Man Tracks Down And Gets Prosecuted Baggage Handler Who Stole His Camera, Delta Still Won't Refund

Delta won’t refund Charles’ money after his camera was stolen from his luggage by a baggage checker, even after he tracked the camera down on eBay and got the thief fired, arrested, and prosecuted.

Delta’s position is that, “We must respectfully deny your request for a full refund of your trip since travel did commence.”

Using that rationale, it wouldn’t matter if a stewardess stabbed you repeatedly in the chest and barfed on your wounds. As long as you got to where you were going, everything is copasetic.

The theft occurred in August of 2005, and Charles is still trying to pry a refund from Delta’s mangy paws.

Inside, find a treasure trove of documentation, showing his correspondence with Delta, the TSA, Port Authority police services, the New Jersey prosecutor’s office, and the winning bidder on his camera on eBay…

Charles writes:

In August, 2005 I flew on Delta airlines from Newark, NJ to Springfield, MO. I was visiting family, and brought along my $250 Fuji Digital Camera, stupidly placing it in my checked luggage. When I arrived, the camera was gone. Thinking I had simply forgotten it, I enjoyed my vacation and then returned home to New York. Only the camera wasn’t in my apartment.

I hopelessly called Delta, who told me they weren’t liable for a thing. They said I could file a formal complaint to show to my insurance company, which I soon learned had a $250 deductible. (D’oh.) I knew someone had taken the camera from my suitcase, so I filed a complaint with the Transportation Security Administration. (TSA)

In a last ditch effort, I also checked on Ebay. I was surprised to find a camera with no case, no box, no instructions, and a 512mb memory card like mine, that had been auctioned the day after my outgoing flight. The “seller location” was listed as “God Bless America.” I contacted the winning bidder and explained my situation, describing some minor scratches on the camera LCD that he could use to distinguish it. He hadn’t received it yet, but promised to take a close look when it came. A week or two later, he emailed me and asked if I had the serial number. When I sent it to him, he recommended I call the police. Still unsure of which police department to contact, as I had a brief layover in Cincinnati, I asked him for the return address on the package, and he sent it along.

With a Jersey City address in hand, I contacted the Port Authority Police Investigation Unit and explained what had happened so far. The helpful detectives opened an investigation, but it moved slowly, understandably given their priorities and the fact that they had to buy it back from the winning bidder on Ebay. After months of persistent follow-up, I learned that a Delta employee had confessed to taking my camera. He had been arrested and fired, and I would have to wait until after his court date to retrieve my property. In December 2005, I borrowed a car, drove to Newark, and got the camera back. It had taken 8 months.

Now given that there was conclusive court room evidence that a Delta employee had stolen from me, given the amount of trouble and time it took to regain my camera, given the fact that I undoubtedly performed a service for Delta, who discovered and removed an employee who was stealing from their customers, I figured I was entitled to some form of compensation. Ideally, I felt I deserved a refund for my $600 trip, but I would have gladly accepted a voucher or two for a free flight. At the very least, a sincere apology, thank you, and discount on my next fare. Delta wouldn’t give me a thing. I tried several times to work my way up the chain of their 800 number with zero success. I wrote the obligatory angry letter and received a firm denial. I called their public relations office and threatened to go viral. The response: do whatever you want. We don’t care at all.

One other relevant detail. This was by no means an isolated incident. When I went to the auction history of the seller (which would have been another good thing to save), there were at least a half dozen auctions. The most recent was for a cell phone and charger, no documentation, box, etc. This guy had clearly made a habit of this, although the account was actually in his wife’s name. The police got him to confess by threatening to bring charges against her.

Itinerary Aug 13 2005

Emails with TSA Claims

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Lau, Francis <[redacted]>
Date: Oct 4, 2005 11:52 AM
Subject: Your TSA Claim #200XXXXXXXXXX
To: [redacted]

Mr. Charles M,

Thank you for the fax. I have received both pages. The repair receipt and the credit card statements are not necessary. The main objective is to verify your purchase. I will be sending your claim for a review in the coming week. It will take 4-8 weeks before a decision is made. You will be notified via the mail when a decision is reached. You can track your claim status by visiting: Thank you.

Francis O. Lau, Claims Examiner
TSA Claims Management Office
(w) 571.[redacted]
(fax) 571.[redacted]

On 10/4/05, Lau, Francis <[redacted] > wrote:

Mr. Charles M,

One more question, please explain why you think TSA is responsible for the missing camera.

