Photo: Nicoleta Ionescu/Shutterstock

How to Not Lose Your Shit With TSA

Travel Safety Insider Guides
by Michelle Schusterman Jul 7, 2011
Fullerton police officer Kelly Janeth Mejia apparently has her own idea of what ‘lost and found’ means.

On May 2nd, she was arrested at the Miami International Airport for stealing another traveler’s iPad while going through the TSA checkpoint. Surveillance video captured her swiping the device from another bin and stuffing it into her carry-on.

Mejia has pleaded not guilty to the charge of third-degree grand theft and will go to court on August 29th. In a written statement, the officer claims not to have seen who placed the iPad in the bin, stating she picked it up as “found property.”

Putting that B.S. aside, the troubling thing here is that this situation is a double-whammy: a police officer stealing while surrounded by security officials who are supposed to be keeping us safe (although many argue their methods do no such thing).

It’s unsurprising that spreading all your belongings out among several bins and losing sight of them while you get patted down and scanned leads to thievery. What makes it particularly frustrating is that often it’s the TSA worker rather than your fellow traveler who has the slippery fingers.

Like Pythias Brown, one of Newark International’s TSA workers who spent a year swiping and selling, “earning” him a total of around $400,000. Or Karla Renee Morgan, a screener at Houston’s Intercontinental Airport who was busted pocketing a wallet with $1,000 cash in a sting operation. In fact, since 9/11 around 500 TSA employees have been fired for theft.

Minimize risk of TSA theft

It’s hard not to lose your shit with the TSA, and I think the double meaning there is clear. But there are a few steps you can take to minimize the risk of someone making off with your laptop while you’re virtually naked on a scanner.

1. Buddy up. If you’re traveling with someone, stagger yourselves so there’s another traveler or two between you. Watch your buddy’s stuff while he’s getting scanned and vice versa.

2. Empty your pockets. Put the belt, jewelry, watch, coins, chapstick and whatever else in your carry-on, where it’s (ideally) a bit safer than rattling around loose in a bin.

3. Make a list. Include every single item in your suitcase, with a big empty checkbox next to each one. Place it in your suitcase in a way that ensures it’ll be the first thing the TSA employee sees when he opens your bag. Even if it doesn’t act as a deterrent by showcasing your anal retentiveness, if something is swiped you’ll find out ASAP when you check the list right outside of the checkpoint (rather than when you get to your final destination).

4. Don’t overpack. I’m a light packer, but when I see a little extra room or an empty pocket I tend to cram in whatever I can fit. The more stuff you bring, the more bins you take up and the harder it is to keep your eye on everything. When you’re packing for your trip, spread it all out on your bed like you would on the conveyor belt and weed out what you don’t need.

5. Take your time. It’s almost impossible not to feel rushed at security checkpoints, and in my experience TSA employees only add to the frantic atmosphere. Moving at a glacier’s pace would be rude, but it’s okay to slow down a little and pay attention to where you’re putting what. Is your wallet in a bin or in your backpack? Did you cram your passport in your laptop bag or your purse?

Worst case scenario

Despite all your caution, it’s possible you may lose something going through TSA checkpoint. Before you panic, TSA actually offers several tips on their blog on how to handle this situation.

1. Check for all of your belongings before you leave the checkpoint area. That list back in #3 comes in handy here.

2. Find the nearest law enforcement official in the terminal and file a police report immediately.

3. File two claims – one with the TSA and one with the airline. According to the TSA, “we analyze this data and if we see a trend at a particular airport, we are in a better position to investigate further.”

4. Check lost and found. Good samaritans do exist; your phone may have slipped out of your bag when you were digging around for your passport. Just because it’s gone doesn’t mean it was stolen.

All of these tips are hard to implement if you’re at checkpoint and they’ve just announced your flight is boarding. Getting to the airport well ahead of time is arguably the most important thing you can do to ensure safe travels.

And as for not losing your mental shit with TSA – hey, airports have happy hours for a reason.

Discover Matador