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Protecting Yourself Against Baggage Bandits

by Jack Penning

Posted on April 27, 2006 at 3:26 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:46 PM

Tonight we reported on "baggage bandits" stealing valuables out of checked baggage at the nation's airports. We told you the story of the Sonnemaker family. 13 year old Tyler checked his X-Box video game system on a trip from PDX to Little Rock, Arkansas. It got there just fine. But when Tyler returned to his West Linn home, the X-Box had been stolen.

The Sonnemakers are sure the Transportation Security Administration isn't responsible for the theft, because they stayed behind to watch the checked-bags go through the x-ray machine, before they boarded their flight. They blame airline baggage handlers.

The Sonnemakers immediately filed a claim with their airline. They put together a detailed list of everything they lost... that X-Box, its games, and some towels it was wrapped in. They found receipts for nearly all the items that were lost. They calculated their combined cost: $929.

The airline's response to their claim came with a reimbursement check... for just $20. The airline explained it works hard to prevent theft... but it can't be held responsible for the Sonnemaker's X-Box... and its associated games.

Each airline's ticket jacket has a specific list of what's covered in checked baggage and what's not. Electronics... like an X-Box and its games... are not covered, under any circumstances.

A typical disclaimer (this one, provided by a Delta Air Lines ticket jacket) reads like this:

"No liability for electronic equipment, photographic equipment, jewelry, cash, computer equipment, or other similar valuable items."

The Sonnemakers would argue those things are covered when they are damaged or lost by the airline... but they should be covered when they're intentionally stolen from a bag that's in the airline's care... no matter who's agent is responsible for the theft. Still... there isn't an airline in the country that would see it that way.

The Sonnemakers are not alone. We received a number of similar e-mails after we ran our first story on "baggage bandits" last February. Theft from checked bags is, clearly, a systemic problem in our nation's airports. But in most cases, the victims of that theft never get any money back.

In some cases, a renter's or homeowner's insurance policy will cover the loss. Check with your agent to see if your policy applies.

If you're going to be taking something valuable on a trip, and it appears on the ticket jacket disclaimer listed above, the best bet is to bring it on-board with you. In fact, that's the only way you can be certain you won't be a victim. Still, some items are too bulky to bring on board. If that's the case, make sure you declare it with an airline agent as you check it. In many cases, the airline will charge you a small fee to "insure" that expensive item against any loss - be it damage or theft.

Remember, too, that these rules only apply to domestic travel, within the 50 United States. International baggage rules are covered by the Warsaw Convention (link provided by Wikipedia).

If you'd been a victim of baggage theft, the first thing you should do is contact your airline, so you can get a claim going. You should file a claim even if you don't think your loss will be covered. I've complied contact information for each airline serving PDX. It's all listed below.

If you have a story you want to talk about, send me an e-mail. My address is

Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air
P. O. Box 68900
Seattle, WA 98168
Reservations: 800.252.7522
Customer Relations: 206.870.6062

American Airlines
P. O. Box 619612
DFW Airport, TX 75261-9612
Reservations: 800.433.7300
Customer Relations: 817.967.2000

America West Airlines/US Airways
4000 E. Sky Harbor Blvd.
Phoenix, AZ 85034
Reservations/Customer Relations: 800.235.9292

Continental Airlines
P. O. Box 4607
Houston, TX 77210-4607
Customer Relations: 800-324-5000
Reservations: 800.932.2732

Delta Air Lines
P. O. Box 20706
Atlanta, GA 30320-6001
Reservations: 800.221.1212

Frontier Airlines
7001 Tower Road
Denver, CO 80249
Reservations: 800.432.1539
Customer Relations: 800.265.5505

Hawaiian Airlines
P. O. Box 30008
Honolulu, HI 96820
Reservations: 800.367.5320
Customer Relations: 888.246.8526

jetBlue Airways
P. O. Box 7435
Salt Lake City, UT 84117-7435
Reservations: 800.538.2585

Lufthansa German Airlines
P.O. Box 425
East Meadow, NY 11554
Kundendialog Deutschland
33322 Gutersloh, Germany
Reservations: 800 399-LUFT
Customer Relations FAX: 516-296 9838

Mexicana Airlines
One World Trade Center
121 SW Salmon Street, 11th Floor
Portland, OR 97205
Reservations/Customer Relations: 800-531-7921

Northwest Airlines
2700 Lone Oak Parkway
Eagan, MN 55121
Reservations: 800.225.2525
Customer Relations: 612.726.2046

Southwest Airlines
Customer Relations/Rapid Rewards
P.O. Box 36647 - 1CR
Dallas, Texas 75235-1647
Customer Relations: 214-792-4223
Reservations: 1-800-I-FLY-SWA

United Airlines
P.O. Box 66140
Chicago, IL 60666
Customer Relations: 1-877-228-1327
Reservations: 1-800-864-8331