Francis O. Lau, Claims Examiner
TSA Claims Management Office
(w) 571.[redacted]
(fax) 571.[redacted]

—–Original Message—–
From: Charles M [mailto: [redacted]]
Sent: Tuesday, October 04, 2005 1:23 PM
To: Lau, Francis
Subject: Re: Your TSA Claim #200XXXXXXXXXX

Mr. Lau:

Thank you for your help with my claim so far. The reason I filed a claim with TSA about the camera is that I am sure it was stolen from a checked suitcase, although I don’t know for sure who was responsible.

On August 13th, at 7:05am, I began a trip from Newark, NJ to Springfield, MO. I flew on Delta Flight 5771 to Cincinnatti, and then on Delta Flight 5184 to Springfield. When I arrived at my destination, the camera which had been packed into my checked bag was gone.

Although I was almost certain I had packed the camera, I waited until returning home to file a claim and report, in case I had left it at my residence. When I failed to find the camera in my apartment, I called Delta to file a report, and filed a report with TSA.

I also began looking on Ebay for a camera that might be a possible match. I quickly located a potential match (with no battery charger, documentation, a 512mb memory card), and contacted the buyer as the auction had already ended. After some correspondence with the buyer, that included sending him the serial number, he suggested I contact the police. This leads me to believe that he did in fact, purchase my stolen camera.

The buyer provided me with as much information as he had about the seller, and based on that information, I filed a police report with Detective Pat Earley of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department. He is currently doing an investigation, and you can contact him at 973-[redacted] for more information.

Thank you again for your help, and please feel free to contact me if you require any clarification or other documents.


Charles M

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Lau, Francis <[redacted]>
Date: Oct 4, 2005 12:27 PM
Subject: RE: Your TSA Claim #200xxxxXXXXXX
To: Charles M <[redacted]>

Mr. Charles M,

After reading your e-mail, I cannot help but to admire your creative thinking. I will contact the police to see if the seller works at the airport, and/or if the person is employed by TSA. Thank you very much.

Francis O. Lau, Claims Examiner
TSA Claims Management Office
(w) 571.[redacted]
(fax) 571.[redacted]

On 10/5/05, Lau, Francis <[redacted] > wrote:

Mr. Charles M,

I spoke with Det. Pat Earley this morning. His investigation cleared TSA from any wrongdoing. Details you will have to receive from Det. Earley. Hence, your claim with TSA will be denied.

A side note: your investigative skills are admirable. I even told Det. Earley that you would be a great addition to any investigative arms of the law. Thank you very much for your help, Mr. My. Have a nice day.

Francis O. Lau, Claims Examiner
TSA Claims Management Office
(w) 571.[redacted]
(fax) 571.[redacted]

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Charles M <[redacted]>
Date: Oct 5, 2005 9:21 AM
Subject: Re: Your TSA Claim #200xxxxxxxxxx
To: “Lau, Francis” <[redacted[>

Mr. Lau:

Thanks for your help and kind words. I hope to get the camera back soon, although I’m sure that since it’s evidence it may take a while. I’m still a little shocked that I was actually able to find it, but hopefully catching the theif will keep anyone else from having to go through this.

Charles M

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Lau, Francis <[redacted] >
Date: Oct 5, 2005 9:24 AM
Subject: RE: Your TSA Claim #200xxxxxxxxxx
To: Charles M <[redacted]>

Mr. Charles M

Det. Earley is going to retrieve the camera, but it will be used as evidence until the case is over. You have a nice day.

Francis O. Lau, Claims Examiner
TSA Claims Management Office
(w) 571.[redacted[
(fax) 571.[redacted]

—–Original Message—–
From: Charles M [mailto: redacted
Sent: Monday, November 28, 2005 11:50 AM
To: caliborn@[redacted]
Subject: Camera Reward

Today I was able to speak with Detective Earley and he informed me that the police have the camera and an arrest has been made. I would like to make good on my promise of a reward for helping me resolve this issue.

With your permission, I’ll send you the money via Paypal, so please send me your Paypal Account name in order to receive your reward. Thanks again.

From: “Caliborn” < caliborn@[redacted]>
Subject: RE: Camera Reward
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2005 18:10:34 -0500

That’s very generous of you. I’m glad that Earley finally was able to move on the prosecution. Makes you wonder how much is on eBay that is also stolen.

