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Keep valuables on flight when traveling this holiday

Airplane travelers could find themselves victims of holiday grinches, if they don’t use caution when flying with expensive items.

Officials from area airports and the Transportation Security Administration advise passengers to keep items like cash, jewelry and electronics with them instead of hiding them within checked luggage that is going to be handled by strangers.

Airport thefts are cause for concern, especially in light of the heavy traffic that will be flowing through airports across the country during this holiday season.

AAA predicts that approximately 192,000 Ohioans and 5.5 million Americans are expected to fly today through Jan. 1, according to Cindy Antrican, spokeswoman for AAA.

But if something does come up missing, area airports appear to be prepared.

“We have surveillance cameras throughout the entire airport and we can always go back and look through cameras,” said Linda Hughes, the air service coordinator for the Dayton International Airport.

“We do have our own police force that monitors all of our operations on the 500 acres here,” said Jay Brock, spokesman for the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. “We have undercover as well as uniformed officers.”

Angie Tabor, spokeswoman for the Port Columbus International Airport, said customers need to be vigilant with their belongings.

“There was a (man) a couple of years ago who was arrested for stealing luggage off of a carousel,” Tabor said.

Hughes, Brock and Tabor all said customers should check with their airlines and airport police when they discover missing items.

Earlier this week, baggage handlers in New York were caught on camera stealing items from checked luggage stored in the plane, according to ABC News. And TSA agents were also caught stealing IPads and other electronics this month, according to the Associated Press.

It is unclear if these types of thefts have been discovered at an area airports because airline representatives in Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus either did not return this newspaper’s phone calls or would not disclose the number of theft complaints.

Matt Miller, spokesman for American Airlines, said their customers are encouraged to file a claim with the airline in the event that they are missing items from their checked luggage. Information on how to do so is found at the airline’s web site.

Hughes said customers should always check the airline’s policies about lost or damaged items. “Just look under their baggage policies. Many of the airlines are not liable for some really expensive-type things like electronics,” she said.

Miller said American, which uses surveillance cameras, keeps track of the number of theft complaints, but he declined to disclose that number. He also declined to disclose how many of the airline’s baggage handlers have been disciplined for theft-related incidents.

“We have an number of checks and balances in place to ensure that (theft) does not happen. We work closely with the airports and TSA to ensure that’s the case,” Miller said.

“Our employees are trained not to riffle through our customers belongings. It’s not in our business practice and it’s not good for customer relations,” said Dan Landson, spokesman for Southwest Airlines. “We take security very seriously. We do go through different training processes every year to make sure employees who handle baggage know exactly what not to do.”

Landson said Southwest keeps track of theft-related complaints, but he could not say how many the company has had this year. “We do track those complaints and we also track how those complaints are resolved.”

Ross Feinstein, press secretary for the Transportation Security Administration, said flyers often assume Transportation Security officers are responsible for items missing from luggage, but that is not true..

He added that when luggage is checked at the airline counter, it’s sent through TSA X-ray screening machine, which is a process that Feinstein said involves little to no human interaction. “If the system clears the bag automatically, the bag gets sent to the airline without any TSA involvement at all,” he said.

If there was an alert issued on a bag, there would be an X-ray image that would be sent to another location where TSA officials would have the opportunity to clear the bag remotely, Feinstein said.

“If the bag cannot be cleared via the officer looking at this screen at this point, then the bag is sent to the resolution room. These are resolution rooms where TSA officers open the bags themselves. They are under constant surveillance,” he added.

“Very small percentages of bags are opened by TSA,” Feinstein said. If your bag is opened, you will receive a note telling you that the bag has been inspected.

Once the luggage has gone through the TSA screening, it is then sent back in the possession of the airline.

TSA reports indicate that there were two TSA officers at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport between July of 2011 and August of 2013 and one TSA officer from the Port Columbus International Airport in 2009 fired for theft-related incidents. None have been reported in Dayton.

In the last 10 years, a total of 418 TSOs were terminated for theft of any kind. “This extremely small percentage does not reflect the dedication and professionalism of our workforce as a whole,” Feinstein said.

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