is. The Transportation Security Administration saw 30,621 claims of missing valuables from 2010 to 2014, equaling a total property loss of $2.5 million, CNN reports. In some cases, items reported as missing were actually stolen. Between 2013 and 2014, the TSA sent a series of "bait bags" through airport security to catch workers stealing from passengers' luggage.
In the end, a string of employees were fired for theft. Since the TSA's launch in 2001, some 500 others have been fired for stealing items like iPads, watches and jewelry from passengers, the Wall Street Journal reports.
And sadly, there's not much you can do about it. Getting a stolen luggage response from the TSA can take a looong time and result in zero compensation. And your airline likely won't do anything unless your bag was physically damaged or lost entirely.
Obviously, the easy answer is to make sure you don't lose an item in the first place. (More on that later.) But if you DO find something stolen out of your checked bag, here's your game plan:
1. Make SURE it's not at the airport.
Go through your bag one more time, and check with the airport's lost and found to be sure your item is definitely missing. If you determine that it's no where to be found, get ready for a long process.
2. File a police report.
When you go to file a claim with the TSA or your airline, they may ask for a police report, so it's helpful to file one within 24 hours of the incident, Smarter Travel recommends. Try the airport police office for advice on where and how to file a report.
3. File a claim with the TSA.
You'll need to get the paperwork online and mail it in for investigation, which can take up to six months. The TSA is required to put a paper slip in your bag if they've opened and inspected it, so be sure to mention whether you found a slip in your bag.
Last year, the TSA settled about 37 percent of claims for stolen or damaged items, a TSA spokesperson told HuffPost. If your claim is settled, payout can range anywhere from small dollar amounts to thousands, according to USA Today.
4. File a claim with your airline.
The Department of Transportation requires airlines to compensate passengers up to $3,500 for "mishandled" bags on a domestic trip, travel expert George Hobica told HuffPost. Unfortunately, though, "mishandled" means "damaged" or "lost," but not necessarily "stolen from," Southwest spokesperson Chris Mainz told HuffPost. So essentially, your airline isn't responsible.
"Airlines do not accept liability for missing items... because we do not take inventory of the items in checked luggage," Mainz said.
6. Check your home/renters' insurance and credit card company.
Yup, your personal homeowners insurance might compensate for stolen luggage, Hobica says. (A fairly high deductible may be involved -- check your policy for more info.) Some credit cards will also reimburse you in this situation, but sometimes only after all other methods of compensation are tried. Again, check your credit card policy to see if it's a viable last resort.
Bonus Tip: Don't get anything stolen in the first place.
Store valuable items in your carry-on bag, and watch them closely, Hobica says. Consider a luggage zip tie so you can tell when someone's opened your checked bag. Travel insurance may be a smart move, too -- research a few plans to figure out what kind of coverage you'll need based on the value of the items in your bags.
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