The hive mind probes TSA luggage claims data, and here’s what it finds

by Christopher Elliott on September 29, 2010


At the end of a recent Elliott.org post about TSA damage claims for luggage, I invited readers to review the raw data released by the agency. And many of my readers did.


Special thanks to Jeffrey Harper and Charles Owen for downloading and dissecting the data. I’ve distilled the numbers further (note: I’m no math whiz, but I consulted my better half, who has an MBA and takes full responsibility for the graphs in this post).

As you can see in the above graph, the agency is settling far fewer claims as a percentage of overall claims. This graph doesn’t include claims that are still being processed, were canceled or are being litigated. They’re based on raw numbers released under the Freedom of Information Act.

This is pretty revealing. The agency has paid out far less, on average, as time has progressed. It follows the same trend line as total payouts graphed at the start of the story.

Owen theorizes,

There’s clearly a downward trend, maybe because of the bag fees decreasing the amount of checked baggage. Later data may be biased due to claims still being processed.

A review of the comments also raises other possible explanations, such as fewer valuable items being checked or a shift in TSA policy.

Either way, the conclusion seems inescapable: If you check a bag, TSA is far less likely to reimburse you than in years past. If it does, it’s likely to pay only a fraction of what you’re asking for.

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  • Hapgood

    The trend merely indicates improvement in the TSA’s effectiveness at performing their Mission. The TSA has redefined “security” to exclusively mean reactive measures to protect aviation from past terrorist attacks or attempts. Protecting passenger belongings from theft or damage is outside that definition, so it’s of no concern to the TSA. By working aggressively to avoid unnecessary claims related to non-security matters, the TSA is saving taxpayers money and increasing their focus on their Mission.

    We just have to accept that TSA screening measures to protect us from past threats inherently increase the risk of non-security losses or damage to our property. Remember that we’re at War, which inevitably involves collateral damage. But I think we’d all agree that the TSA’s highly effective protection from past terrorist threats is worth whatever non-security risks it incurs.

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