Passengers file complaints against TSA agents at Tri-Cities Airport

BLOUNTVILLE, TN (WJHL) – Transportation Security Administration agents are supposed to protect passengers and others when traveling, but some people who fly in and out of Tri-Cities Airport complained about the way TSA treated them and their belongings.

A years’ worth of TSA complaints, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, identified 40 complaints, most alleging missing or damaged personal belongings at Tri-Cities Airport. However, some people alleged other issues.

One woman pledged to never fly again after she claimed a TSA agent touched her private areas multiple times in April 2016, humiliating her in the process. TSA responded to the claim of an extremely invasive pat down through its local customer service liaison, according to TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz.

“(The liaison) explained that for the security of all travelers, thorough pat downs such as this one are routinely conducted by TSA Officers,” Koshetz said. “It was explained to the passenger that, depending on the location of the alarm, a pat down may include sensitive areas.”

In another instance, in August 2016, a parent said a 4-year-old daughter found a box cutter inside her checked suitcase.

“After using a box cutter in the performance of duties to open a sealed item for standard inspection; a TSA Officer inadvertently set the box cutter down but still inside a checked bag while continuing to search other areas of the luggage,” Koshetz said. “The responsible Officer received corrective action for the incident. The Customer Service liaison apologized to the passenger for the misstep via phone conversation. While this was potentially a safety issue, TSA took responsibility for the error and it should be noted that this happened in checked baggage where box cutters are permitted to be used by TSA Officers in the course of screening duties.”

From October 31, 2015 through October 31, 2016, other passengers filed complaints about damage inside their suitcases and missing items, including missing underwear, pills, jewelry and even a bible. Koshetz says TSA investigated those cases and closed each as either “not supported by evidence” or “not a credible case.” However, according to recent federal data, some damaged or missing item claims remain under review. TSA denied two from last year and paid out two others, according to federal records. Dating back to 2002, federal records show TSA has paid or settled roughly $11,000 worth of claims at Tri-Cities Airport linked to dozens of claims.

Koshetz says all of the agency’s screening operations are covered by security cameras and that video is reviewed in every case. She added TSA has possession of checked bags for a relatively short period of time and said at Tri-Cities Airport TSA receives far more compliments than complaints.

“Our customer service staff member does a professional job of working each case and contacts each passenger,” she said. “Researching data since 2008, we have never had a substantiated case of theft by one of our employees at TRI…Most complaints are proven false or unfounded. No claims of theft were founded. Accidental damage claims have been paid. Often passengers get back to us and tell us they found the item at home or in their car.”

Koshetz says TSA holds it employees to “the highest professional and ethical standards” and practices a zero tolerance policy when it comes to workplace misconduct. She said out of nearly two million passengers and roughly 5.6 million pieces of luggage that go through security screenings nationwide every day, roughly 40 claims are filed daily.

“The actions of a few individuals in no way reflect on the outstanding job our more than 42,000 security officers do every day to ensure the security of the traveling public,” she said. “TSA security officers comprise a professional workforce that is trained to treat passengers and their personal belongings with care.”

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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