My Paypal account is : caliborn@[redacted]

December 16, 2005

Delta Airlines, Inc.
P.O. Box 20706
Atlanta, GA 30320-6001

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am contacting you regarding a flight I took on your airline in August, 2005. While flying from Newark International Airport to Springfield, Missouri via Cincinnatti, I had an expensive digital camera stolen from my checked suitcase. I contacted your customer service department shortly after returning from my trip and was told that Delta is not liable for any lost property.

I now have definitive proof that my camera was taken by a Delta employee who has since confessed to his crime, been arrested, and fired. I know this because I found my camera being sold on Ebay, and contacted the buyer to verify the serial number. I then contacted the police, who conducted an investigation resulting in the arrest and termination of the employee.

I am writing to request a full refund for the cost of my trip, in the amount of $585.00, or else I will be forced to pursue other means to make me whole, such as litigation and public media exposure. In addition to the fact that I was unable to use my camera while on vacation, an extreme inconvenience, I also spent considerable time and effort tracking down my property and the thief who had taken it. I had to file multiple reports, engage in extensive web searches and email correspondence, and borrow a vehicle to drive to Newark Airport in order to recover my property. The result of my actions benefits your company directly, as you have been able to remove an employee who was stealing from your customers. It has caused me a great deal of trouble, as during a four-month span from August through December, I was deprived of my property on dozens of occasions during which it would have been useful.

My initial attempts to secure compensation from your ticket refund and lost baggage departments have been met not with apologies and gratitude, but with derision and stonewalling. I am extremely angry that I was unable to speak with or even secure the name of someone who had the authority to rectify this heinous situation. If I do not receive a prompt and satisfactory response to this letter, I will pursue legal action and contact the media about your remarkable lack of basic responsibility to your customers. I have already had an offer from a columnist at the New York Metro, which averages 850,000 daily readers, to publish this story. I also have access to a blog with thousands of daily readers. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.


Charles M

Letter from the prosecutor’s office

Letter from Port Authority

Letter from Delta

Letter from prosecutor’s office

February 6, 2007
Delta Airlines, Inc.
P.O. Box 20706
Atlanta, GA 30320-6001
Dear Sir or Madam:

I am contacting you regarding a flight I took on your airline in August, 2005. While flying from Newark International Airport to Springfield, Missouri via Cincinnatti, I had an expensive digital camera stolen from my checked suitcase. I contacted your customer service department shortly after returning from my trip and was told that Delta is not liable for any lost property.

I now have definitive proof that my camera was taken by a Delta employee who has since confessed to his crime, been arrested, and fired. I know this because I found my camera being sold on Ebay, and contacted the buyer to verify the serial number. I then contacted the police, who conducted an investigation resulting in the arrest and termination of the employee.

I am writing to request a full refund for the cost of my trip, in the amount of $585.00, or else I will be forced to pursue other means to make me whole, such as litigation and public media exposure. In addition to the fact that I was unable to use my camera while on vacation, an extreme inconvenience, I also spent considerable time and effort tracking down my property and the thief who had taken it. I had to file multiple reports, engage in extensive web searches and email correspondence, and borrow a vehicle to drive to Newark Airport in order to recover my property. The result of my actions benefits your company directly, as you have been able to remove an employee who was stealing from your customers. It has caused me a great deal of trouble, as during a four-month span from August through December, I was deprived of my property on dozens of occasions during which it would have been useful.

My initial attempts to secure compensation from your ticket refund and lost baggage departments have been met not with apologies and gratitude, but with derision and stonewalling. I am extremely angry that I was unable to speak with or even secure the name of someone who had the authority to rectify this heinous situation. If I do not receive a prompt and satisfactory response to this letter, I will pursue legal action and contact the media about your remarkable lack of basic responsibility to your customers. I have already had an offer from a columnist at the New York Metro, which averages 850,000 daily readers, to publish this story. I also have access to a blog with thousands of daily readers. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Charles M



Edit Your Comment

  1. ack, the cookie monster ate my comment.

    as I was saying…

    They dont care, they’re bankrupt anyway.

