Lee Tager of Simsbury is accustomed to declaring his firearm and going through additional security screenings at airports. But the retired Bloomfield police officer said he was caught off guard during a round trip flight from Logan International Airport to Seattle Tacoma International Airport in April when his luggage was destroyed enroute.
“The locks had been cut off. The zipper had been broken. My suitcase was open. The clothes were wet,” said Tager.
Tager said he declared his unloaded firearm with JetBlue as required. An agent examined his luggage, verified his information and made sure he locked the weapon in an approved hard case.
“I asked them can I put on my own lock and they told me we recommend that you do put your own locks. So nobody has access to it,” according to Tager.
After the first leg of his trip to Seattle, Tager noticed the damage to his luggage. That’s when he filed a claim with JetBlue and reported the incident to a TSA agent in Seattle.
He said the agent instructed him to go to the large baggage area where they perform hand inspections of the luggage. Once they completed that, Tager said the TSA agent approved his gun case.
“She said give me your lock. I will put it on there and I will mark your suitcase so that it will be noted as being inspected by the TSA. So the same thing doesn’t happen,” said Tager.
But it did happen again. When he retrieved his wife’s suitcase on the return trip to Logan, Tager said the zipper was broken.
During his return trip, the TSA says it conducted the search of Tager’s luggage in front of him. The agency says that was the only time they interacted with his bag.
“It was unacceptable because I made specific efforts to make sure that it wasn’t going to happen again and the TSA told me it was not going to,” said Tager.
Tager told NBC Connecticut he filed a second claim with JetBlue at Logan for the $240 worth of damage to two pieces of his luggage. A week later, Tager said he filed two written complaints against the TSA. The TSA says they denied his claims.
“I want to find out why it happened,” said Tager.
So, he turned to NBC Connecticut Responds. A TSA spokesperson tells Responds:
TSA is required to screen all checked baggage. Many airports, including Logan International Airport and "Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, have automated inline baggage handling systems that can screen luggage remotely as it travels along a series of conveyor belts, resulting in no physical inspection by TSA.
"At Logan International Airport (BOS) the passenger’s luggage was screened remotely by the explosive detection system as it traveled along the inline baggage handling system into the airline’s custody. TSA confirmed—by reviewing inspection logs and CCTV footage—that at no point did the luggage physically interact with a TSA employee.
"At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport the passenger’s luggage was screened at the over-sized luggage station in the ticket lobby, which is in plain sight of the passenger. CCTV confirms that the passenger observed the entire screening process and waited while the TSA officer placed a lock on the luggage. The luggage was then placed on the airline’s baggage handling system and was never again in TSA’s possession."
Jetblue’s spokesperson confirmed that they did receive Tager’s baggage complaints and stated:
“While damage to locks and zipper pulls fall outside the coverage of our Contract of Carriage, the team elected to send the customer a replacement bag and issue an additional $75 in JetBlue credit for the inconvenience.”
And this situation, turned out to be a valuable lesson for Tager. “I did buy another suitcase. It does have a TSA approved lock on it.”
The TSA recommends that passengers contact the individual airlines for their policies on damaged items or to file a complaint and/or claim.
Correction: The statement from the TSA in the original story was paraphrased and not the actual response from the agency. We have updated the story to include the full TSA statement. We have also clarified TSA’s role in inspecting the bag on the return flight. Finally, we incorrectly reported that Mr. Tager had not received a response from the TSA. He received two denial letters for his damage claims. We have updated the story to reflect that.