The Transportation Security Administration said Friday that it would pay an average of $110 to each of 15,000 airline passengers who claim their possessions were lost, stolen or damaged when their bags were screened for bombs and weapons. The TSA began inspecting all checked bags at the end of 2002, a security measure ordered by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The requirement created a chain of custody for checked bags that goes from the airline to the TSA back to the airline. Previously, the airlines had sole responsibility for checked bags.
Passengers have since been caught between the TSA and the airlines, which have failed to agree on who would compensate them for missing or damaged items. Two dozen screeners in Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, New York and Spokane, Wash., have been charged with stealing from checked bags.
TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said that the agency took the initiative to come up with an agreement but that the airlines thwarted the effort.
"We still believe there's a way to divide this responsibility with the airlines," Hatfield said.
"But until that agreement is met," he said, "passengers deserve satisfaction on their claims. So we will move unilaterally to settle their claims. It's time to get through the backlog."
Air Transport Association spokesman Jack Evans said the airline group was disappointed that an agreement couldn't be reached.
"At this point, it looks like we can only urge the government to settle these claims as quickly and expeditiously as possible with our customers," Evans said.
The TSA has settled 1,800 claims in the past 22 months. Now it will pay a total of $1.5 million to another 15,000 of 18,000 travelers whose claims have been settled.
Hatfield said 38 percent would be fully reimbursed, 32 percent would get half what they claimed and 12 percent would receive less than half.
Three thousand people will not be reimbursed because the missing items were either prohibited or didn't belong to them in the first place.
Air Travelers Association President David Stempler said that he had been flooded with passenger complaints about missing or damaged possessions but that many people don't even bother to make claims anymore because the process is so slow.
"A lot of people," he said, "are just throwing up their hands."