How to Handle Theft From Luggage
Most baggage handlers and hotel staff are trustworthy, but your baggage can pass through the hands of a few dishonest folks during any trip. Your luggage can also be in danger from the sticky fingers of your fellow passengers and passersby. If you discover the theft quickly, you might have some recourse, but the longer it takes you to notice something is missing the smaller your chances are of recovering your belongings.
Call the main number of the airports or bus or train stations through which you traveled. Ask to be connected to the lost and found department to ensure your items weren't simply misplaced.
Call the police once you're sure something has been stolen. Explain what's missing and where your bag has been. Ask for a copy of the police report. The police probably won't be able to do anything about your missing belongings, but the Transportation Security Administration or your hotel might request a copy of a police report before doing anything about your claim. If something is stolen by a fellow traveler or while you're walking around town, filing a police report is your option.
Dial the main number for each train or bus station or airport you passed through and ask for the law enforcement or security office. Ask to file a stolen goods report. Unless you're sure something was stolen midtrip, file reports at your departure and arrival airports or stations. Security officers might notice trends in theft reports and be able to track down repeat offenders.
File a claim with the TSA. Look inside your checked luggage for a piece of paper that states the TSA inspected your bag by hand; whenever agents have to open the bag, they're required to put this paper inside. Mention that you found this note when you fill out your claim, because it is proof that agents opened your bag and could have stolen something. You still can file a claim even if you didn't find this paper. Visit TSA.gov and click on "For Travelers," then "Claims Management Branch." Click on "Forms," then download, print and fill out the PDF "Claim Package" form. Mail or fax the completed form to the TSA; you'll find contact information on the form.
File a claim with your airline. Call the customer service number and ask calmly what you can do about a missing item. Each airline has its own policies, but expect to fill out a claim form and wait several weeks before hearing from a representative.
Ask to speak to the hotel manager in private as soon as you find something missing from your room. Ask him to recover your missing belongings. Next, send a letter to the hotel's headquarters. If the manager got your belongings back from other staff, tell the company what happened and how the manager handled it. If your things are still missing, explain what was taken and what its value was, and explain firmly that you expect to be reimbursed for the full cost.
Sixteen American airports are serviced by independent screening companies rather than by the TSA. If you've traveled through one of these airports and are missing an item, you must file a claim with the company. Find a list of airports and contact information in the "Forms" section of TSA.gov.
Take steps to prevent theft from happening at all. Lock every compartment of your bags with TSA-friendly locks. When you're checking baggage, make your bags stand out by tying colorful ribbons to the handles; thieves tend to choose bags that blend into the crowd. Keep all electronics, jewelry and money in your carry-on bag.
When you're walking around town, stow your passport and money in a money belt under your clothes -- never in your pockets -- and keep the rest of your belongings in a zippered bag that you can carry in front of your body, where you can't watch it.
In the hotel, store anything valuable or sentimental in the room safe. If your room doesn't have a safe, call the front desk to ask if the hotel has any portable safes you can use.
Buying travel insurance can also be useful if you're traveling with valuables. If anything is lost or stolen, your insurance company should reimburse you for at least part of the value of your missing belongings.