TSA airport security in the USA: They broke my zip and allowed my bag to travel open on flights

Travelling from the small airport of Eugene in Oregon, US, to Melbourne via LAX, I was about to step on the plane when the woman who had checked me in earlier waved me down.

"I just wanted to tell you that the TSA (Transport Security Administration) had to examine your bag and they couldn't zip it up again, so they had to tape it up."

I had taken very special care to pack my bags as I had made numerous, and breakable, purchases in Oregon and this was the last thing I wanted to hear.

But the attendant assured me everything was fine. "Nothing will fall out of it, it's all taped up," she said, rather too jovially.

As a double whammy my bags had been checked all the way through to Melbourne. An attendant on board the flight told me that I could ask to inspect the bag at LAX, but when I got off the flight a staff member from American Airlines brushed me off and directed me to Qantas.

I had to make an epic trek to Tom Bradley terminal, then on to the gate currently checking people in to the next Qantas flight before I was able to speak to anyone who could help.

They told me they'd put a note in the system for my bag to be pulled out for inspection. I had to return to the check in gate at 8pm. It then took them nearly two hours to get my bag to me - and my flight left at 10.10pm.

When my bag arrived my heart sank. My 20-year-old, unlocked Macpac, whose zip had never showed any signs of breaking under frequent pressure from zealous overseas shopping expeditions, was completely busted. The midsection was taped up with TSA tape, however, no effort had been made to seal the top section of the bag, leaving it wide open with clothing and other items exposed to the elements.

The TSA thought this was an acceptable solution after breaking the zipper on a backpack.

The TSA thought this was an acceptable solution after breaking the zipper on a backpack. Photo: Kylie McLaughlin


I grabbed the few items I could with what little time I had left and then Qantas staff put the destroyed backpack into two heavy duty plastic bags. The staff members assured me it would not go through another TSA inspection as it was already covered with the (notorious) transport authority's inspection tape.

But with 20 minutes left before my flight departed, I did not have high hopes my bag would make it onto the flight. And sure enough when I landed at Melbourne Airport, I was informed that my bag had gone through yet another TSA inspection at LAX after I left it, forcing it to be transported on the next available flight (to Brisbane).

It took about 12 hours to arrive in Melbourne and given it had been handled by an additional two sets of baggage handlers and a courier, I didn't have high hopes of much of it being left.

However, when it arrived, I made the discovery that although the bag was destined for the garbage, most of the items inside had somehow survived. On quick count I had only lost a couple of random socks, underwear, paperwork, and a bottle had broken (but three others had survived).

Not too bad, all in all, for a bag that went through four flights, two TSA checks and a courier, open.

Why was my bag targeted twice? I was told that it was a can of alcohol that captured the attention of the TSA in Eugene, a small airport in Oregon, but Qantas staff at LAX told me that this was unlikely. Tin foil covering chocolate could also have been a culprit as it went through the screening process.

The TSA does not physically inspect most luggage, but if it does, it will place a notice inside your bag. If your luggage is damaged, you can file a claim with them.

If you are travelling to the USA you are advised not to lock your bags or purchase a TSA approved lock which prevents them from having to break yours, and subsequently, your bags.

Kylie McLaughlin travelled as a guest of Travel Portland and Travel Oregon.

See also: The truth behind baggage theft in airports and on planes

See also: How Emirates, Qatar are getting around the US laptop ban

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