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February 2006 Vol. 32, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Those Divebag Security Screeners

will your strobe arrive with you?

from the February, 2006 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

According to a recent issue of Condé Nast Traveler, the Transportation Security Agency “has been plagued by a series of arrests of its screeners for theft.” The cities most notorious for larcenous TSA agents include Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Judging by response to a recent Undercurrent subscriber survey, we’d add San Juan, Puerto Rico. Roger Brooks (Olympia, WA) takes Caribbean dive trips once or twice a year with friends. In San Juan, an expensive dive mask was stolen from one person’s dive bag.

Returning from San Juan last year, Leo Herskowitz (Ontario, Canada) found that his and his wife’s brand-new Poseidon regulators and detachable Sherwood Wisdom computers “had been ‘lifted’ from our bags along with two brand-new Cobra BCDs.” Having no luck getting United Airlines to “own up to their responsibility,” as he puts it, Herskowitz made a claim against his homeowners policy, which resulted in a 50 percent increase in his premium.

Kent Backman (Gig Harbor, WA) took the live-aboard Pegasus in the waters of the Sudan. He writes, “Sudan is a great way to escape the crowds of the northern Red Sea. Make sure you are insured for any camera equipment you bring. Sudan is a poor country. My entire video housing and light setup in its Pelican case was stolen after it was checked for my return flight to Cairo from Port Sudan. I suspect it never left Port Sudan, though I would not rule out being stolen by Cairo airport employees. I have not received compensation from Sudan Airways.”

But, there is at least one way to prevent theft. Michael Hofman (San Francisco, CA) cautions, “We don’t use those bags that have DIVER written all over them.” Sue Taylor (Hayward, CA), who lost a couple of items when her bags were searched leaving SFO, concurs: “Luggage with scuba logos indeed scream ‘steal me.’ ” And tough cases such as the Pelican also may suggest that something valuable is inside.

In many airports, bags are first handled by airline employees (or contract baggage handlers) and then turned over to security screeners before being returned to the carrier. With so many hands in the mix, it’s tough to get anyone to accept responsibility for missing items. Mary Chipman (Singer Island, FL) flew from Papeete, Tahiti, to West Palm Beach on Delta and Air France. She packed two shell necklaces in her checked luggage wrapped in clothing to protect them. Somewhere along the way they were pilfered. “Who to blame?” asks Chipman. “The TSA? Air France? Delta?” She adds, “These weren’t valuable, just native craft souvenir leis, but the theft is still irritating nonetheless.”

“Luggage with scuba logos all
over them screams ‘steal me.’ ”

Verify you have all your gear after claiming your bags, especially if you have yet to arrive at your destination. If something is missing from a suitcase tagged with a TSA sticker or containing a card announcing that the bag has been searched, immediately contact the TSA (866-289-9673). And contact the airline’s baggage representative. If items are missing but the TSA has not marked the bag, file a complaint with the carrier within 24 hours.

Airlines impose limits on what they’ll reimburse you for. As Tim O’Connor (Orlando, FL) found after losing a bag coming home from Saba, American Airlines limits its liability to approximately $9/lb. for checked baggage and $400/passenger for unchecked baggage, unless you declare a higher value and pay additional fees. Maximum liability is for 70 lbs. ($635) per checked bag and a lot less than a bag full of scuba gear or cameras.

A TSA spokesperson assured Undercurrent that “Under the Federal Tort Claims Act the U.S. government cannot limit liability.” However, since it’s difficult to pinpoint responsibility for losses to TSA inspectors, check your homeowner’s insurance to see if it covers whatever the airlines won’t. Or purchase dive equipment insurance from DAN ( or DEPP (

TSA-Approved Locks

TSA inspectors must be able to open any bag, even if it’s locked. Several readers reported their locks being snipped off. To get around this problem, TSA has introduced a choice of approved combination locks, which can be opened with a special tool, then relocked after inspection. The locks are made by Travel Sentry ( and Safe Skies (

However, snafus occur. Grant Rowe (Schenectady, NY) found that on a trip to the Florida Keys, “Each time I checked in (once in Albany, once in Ft. Lauderdale), one of the two TSA-approved locks on the case was cut off,” while the second wasn’t. Now he uses plastic ties on his bags. They are cut by screeners, but when he retrieves his bag he just refastens the zipper with another plastic tie. “They don’t stop a serious thief,” he concedes, “but they keep luggage handlers and bellboys out of the bags.”

Pelican Products (Torrance, CA) has introduced their TSA-accepted PeliLock™. It features a combination that can be reset to an easily memorized code but can also be opened by TSA personnel. (For information, call (310) 326-4700 or (800) 473-5422 or go to

Not all screeners are familiar with the locks. Beginning a five-week trip to Indonesia, Brant Shenkarow (San Anselmo, CA), had his Pelican case containing camera equipment inspected by the TSA. He then locked the case using the TSA-prescribed locks. When he arrived in Phuket, one of the case’s TSA locks was missing. Another was “severely bent and useless.” Fed up, Shenkarow filed a claim with Covenant Aviation. Its web site was listed on the TSA inspection card “so politely included in my rearranged camera gear.” Covenant provides screeners at San Francisco International Airport and elsewhere. A Covenant claims agent promised to look into the matter and signed off, “Warm Regards, Lisa De Stefani.” Her regards may have been warm, but the trail turned cold. It took months, and several more communications, before Shenkarow’s claim for the cost of replacing the locks ($23.99) was honored. If TSA cannot familiarize its own screeners with the new locks, imagine how they’re likely to be treated by screeners in places like Singapore, Bonaire, or Fiji.

While it may be tempting to vent your frustrations when dealing with screeners, they hold all the cards. In Green Bay, WI, a woman upset over being searched bodily at an airport was convicted of assaulting a security screener by grabbing the federal officer’s breasts. Retired teacher Phyllis Dintenfass said, “I was mortified that I had done that. I was reacting to what felt like an absolute invasion of my body.” She faces a year in federal prison and a $100,000 fine.

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