    …morally and ethically bankrupt. (bada-bomp-ching)

  2. faust1200 says:

    The man in his letter says he deserves a refund because of his inconvenience of not being able take pictures on his trip and the time he lost by looking for his camera. Why does this “inconvenience” neatly equal the price of one ticket? Yeah he got screwed by a Delta employee but I think Delta doesn’t want to set a precedent by giving a refund because this guy had something stolen. I imagine this type of theft happens rather often. It would be nice if Delta gave him a ticket but unfortunately airlines cannot always afford to be nice. Yes I think he has some rights but I don’t think those rights entail automatic free ticket. If he wants recompense I believe the proper channel is through the court system where he can sue Delta for “suffering” Although, I doubt he would win.

  3. ultramalcolm says:

    1. Amazing documentation on this, a very thorough, interesting read.
    2. The fact that the camera was tracked down, as the TSA employee pointed out, is amazing.
    3. Letters from the TSA are shockingly informal.
    4. Refund of full ticket price? Questionable. Voucher or token apology from Delta? Expected.
    5. Eight months to get a $250 camera back? Sounds like a good excuse to upgrade.

  4. Keegan99 says:

    Buy a starter’s pistol. Put it in your bag. Declare that you have packed a firearm – and yes, starter’s pistols count. The bag will be given a special designation, permitted to be locked, and all personnel handling or opening the bag will be logged.

  5. cabinaero says:

    Was the baggage handler actually a Delta employee? Or were they a contractor? It makes a difference.

  6. cabinaero says:

    Don’t know if my other post took, but are you sure that the baggage handler was an employee of Delta? I dont see anything in your correspondence where it explicitly indicates the thief as a Delta employee. Many airlines contract out baggage services to third parties. If a subcontractor’s employee stole your camera, you can’t really hold Delta liable.

    Regardless, Delta doesn’t “owe” you anything. You were stupid, you were a bad consumer — you set yourself up for theft by checking expensive electronics instead of putting them in your carry-on. You might have an argument under Delta’s contract of carriage if you’d declared the camera equipment* but you didn’t.

    * You can check expensive items if they’re declared and if you pay extra for insurance. I went to mainland China with a pelican case full of VOIP phones that were about $400/each. They made it from Chicago to Hong Kong without incident.

  7. legotech says:

    For years we’ve been trained to keep our ‘scrip meds with us in case our luggage gets lost and not trust the our electronics to the checked luggage for “safety” but when everyone was forced to check our stuff during the last terror scare, tens of thousands of dollars of electronics went missing.

    Tells me that they hire crappy people and they know it and they just don’t care.

    “Yup, our luggage monkeys regularly steal from our customers, but we choose to do nothing. Thank you. Next customer please.”

    Once again, the security searches are on the wrong people. Aside from the theft issue, you know that the ground crews don’t go through TSA screening before they get near your aircraft? Think about that next time you are shuffling along in your stocking feet trying to keep your beltless pants from falling down while juggling your laptop. Oh, and don’t forget to dump our your water.


  8. Optimistic Prime says:

    You’re not going to get a refund on your flight, you got fram a to b. Now perhaps the best thing is to get them for punitive damages for not securing what you entrusted them with. Better yet, use FedEx the next time and pick it up at your hotel or the local station.

  9. Wow, interesting read. It doesn’t surprise me that they wouldn’t refund the purchase price, but… Given the circumstances, I’m surprised that they didn’t at least throw him a voucher for a free flight sometime in the future. That’s cheap compensation given the potential for bad press. And it’s not like he was some crackpot begging for a handout — the police verified his story, and Delta even acted on it by firing the employee.

  10. radiofree says:

    Regardless of whether the fired baggage handler was an employee of Delta or a subcontractor, Delta is the party responsible for getting the bags from point A to point B. So if I’m the person from whom the camera was stolen, I am asking Delta to take responsibility for its business practices.

    As for expecting a refund in full or in part, I don’t think this man is being unreasonable. Delta (not surprisingly) did a poor job of deliverying its services to this man. Yes, he was transported to his destination and back again, but not without being subject to a crime committed by the airline. Yes, the airline.

    As I see it, I hold the company responsible for the actions of its employees (whether on its payroll or on the payroll of a subcontractor).

  11. LTS! says:

    It needs to be hammered home that there is no proof the person who stole his camera worked for Delta and as such all inferences to such items should be withheld.

    The best you could hope for would be an apology.

    It should be noted that the TSA originally denied his requests as well. Something in the investigation removed responsibility from the TSA.

