In a time where everyone has something terrible to say about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), I am usually the “black sheep” who will stand up and defend this government organization.  Perhaps I am slightly biased because one of my best friends works for them or perhaps I am simply naive in thinking TSA's presence at airports DOES act as a deterrent to further acts of terrorism on planes.  Regardless, although this is not a TSA-bashing article (as so many are), I will say TSA is an organization comprised of imperfect human beings and because of this, someone at TSA messed up earlier this year while I was traveling.  The end result of this error was that my personal property was damaged.

When I first discovered my property was damaged, I knew immediately the culprit could be none other than someone from TSA.  In the following step-by-step guide, I will lay out the process for making a claim against TSA.  In my case, justice was served.  After a lot of patience, I was granted the full amount needed to replace the damaged item and I am completely satisfied with the end result.

No one is perfect and I’m a forgiving person.  At the same time, when the government screws up, it’s nice to know they will at least reimburse you for the damages.

Safe flying!
Jenn Grahams

Step 1: Determine the Appropriate Action

Your stuff was damaged during transit within the United States and you are rightfully upset about it, but who should you blame? 

A few questions you should ask yourself are:

  • Did the damage to your property happen within your sight? 
  • Is it possible the damage occurred during the packing process or while you were traveling to or from the airport? 
  • Was the property within a checked bag and perhaps the fault of an airline, not TSA?

For the purposes of this Step-By-Step guide, I will be discussing damage rendered to checked baggageIn most cases, lost or damaged baggage will be the fault of the airline on which you were traveling.  For these claims, it is important to contact the airline directly via their website or Customer Service phone number to begin the claim process with them.

You should only file a claim against TSA (instead of the airline) if you have a strong reason and supporting evidence to support your claim.

Making a false claim against TSA and/or using fraudulent evidence in a TSA-related claim could result in a personal fine upwards of $5,000 and possibly even land in you jail for up to 5 years!

In my case, it was perfectly clear TSA was the appropriate authority to which I should submit my claim because the evidence pointed to negligence from a TSA employee, NOT an airline employee.

If / when you decide that making a claim against TSA is appropriate, you have 2 years from the date of incident to make your claim, but don't be a slacker!  Act quickly while you still have the evidence you need to make a claim!

Step 2: Gather Information and Evidence for Your Claim

Per the Transportation Security Administration's claims website:
"Provide as much detail as possible including receipts, appraisals and flight information to avoid delays [in processing your claim]."

Here is a list the data I needed in my claim for damages made to my checked baggage:
  • Personal Contact Information (Name, Address, Phone Number, Email, Marital Status, Birth Date)
  • Date of Incident
  • Time of Incident
  • Travel Itinerary Information (Airline Names, Flight Numbers, Flight Times)
  • Description of Damaged Item
  • Value of Damaged Item (Include original purchase receipt or appraisal if at all possible!)
  • Description of the Damage
  • Cost of Replacing / Repairing Damaged Item (Research it! Provide Quotes!)
  • Checked Baggage Tag Number / Tracking Sticker Used By Airlines
  • Witness / Travel Companion Information
  • "Basis of Claim" (More Info Provided Step 3!)
Here is a list of the photographic evidence I used for my claim:
  • Photo of Baggage Tag Number
  • Photo of Damages to Property
  • Photo to the Item's Packaging / Bag Used to Transport Item (including TSA inspection notices)

Step 3: Writing Your Claim

Download a copy of the PDF titled "Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Claims Management Branch Tort Claim Package".

At the time of this article, it could be found HERE on the TSA Claims webpage.

Using the information you gathered above, filling out the form should be painless and easy.  Simply insert your information into the appropriate boxes.

When you've finished with the easy portions, take some serious time to address the following sections:
PAGE 2, SECTION 25. -- Why do you believe that TSA was Responsible?

These sections are probably the most important determining factor on whether your claim will be accepted or denied.  It's important that you include concise and clear descriptions for both!  Use facts, not emotions when writing.  Describe, do not rant.  You are probably upset about the damages, but the bureaucrat reading this form doesn't care.  Think of this as a court case.  You are your own lawyer so be level-headed and stick to writing as objectively as possible.

In the BASIS OF CLAIM, describe exactly what happened.  Describe when you last inspected your property before travel.  Mention who else (if anyone) also came in contact with the property.  Indicate how you packaged your item for travel.  Include when and where your property came in contact with TSA employees.  Indicate when you first noticed your property was damaged. (You can describe HOW it was damaged in a different section.)  Describe what steps, if any, you took to contact the airlines about the problem.  When filling this form out on the computer, this section is restricted to 1,100 characters including spaces!

