WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration (search) said Friday that it will pay an average of $110 each to 15,000 airline passengers who claim their possessions were lost, stolen or damaged when their bags were screened for bombs and weapons.
The TSA began inspecting all checked bags at the end of 2002, a security measure ordered by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The requirement created a new chain of custody for checked bags that goes from the airline to the TSA back to the airline. Previously, the airlines had sole responsibility for bags once they were checked.
Airline passengers have since been caught between the TSA and the airlines, who have failed to agree on who would compensate them for missing or damaged items.
TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield (search) said the agency took the initiative to come up with an agreement, but the airlines thwarted the effort.
"We still believe there's a way to divide this responsibility with the airlines, but until that agreement is met passengers deserve satisfaction on their claims so we will move unilaterally to settle their claims," Hatfield said. "It's time to get through the backlog."
Air Transport Association (search) spokesman Jack Evans said the airline group is disappointed that an agreement couldn't be reached.
"At this point it looks like we can only urge the government to settle these claims as quickly and expeditiously as possible with our customers," Evans said.
The TSA settled 1,800 claims in the last 22 months.
Now it will pay a total of $1.5 million to another 15,000 travelers, out of 18,000 whose claims have been settled.
Hatfield said 38 percent will be fully reimbursed, 32 percent will get half what they claimed and 12 percent will receive less than half. Three thousand people will not be reimbursed because missing items were either prohibited or didn't belong to them in the first place.
Air Travelers Association (search) president David Stempler said he's been flooded with passenger complaints about missing or damaged possessions. Many people don't even bother to make claims anymore because the process is so slow, he said.
"A lot of people are just throwing up their hands," he said.
Stempler said the TSA failed to anticipate the problem when it began screening checked bags.
"We had warned them about this problem when they started inspecting bags outside of the view of passengers," he said. "We told them to be prepared but they weren't."
Hatfield said 51 percent of the claims were for damage and 49 percent for possessions lost or stolen.
Two dozen screeners in New York, New Orleans, Detroit, Spokane, Wash., and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., have been charged with stealing from checked bags.
Lost, stolen or damaged items include watches, jewelry, suits, prescription drugs, computers, cash and underwear.