  12. Red_Eye says:

    Forgive me if this sounds stupid. But if the baggage environment is so insecure that a person can swipe things out of peoples bags and leave with it then how secure can it be? Security isn’t a one way street. Again this points to a gaping hole in our airport security. If a Delta employee can smuggle a camera out then he can smuggle in a parcel of the same size containing anything, drugs, explosives, firearms, etc..

  13. dayjayvw says:

    I’d take this right to the local news station consumer rights reporter. In Boston we have a field day with this type of news.

  14. Falconfire says:

    Even if it wasnt a airline employee, which it likely wasnt, its still the airlines duty to make restitutions to the person who paid for the trip, and get the money back out of the airport.

    In this case I think hes being reasonable. If Delta doesnt want to pay for a ticket, Delta shouldnt be working out of a airport (Newark) that hires former criminals on a regular basis.

  15. RandomHookup says:

    since travel did commence

    There’s a phrase straight out of the Bureaucratic Handbook. Are you sure this didn’t come from an insurance company?

  16. Pelagius says:

    He got what he paid for – a flight. Unfortunately that ticket no longer ensures your valuables get from point A to point B safely. It’s a harsh lesson, but one that’s certainly been aired in the public before. DO NOT PACK VALUABLES IN YOUR CHECKED LUGGAGE.

  17. phrygian says:

    Since the rules regarding what can be carried on a flight have become stricter and more uniformly enforced AND since we’re no longer allowed to fully secure checked baggage, I think that travelers have the right to assume that items in checked bags are not being pilfered — regardless of whether the contents are dirty socks or an expensive camera. It disgusts me that with all the money being funneled into “airport security”, there’s a giant lapse in the very thing that would make us all safer: integrity.

  18. Antediluvian says:

    I agree that while Delta should offer a nice thank you and perhaps a voucher, they owe this guy nothing more.

    Now, given the nature of the story, the intrigue, the ebay fraud, and the (surprisingly not excruciatingly painful) interaction w/ the TSA, I think the story is worthy of wider distribution. It’s got great human interest value.

    I think this guy’s approach was wrong, but I recognize I’m saying this from my perspective with the benefit of hindsight.

  19. mbressman says:

    It’s amazing that Delta is responding that way (amazing as in how utterly preposterous can one company be), but its no surprise given how unhelpful major corporations have become to their customers lately and how rigid their policies have become recently.

    However, I’d definitely try to at least go straight to the top of the company. Call their corporate headquarters (the # is 404-715-2600) or send them a letter (Corporate HQ: Delta Air Lines, Inc., P.O. Box 20706, Atlanta, Georgia 30320-6001) and let them know how unhappy you are as a customer and what you’d like them to do to rectify the situation.

    If that doesn’t work, then as a last ditch effort you might even want to consider suing them. I’m certainly no lawyer, but I imagine that airlines must have some sort of duty or standard of care when it comes to transporting other people’s possessions, and it is pretty obvious that Delta certainly failed in this duty (especially if this individual has stolen multiple times in the past, as his eBay history suggests). On top of everything else, Delta not only wouldn’t offer you any sort of compensation, but didn’t even lift a hand to assist you in tracking down one of their own employees who was stealing from customers. On the other hand, you spent numerous hours tracking the thief down, only to find out that it was a Delta employee. At the very least, Delta has a responsibility to ensure there are protections and safeguards in place to prevent this sort of abuse from occurring, and they obviously fall short in that area. I’d bet if you talk to an attorney, you might have a case against the airlines, and they might even fold pretty quickly after you brought legal action against them (although once again, I’m not an attorney and would advise you to speak with one before proceeding any further). Good luck!

  20. Mike_ says:

    I lock my bags with TSA-Approved Locks. They’re useless against a determined thief, but a casual pilferer will (hopefully) move on to lower hanging fruit. My expensive stuff always goes in the carry-on anyway.

    I’ve had my luggage opened by the TSA. They leave a note in the bag.

    Charles got his camera back, and the guy who stole it was fired and arrested. What else does Delta owe him? Probably nothing. However, it would certainly be nice if they treated him like they appreciate his business and regret his experience. Refusing to give him the time of day is not good customer service.

    You should probably avoid making threats in this kind of letter. You’re trying to win sympathy. When you say you’re going to alert the media and pursue legal action, you’re not helping yourself. Explain what happened. Tell them how much time and energy you have invested. Tell them you’re feeling like Delta does not appreciate its customers. Remind them you helped remove a criminal from their ranks. Suggest that a consumer might reasonably expect to be compensated with a refund or a voucher under these circumstances. You may have gotten somewhere.