Here is a small sample of what I included in my claim:
"On [DATE], the night prior to travel, I packed a brand new Lori Greiner Tabletop Spinning Mirrored Jewelry Safekeeper into a large suitcase.  The jewelry box was removed from its original packaging and a few soft items were packed inside of it.  At this time the jewelry box appeared to be in factory condition; the blue tape across the mirrors was not removed.  The jewelry box was then reinserted into its ORIGINAL packaging (a cardboard box with custom-fitted Styrofoam inserts).  I packed three more boxes around the jewelry box’s packaging so that its cardboard box would not jostle during transport.  I added another layer of Styrofoam on top (see photo).  On [DATE] I checked my bag with [AIRLINE] at the [CITY] Airport.  On [DATE], I unpacked my bag at home.  Upon opening the bag, everything appeared to be intact.  The exterior packaging showed no sign of jostling, denting, or damage; however, the jewelry box itself had a crack in the mirror which was not there when it was packed. 
I found TSA Notice of Baggage Inspection Forms both OUTSIDE and INSIDE the jewelry box (see photos)."

Your BASIS OF CLAIM will be stronger if you can support it with photos.  Here are a few of the photos I included in my claim.  (I was fortunate I noticed the problem immediately after unpacking and was able to photograph how my item was packaged in the checked bag!)

In SECTION 25, you are asked to answer the question, "Why do you believe that TSA was Responsible?" In this section you are allowed (at last!) to give your own opinion concerning the incident.  Try to remain civil in your accusations, but it is appropriate to finally reveal your opinion on how you think someone at TSA really screwed you over.

Here is what I wrote for this section:
As per my BASIS OF CLAIM description, the jewelry box’s mirror was undamaged at the time of packing.  Upon unpacking the checked bag, there was no sign of baggage jostling or “rough handling” of the bag’s contents as everything including the layer of Styrofoam was still in place.  Inside the cardboard box, however, the jewelry box was somehow damaged. A TSA Notice of Baggage Inspection Form was INSIDE the jewelry box, indicating that the item had been removed from its original packaging and handled by TSA.  It my belief that during the TSA inspection, something hit or bumped the jewelry box’s exterior mirror, resulting in the half-moon crack on the mirror’s surface."

Step 4: Send Your Claim and Get Ready to Wait

There are 3 methods to deliver your completed Tort Claim Package to the TSA's Claims Management Office.  Your choices are:
  • E-mail
  • Fax
  • Snail Mail

Please check the TSA's website or look at the bottom of the PDF Tort Claim Package to find the most updated addresses and fax numbers for your claim!

At the time I made my claim, the E-MAIL option was not available and there was a longer wait for snail mail so I went to my local library and used their fax machine to send in my paperwork.  Today, email will certainly be the fastest way to process these claims.  Nevertheless, prepare for a wait!  It can take up to 6 months to complete the claim process!  Once you've received a status claim number in the mail, you can track your claim's process by clicking the "Check Claim Status" on TSA's website.

For me, the long process was worth the wait.  After several months of patiently waiting, I received this letter in the mail, indicating my claim would be made in full.

Step 5: Getting Your Payment

The Last Step:
At the time I made my claim, there was ONE ADDITIONAL STEP to the claims process.  I had to sign a letter saying that I wished to collect my reimbursement funds and indicate how I wanted the funds to be delivered.  If I had not responded, I would not have received my reimbursement!

Although TSA has recently updated its claims process, I am fairly certain this last step still applies.  You will be required to provide the TSA with information regarding how you wish to be paid.  Thus, it's important to pay close attention to any follow-up information you receive from TSA and make sure to respond in a timely manner so that your efforts do not go to waste!

I hope you found this helpful!  Have a question?  Write me in the comments below and I will try my best to help!  Good luck and safe flying from your favorite flight attendant, Jenn Grahams.

Autumn is fast approaching.  We've had a few frosty mornings in my hometown and as a result, a little mouse was devious enough to break into our home in search of warmth and food!  Late one night when we were about to put the chinchillas to bed, my husband glimpsed something scurrying across the carpet and into the pantry.  I'm sure the chinchillas would have loved having a fellow rodent as a playmate (and I wonder if perhaps if the mouse had made nightly visits before!), but we needed to catch the little guy and get him out of our home!  Doing so proved quite the challenge.  Here is a video of the exciting mouse hunt!

~Jenn Grahams

    Jenn Grahams

    is a flight attendant and an aspiring writer.  She lives in the Midwest with her husband, many pet fish, and two chinchillas named Kuzco and Pancho.

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