Preventing luggage theft during airport screenings
November 13, 2010 5:07 PM   Subscribe

What are strategies for preventing the theft of your luggage during airport security screening?

An older friend is considering respectfully "opting out" of full-body scanning during her next trip to the airport. We've been debating the ethical and political reasons behind this (which I'm not interested in replicating here); one of her concerns, however, is that she won't be able to watch her things (purse, bags, shoes, coat, laptop-sleeve) if her decision results in a delay, and that they might thus be stolen. I'm personally not worried about this because it doesn't seem that theft is much more likely under these circumstances than it usually is at airports, but she's read some accounts of stolen baggage that have her worried.
(I understand that sometimes this isn't an issue, as some TSA agents will give you a pat-down/wand in right in line with your consent, or she might be lucky enough to get in a line that isn't using the full-body scanners. Let's assume the situation doesn't happen to be the case.)

What are some strategies she can use to reduce her fear of theft, or prevent theft, during opt-out? I suspect asking the agents to watch her things complicates their job unnecessarily, and might even get her stuff given a special go-through.

I haven't had any great ideas for her outside of using bright pink accessories and luggage locks, but she's concerned about obvious temptations to thievery like her purse and laptop sleeve.

For those interested, here's a related question about the opt-out procedure and one about stolen luggage.
posted by pavane to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Very distinctive luggage is good, luggage locks are probably useless, since the person most likely to steal her stuff is the employee, who will have to unlock the luggage anyway.

If she's comfortable with the phone on her camera, she could take pictures of everything as she hands it over. Then at least she'll be able to show security officials what to look for if something goes missing.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:16 PM on November 13, 2010

since the person most likely to steal her stuff is the employee

Not in the case of carry-on luggage, I think! I can't imagine an employee being bold enough to steal an item in full view of a line of passengers and coworkers. No, I think the concern is that someone else will see that her laptop is just sitting there and slip it into their bag.

Considering that you're never supposed to leave your luggage unattended, I highly doubt TSA would even allow her to leave her luggage unattended while receiving a pat-down. I mean, when your bag gets flagged for a physical check, they let you gather your belongings (aside from the bag in question) before you join them at the examination table. If TSA doesn't give her time to do this, she can invoke the never-leave-bags-unattended rule, in a loud and polite voice.
posted by acidic at 5:33 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my unfortunately fairly extensive experience with TSA patdowns, TSA employees will usually ask me to point out which things are mine, and they'll then pick up my belongings and bring them over after they've gone through the X-ray machine (Note that they will not let me touch them until I am done with the pat-down.) If no one seems to be doing this, I'll usually ask whoever is giving me the pat-down (or whatever other agent is nearby, if I'm just waiting.) Of course, any individual TSA checkpoint may not be so co-operative, but I can't recall my belongings ever just sitting unattended.
posted by ubersturm at 5:54 PM on November 13, 2010

I opted out at SFO a few days ago, and got the treatment that ubersturm reported. My stuff got sent through the XRay as I opted out. I was taken over and walked through a metal detector nest to the pornoscanner and stood around for a minute while they called a screener over. He asked why not ("I don't like being imaged" was my reply; I decided against "for the same reason some people don't do porn"), and I was taken over to the screening area. By this time, my stuff was clogging up the end of the conveyor belt. I pointed out the two bins and two bags that were mine, the TSA guy took them over to the screening area, I declined a private screening, and we were away on that one-way trip to Fondleton, population me. The patdown was reasonably professional and thorough.

The TSA agents were fairly professional and sufficiently courteous, but this was San Francisco. I was as polite and charming as I can be. (Very polite / slightly charming, as it turns out)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:19 PM on November 13, 2010

Ack; didn't preview well enough. To be clearer on the central point of the question, the TSA agent asked me to point out my baggage as part of the routine. He then gathered it and carried it in two trips to the screening area, where it sat in my full view.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:21 PM on November 13, 2010

I usually travel with a messenger bag that's about fifteen years old and has seen more greasy shop floors than it has thorough washings. I've never thought of this as an anti-theft strategy before, but, hey, couldn't hurt.
posted by box at 7:28 PM on November 13, 2010

Seconding (thirding?) ubersturm. Due to wearing an insulin pump, my wife regularly gets the pat-down treatment and each time a TSA agent will collect her belongings and place them near her where the pat-down is taking place, whether that be near the line or even in a separate room. Whenever I've seen the TSA pull a person out of line, their stuff stays with them.
posted by mkdg at 1:02 AM on November 14, 2010

For all of its other failings, the TSA is comparatively pretty good at keeping peoples belongings with them. Your things are worth a lot more worry in the airports of developing countries.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:35 AM on November 14, 2010

In every instance where I've been given secondary screening (and they number quite a few, because metal detectors didn't much like fat people and the scanners aren't any fonder of us) my luggage has been brought with me (not by me, someone else brings it).
posted by jacquilynne at 5:52 PM on November 14, 2010

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