  21. Papa K says:

    Have any of you ever *tried* talking to the TSA? I think they’re mostly high school grads anyways. Their informal-ness shouldn’t shock you.

    Also, I read about packing a *starter pistol* with anything valuable to insure it’s locked tight, signed for, and tracked. If the TSA had a bag open with a gun on it… well you get the idea.

    Info here:

    Specifically this comment:

    One note on using TSA rules to your advantage.

    Weapons that travel MUST be in a hard case, must be declared upon check-in, and MUST BE LOCKED by a TSA official.

    A “weapons” is defined as a rifle, shotgun, pistol, airgun, and STARTER PISTOL. Yes, starter pistols – those little guns that fire blanks at track and swim meets – are considered weapons…and do NOT have to be registered in any state in the United States.

    I have a starter pistol for all my cases. All I have to do upon check-in is tell the airline ticket agent that I have a weapon to declare…I’m given a little card to sign, the card is put in the case, the case is given to a TSA official who takes my key and locks the case, and gives my key back to me.

    That’s the procedure. The case is extra-tracked…TSA does not want to lose a weapons case. This reduces the chance of the case being lost to virtually zero.

    It’s a great way to travel with camera gear…I’ve been doing this since Dec 2001 and have had no problems whatsoever.

    Hope it works for you…

  22. advocation says:

    Really interesting commentary here. Since this is my story, let me respond and clarify.

    1) The person who took the camera was definitely a Delta employee. When I spoke to Detective Earley, he told me they found him by running the return address on the Ebay package through Delta’s employee database. He also told me they fired him based on this incident.

    2) Legal issues. I’m not an attorney but I know several, and based on their advice, legal action was unlikely to succeed. You can’t really claim “suffering” for lost photos, or else every 1-hour photo shop in the country would be bankrupt. There’s also a legal principle that says a company is responsible for actions taken by their employees in the course of their employment, but judges rarely apply this to criminal conduct, unless there is some way to prove the employee was instructed to break the law. As an example, if you were hit by a UPS truck, UPS is liable. If you were mugged by a UPS employee on the job, they’re probably off the hook. That leaves a claim of negligent hiring if the employee had a criminal record, or negligent supervision if he didn’t. While those stand a fair chance of success, damages would be small since I eventually got the camera back, and I don’t have a job where my time is worth thousands of dollars an hour. (In case you couldn’t tell from how hard I worked to recover a $250 camera.)

    Also, I did actually have an attorney friend send a threatening legal letter, which Delta, no doubt aware of my position, did not respond to. I didn’t include the letter here because I didn’t want to have anything public associated with my friend who did me a favor.

    3) On victim blaming and compensation. I admit up front I was naive and stupid to pack my camera in my checked bag. But that still doesn’t mean I deserved to have it stolen. That’s just awful logic. Now while Delta doesn’t “owe” me anything, and is free to tell me to piss up a rope, I think those that are pointing this out really are missing the point of this blog. It’s about how businesses treat their customers. A good customer service dept. would have tried to make it right, not stonewalled and hoped the problem went away. Just because they are within their rights doesn’t mean they are treating customers well.

    That said, my strategy for getting some compensation was flawed. I figured with such an air-tight case, Delta would definitely take some action, so my demand for a refund was an attempt to stake a high initial claim in the negotiation. I figured they’d be apologetic and offer me a bag of peanuts. Then I’d ask for two vouchers with no restrictions, etc, etc. Also, by the time I wrote my letter, I had been jerked around by customer service on the phone so much already that my tone was far angrier than it should have been. Mike is absolutely right about that. Still, I was shocked at their behavior, but then again, I hadn’t read this: .

  23. latemodel says:

    Dont drink the KoolAid. The majority of comments contend that they owe you nothing, I think that is just what we have come to expect from airline service. Sue them in small claims court. I think since they operate in your state you can set jurisdiction there. There may be federal laws to protect them but they might still have to involve one of their lawyers to deflect your action. When all else fails, go for the pound of flesh.

  24. Pelagius says:

    I think another point of this blog is to be a smart consumer. US airlines are notably bad. There have been a number of stories of luggage handler thefts in the past year or so. To me, this posting just emphasized the need to be careful when packing.

