TAMPA, Florida - When you fly out of Tampa International Airport (TIA), you need to show identification when you check your bag, when you get on the tram, and when you go through security.
Yet, there are few - if any - security precautions at TIA's baggage claim that deter thieves from walking in off the street and stealing your bags.
An undercover 10 News Investigator had no trouble parking in front of TIA's baggage claim entrance, walking in without a baggage claim check, and walking out with a bag that didn't belong to her.The bag belonged to an arriving acquaintance, who would have likely reported the bag "lost" to the airlines.
Last year, more than 1.9 million bags were reported "mishandled" by U.S. air travelers, according to theU.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).Many "mishandled" bags are eventually returned to customers.But, many others are ultimately written off by the airlines as "lost," and few are reported to local police departments as "stolen."
"When you go to the baggage claim and your bag isn't there," said TIA spokesperson Janet Zink, "it's hard to know if it was stolen or was it lost by the airline."
Zink says surveillance cameras help the TIA Police Department identify suspects who steal bags.
But since the start of 2011, approximately 30 million passengers have traveled through TIA. "Mishandled" bags aren't tracked by the airport, and industry averages indicate there were probably in the ballpark of 100,000 pieces of mishandled luggage at TIA during that time.Yet only 14 bags were reported to the TIA Police Dept. as stolen.
"Am I surprised?," Zink said, repeating the 10 News investigators' question."Well, we don't have people there 24/7. We have the cameras there 24/7."
In the last two years, TIA Police arrested three suspects for stealing bags, accounting for 11 of the 14 reported thefts.But there's no telling how many stolen bags were simply chalked up as "lost."
"From the airport's perspective, we're doing everything we can," Zink said."The bags ... are the responsibility of the airline until they're in the hands of the passenger."
Travelers through some U.S. airports have to show their claim checks or identification before they can leave with their luggage.But Zink says any extra security is most likely paid for by the airlines.And there is none at TIA, adding possible insultto injury for travelers who already have to pay upwards of $50 for the right to checkbags on certain airlines.
The 10 News Investigators reached out to a handful of airlines operating out of Tampa, but Spirit, Delta, and United/Continental all failed to respond to the request.
Only Southwest Airlines provideda statement, addressing its lack of security at baggage claim:
We do not require identification unless a bag is unclaimed one hour after the flight lands. If we identify an airport that has a reported problem with missing bags, we will closely monitor the location and work with appropriate authorities to resolve any issues. In the past, we've had personnel check each Customer's bag upon departure at select airports and the Customer response was overwhelmingly negative based on the delay in exiting the area as Customers searched for their baggage claim tickets.
In the latest DOT reports, Southwest's 3.33 bags mishandled per 1,000 passengers was just a touch better thanthe industry average of 3.52.However, Southwest's Airtranbrand(1.73)was second-best to only Virgin America (0.97) for tracking travelers' luggage.
Mishandled baggage reports by airlines - July 2012
REPORTS PER 1,000 PASSENGERS
DELTA AIR LINES
AMERICAN EAGLE AIRLINES
(domestic systems only)
When it comes to how to protect yourchecked bagswhile flying, there may be no good advice other than to put off that post-plane bathroom break.Because the quicker you can get to baggage claim, the less time there is for someone else to grab your luggage.