Is Baggage Theft at Airports Growing?

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," May 18, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight: more problems at the airport. A few weeks ago, a member of my family had an expensive camera stolen from her checked luggage. The Jet Blue (search) representative told her the airline wasn't responsible. And all over the USA, passengers are getting stuff stolen because federal screeners in many places are not watched by cameras. And airline baggage handlers have plenty of opportunity to rifle through the bags.

Now Jet Blue told “The Factor”, it has cameras watching its baggage people do their jobs, but there are no cameras watching federal security people in the cargo hold at JFK's Jet Blue facility.

American, U.S. Air, Delta, and Continental refused to tell us if they have cameras watching their baggage people, but we understand union rules often prevent that.

Bottom line, if you check anything valuable, you're taking a big chance.

Joining us now from Washington is David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. How bad is the problem, Mr. Stempler?

DAVID STEMPLER, PRESIDENT, AIR TRAVELERS ASSOCIATION: Well, it's not really terrible. You know, when you figure that we're carrying about 650 million passengers a year, and that means about 1.3 billion bags, there is a relatively small problem.

But the problem is really at the TSA side, the Transportation Security Administration (search), who basically refused to deal with this problem right from the beginning. We warned them when you start opening bags out of the view of passengers, you're going to be subjected to all kinds of claims and all kinds of problems, and you'd better be ready for that.

They promised that there would be video cameras watching these people, but they've never done it.

O'REILLY: No, they're not. Now, Lis Wiehl, a member of “The Factor” staff here, had a computer stolen when she took off from LaGuardia, as I mentioned, a member of my family had a camera stolen. And I know I'm going to get thousands of e-mails tonight about people who have other stuff stolen.

Because it's easy. They X-Ray all the luggage. They can see right in there. And you can't carry on a lot of stuff anymore -- that's a federal regulation. And older people and people with kids need to have their stuff and they've got to check this stuff.

Now, I'm telling everybody, don't check anything valuable. Because the airline is not going to help you. They're basically going to say you're on your own. Look at the contract. We don't have to help you. That's correct, right?

STEMPLER: Well, no. They have a requirement under the Department of Transportation (search) to pay up to $2,800 per passenger. Internationally, it's now about $1,500.

O'REILLY: Not Jet Blue. They have in their contract that if you put in a camera or a computer, they do not have to reimburse.

STEMPLER: Right. You never put anything that's valuable, that you can't do without, that if you lost it would be a significant loss.

O'REILLY: And I understand the only way you get reimbursed on the other side is if the airline actually loses your luggage, not if you say something was stolen.

STEMPLER: Right. The other big problem here is that the care, custody and control is turned over by the passenger over to the airline. The airline puts it on that conveyor belt behind the ticket counter, it goes down to the room. They then have to turn it over to the TSA...

O'REILLY: Right.

STEMPLER: ... who checks for explosives. Then it goes back to the airline. So if there's something lost, you get all this finger pointing. The airline points at the TSA.

O'REILLY: Oh, yes.


O'REILLY: That's what Jet Blue did. They said, "It wasn't our guys."


O'REILLY: "Because we have cameras on our guys and we can see what they do. It was the feds, because they don't have any cameras. And they're stealing stuff, and we hear it all the time. And we can't do anything about it."

And you're right, now they can say, "It's them. No, it's not us. It must be them."

But look, the bottom line is airline travel has just gotten worse. It's terrible when you get on the plane. It's terrible to get through security. Now you can't check anything.

I FedEx my stuff ahead. I mean can you imagine that?! You've got to FedEx your stuff because you can't take it on the airline? I mean, it's out of control!

STEMPLER: Look, Bill, you know, to some extent we have seen the enemy and it is us. You know, we've demanded low fares, low fares, low fares, and the whole process has gotten almost to be like bus travel. So we almost got what we deserve.

But really, the real problem here, if you're looking at this luggage thing, it's with the TSA. They're very slow on taking claims. They've only settled about, we understand, about 26 percent of the claims that are compiled...

O'REILLY: Forget it! If you're going to go after the feds. And how can you prove it? You can't prove they stole it.

STEMPLER: And guess what we're finding out, Bill? They've only settled claims at about $200 per claim. The average at the airlines, we know, is between $400 and $500.

O'REILLY: So your own federal government, which is supposed to be protecting you, stealing your stuff.


O'REILLY: It's just terrible.


O'REILLY: All right, Mr. Stempler. Word to the wise out there. I know millions of you are going to be flying this summer. Don't, don't check anything valuable at all. Either send it ahead on FedEx or one of the other overnight services or take it on a plane.

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