    Those who’ve written variations on “Delta must have some sort of liability” need to read their Conditions of Carriage document. In no uncertain terms it states that the airline will accept absolutely no liability for fragile or expensive items. It makes a point of emphasizing that “electronic or photographic equipment” falls under this category.

    Question: Delta does have a procedure for claiming recompense for lost luggage. Has anyone tried to equate “lost” with “stolen” and managed to wring money from their cold, dead corporate hands?

  25. mathew says:

    I think everyone’s been missing the really important issue here.

    I had something similar happen to me. In my case, the camera was with me, but the theif stole my camera charger and my iPod charger.

    What bothered me wasn’t that the TSA baggage handlers are able to steal stuff out of my suitcase without being caught. No, the thing that scares me is that they could put stuff *into* my suitcase.

    Consider: You want to smuggle drugs from city A to city B. You get a contact employed as a baggage handler in each city. You pick someone flying from A to B, hide the drugs in their suitcase, and take them out again in city B.

    Or suppose you’re a terrorist. You place a bomb in someone’s suitcase *after* it has passed through security.

    In both cases, if the bomb or drugs are detected, it’s the sucker who owns the suitcase who will be spending the rest of his life in PMITA federal prison or being tortured in Guantanamo Bay.

    And to those who think this scenario is far-fetched: remember Pan Am 103, the Lockerbie Bombing, where the bomb was introduced into the plane by placing it in an unaccompanied suitcase in the Frankfurt airport baggage handling area.

  26. Sheik says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Delta in that there should be no refund. But offering a free upgrade on a future flight is not too much to expect. It costs them virtually nothing and keeps the heat off their poor customer service.

    Another point of this blog is to offer disturbing early morning mental visuals, like flight attendants vomiting on open wounds, thanks for that. I got a kick out of it.

  27. LeopardSeal says:

    I’m with mbressman on this one.

    I’m no lawyer either, but doesn’t vicarious liability apply to airlines, just like any other company? An employer is responsible for thier employee’s actions while they are on the job. Yes, they did the right thing by firing the handler after they were shown that he was a thief, but they should also be responsible for Charles’ time and money spent trying to make things right.

    I know you’re bankrupt Delta, but that still doesn’t excuse this level of stuidity.

  28. fooeynet says:

    “Delta is not responsible or liable for cash, camera equipment, commercial effects, computer software and equipment, electronic equipment, fragile articles, jewelry, lifesaving medication, negotiable papers, irreplaceable business documents, works of art or other similar valuable items contained in checked or unchecked baggage. These items should be carried by the passenger.”

    It’s listed on the website and the contract on every ticket.

  29. cabinaero says:

    Charles –

    Sorry if I seem like an apologist. I fly a lot but none of it on Delta (United, Singapore Airlines, Cathay and then Northwest in that order — Delta doesnt go where I need to go); I read accounts like yours all the time and have dealt with similar siutations. e.g., Not strictly owed anything but a little recognition makes me feel a whole lot better.

    I can understand why you’re angry. It sucks that a Delta employee stole from you, and I agree that Delta’s responses could have been more gracious. That said, when you bought your ticket, you agreed to Delta’s contract of carriage which, in plain language, waives their liability for undeclared valuables in a checked bag. Your decision to check a valuable item is not their problem.

    Your letter to Delta is completely off the rails. You made an unreasonable request for a complete refund for both you and your traveling companion. You then threatened legal action and/or media exposure. You came off sounding like a crackpot — which I know you’re not because your response in the comments is completely calm and rational. The best way to handle frontline CSRs in a case like this is to notify them of the issue and leave compensation open. Put the burden on them to make the initial offer usually by being a little passive-agressive. If you don’t like their response, then make a counter-offer.

    It’s good that you got your camera back but, if you want anything out of Delta, you need eat a little crow. Write another letter apologizing for your initial tone and make it clear that you wish that Delta would just thank you for your help in uncovering a problem employee. Maybe after an act of penitence the airline gods will smile upon you.

  30. cabinaero says:

    And fooeynet nails it.

  31. advocation says:


    Point taken. I was actually really surprised when I went back and read the letter by how “off the rails” it sounded. I had taken a much more gentle approach on the phone, and it got me nowhere and was really infuriating. I wish I had audio. Needless to say, it’s probably best not to compose a letter directly after that experience.

    Anyway, thanks for your suggestions, but I really don’t even care about compensation anymore. If I had known about Consumerist a year ago, I would have sent it in then, but now I just think it’s an interesting story and thought I could exact a little revenge for the shoddy treatment.


