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I've heard that this happens frequently with the TSA in the United States and almost always in checked-in bags. I'll be travelling soon to Los Angeles for a holiday and I don't know whether to be alert or not.

I remember once leaving an expensive laptop in a checked-in bag from NBO to DUB through ADD and if my bags could transit through countries that pay workers very little without anything being stolen, then it should reason that I'm safe if I put one or two electronics in my suitcases that will be checked in from DUB to LAX?

Am I mistaken or not?

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    Recently, in the Dominican republic, the security officer confiscated all liquids from my carry-on, even though they were within limits, and he only picked me. I asked the check-in counter guy later and he told me they do it sometimes to steal perfumes and stuff.. – Nean Der Thal Aug 11 '17 at 9:28
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    If something is really precious or important to you I would not put it in checked luggage. This is taking a useless risk. My rule of thumb for checked luggage is: "let's suppose I never get it back, would it be anything more than a mere annoyance to me?" If the answer is yes, then something is in your checked luggage that should not be there – user65015 Aug 11 '17 at 9:29
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    Theft can happen anywhere during your bag's travels. It is purely the luck of the draw, if you get something stolen. I put 100K+ miles in flying every year and the last item I had stolen from baggage was a maglight 20 years ago flying from Kathmandu to Bangkok. – user13044 Aug 11 '17 at 9:43
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    Doubt anyone can beat this stupidity: I once left $9,000 in a jacket pocket inside a checked-in bag on a flight from Las Vegas to London. I'd intended to wear the jacket aboard but forgot to remove it. I realized shortly after take-off what I'd done. Happily it was still there at the other end. – TheMathemagician Aug 11 '17 at 13:40
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    Yes, it happens, but you really shouldn't worry about it. If the device is highly valuable, take it as a carry on. For clarity, theft can occur anywhere, not just TSA. – Johns-305 Aug 11 '17 at 13:45
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I've heard that this happens frequently with the TSA in the United States

You may have heard wrong. In 2014 the US airport with most TSA complaints filed was JFK in New York with 891 complaints. In the same year the airport handled 53.3 million customers. It's also fair to assume that not all claims are based on a real event (since it's an easy way to make a quick buck) and the TSA accepts roughly 1/3 of all claims.

I don't think this qualifies as "frequent" as the chances of an incident much less than 1 in 100000. It's often covered in the media in a sensationalist way but only since it makes a good story, not because there is a lot of substance to it. I travel between 100k and 200k miles a year and never had a problem.

Of all the travel threats to your valuable electronics, security screening is a minor one.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Aug 12 '17 at 8:54
  • This answer makes the unstated assumption that all thefts are reported. Is this assumption based on any concrete evidence? Otherwise, the numbers in this answer can only be treated as a lower bound, and the real numbers could be much higher. – E.P. Aug 12 '17 at 21:27
  • On another track, comparing complaints to passengers is comparing apples to oranges, as not all passengers check bags. Unless the number of passengers can be substituted for the number of checked bags processed, the "chances" reported in this answer are utterly meaningless. – E.P. Aug 12 '17 at 21:28
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It has little to do with the payment level of the country, but with what they get away with.

In the US, the urban knowledge is that laptops, iPads, etc. get nearly always stolen. That might or might not be true, but our company policy is to never put such electronics in the luggage, and never accept a forced checking of your carry-on at the boarding (we are asked to miss the flight if they try to force us). That implies to me that they see a major risk.

There is little you can do as the transport regulations allow them to walk away without legal consequences (you can't sue them or send police). The airlines just reimburse you 20 $ per pound (the maximum), and everyone has learned to live with it. The employees know that of course, and are well aware that it is basically risk-free for them to steal.

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    The $20/pound rule was abolished by the Montréal Convention in 1999. On an international itinerary, the operating airline is now strictly liable up to about $1500 for damage or loss to checked baggage. But you'll never get that unless you actually sue them. – Calchas Aug 11 '17 at 10:25
  • Aren't you not even allowed to check them now, since they almost universally contain lithium ion batteries? – March Ho Aug 11 '17 at 12:32
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    "In the US, the urban knowledge is that laptops, iPads, etc. get nearly always stolen." Not in my urban knowledge. I almost always carry my laptop with me too, but for me, and probably your company, it's not that there's a high risk of it getting stolen, damaged, or lost. It's that in the unlikely event something does happen, the cost of the device and lost data makes it worth the hassle of carrying it with me. For your company, the cost of having proprietary data go missing even once is high enough to outweigh a few missed flights. – David K Aug 11 '17 at 13:07
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    Do you have any data to back this "urban knowledge"? I've never once heard that electronics are "nearly always stolen". – FreeMan Aug 11 '17 at 15:02
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    @DavidK For your company, the cost of having proprietary data go missing even once is high enough to outweigh a few missed flights. If this is from a security standpoint, this is incorrect. The value of the loss should be equal to the value of the hardware + a bit for the cost of getting a backup back. None of the data should be recoverable from the laptop. This of course implies several other security measures (passwords, certificates, encryption, ...) which are there to protect the data. From an inconvenience perspective - yes (one needs to order a laptop, image it etc) – WoJ Aug 11 '17 at 15:08
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I have travelled a lot over the years by a variety of means: trains, planes, busses, boats, etc. Also, many locations: Europe, North American, and Asia. I have suffered a few thefts but none were during flights. The most transport related one was while buying a train ticket in Calcutta (as it was called when I was there).

However, I adopt the policy suggested by Zozor: don't check anything very valuable. So, maybe I have not had stuff stolen from my baggage because I am lucky, because I have only encountered honest airline staff, or because there was never anything worth stealing.

I don't even bother locking my checked in baggage. Since there is nothing very valuable there, I would prefer that someone looked without damaging the case rather than slashed or otherwise forced it open.

Edit (I amended that last line since I just fear that my bag could be slashed by a thief, I don't know actual incident of this happening).

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    Actually, the US law forces you to use a lock that officers can open, or otherwise they are allowed to break the lock. – sawa Aug 11 '17 at 11:36
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    @sawa So, are there special locks that can be opened by officers but not thieves? Even if there are, my thoughts are that if a thief sees a tough lock then he will probably just slash the bag or break it open in some other way. So, the consequences may be worse than if he opened it easily. – badjohn Aug 11 '17 at 12:24
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    @badjohn that’s the idea but the keys are readily available online. – Tim Aug 11 '17 at 13:05
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    It's a similar concept to driving a soft-top convertible - leave the doors unlocked & nothing of value inside. It's cheaper to have them open the door, look around and find nothing than slash the top, look around and find nothing. – FreeMan Aug 11 '17 at 15:04
  • @FreeMan As it happens, I drive a soft-top convertible. – badjohn Aug 11 '17 at 15:43

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