  32. microe says:

    First off, while I think Delta has surely vetted the legalese that keep them from being liable for things that travel in baggage, they do have strict rules on how much you can carry with you and TSA has strict rules on what you can take with you. If Delta enforces carry-on rules and limits then they have to have to make some reasonable effort to keep the belongings that are out of your control safe. IANAL but that is an angle I would take with them.

    It is strange that TSA is not having an absolute hissy about this. If a baggage handler can smuggle items out of bags it is pretty safe to say that they can smuggle items into bags. Talk about a real security hole. If I were TSA I would be putting the screws to Delta to make sure that this was not a den of thieves. For all of the security theater that TSA puts on, this is a real problem they should be tackling. Gives me chills just thinking about flying.

  33. esmit117 says:

    I am so glad that I read this article. I want to tell Delta and the rest of the world I will never fly Delta, ever. I am sure anyone who reads this article will feel the same.
    For getting the poor treatment that you received from Delta I think you should now sue for as much money as possible to make a point. I want Delta to think twice next time they try to give someone the cold shoulder. Actually I hope you sue for enough money to cause Delta to go out of business.

  34. Mike_ says:

    I don’t think a free flight is an unreasonable request. He entrusted his luggage to Delta and one of their employees stole his property. Then, Charles invested time and effort tracking down and exposing this scumbag, which benefited Delta and its passengers. They might not owe him anything, but they really should give him something. A voucher seems totally appropriate.

    I think Charles got everything right except for his approach to recovering some sort of compensation from Delta. It sounds like he’d do things differently today, so there’s no sense in harping on his missteps. The important thing to take away from this is that Delta sucks.

  35. JoshReflek says:

    You lost your item.
    Managed to capture their thieving employee.
    Employee gets prosecuted and fired for it.
    Now Delta thinks they owe you nothing?

    By virtue of paying for their travelling service and expressly implied by the process of checking your baggage, Delta has connected themselves to the act of transporting your bags to their destination.

    Directly hired, sub-contracted, freelance, or outscourced, the man who stole your camera was on the job, as part of their company. No manner of doubletalk or misdirection removes the responsibility of the airline to make sure your bags and their content, get there securely through the means they choose to use, such as that shady employee.

    Having caught and prosecuted the criminal, ties his actions as an employee, again, to Delta. They are ultimately responsible for the actions of everyone involved in the process of getting your transaction completed.

    Since they failed to fully render services paid for in full, in this case, get your luggage there completely, they now owe you:

    – Replacement of your lost item (which you have already)

    Do you make money from the photos you take?
    – If so the purpose of your flight was business related and the loss of your equipment impeded your ability to conduct your business, full reimbursement for any camera rentals you made while on the trip would also be their responsibility
    – Reimbursement for the entire flight cost, hotel accommodations and other related travel expenses, as well as any contracted labor you were traveling with intent to perform, since your trip’s business purpose was negated by their negligence

    Make sure to cite the delicious irony that most of their security is frontloaded on the consumer’s side at the baggage check-in step, with, evidinced by your handiwork in capturing the thief, that through their ineptitude demonstrated in screening and supervising their baggage handling process, allowed your items to fall into jeopardy, should they decide to take defense that proper security measures have yet to be deveolped that can prevent loss to the consumer since, no one person is responsible.

  36. jamar says:

    Amazing leg work. I suspect this is what you can expect from an economy that does not pay its workers a living wage. Perhap if Delta would have done a more through background check, or had paid its baggage guy more than 7 an hour….more like 15…he wouldn’t feel the need to steal? Just a liberal theory.

  37. kmh says:

    Maybe I’m the only one that thinks this way, but if you have something of value in your checked baggage and it gets damaged or your bag goes walk-about you wear it, but if something is proven to be stolen by an employee of the company you are flying with, that is simply unacceptable. Charles should definitely be compensated for his time and effort simply because when someone packs something of value in check luggage they accept that it could be damaged or lost, it is not reasonable to expect that an employee will steal from you.

    Regarding Mathew’s comment, a young Australian woman, Schapelle Corby traveled from Brisbane to Sydney then to Bali for a holiday. On arrival at Despasar Airport in Bali 4.2kg (9.3lb) of marijuana was found in her boogie board bag. Ms Corby maintained her innocence from the outset but was sentenced to 20 years prison in Indonesia for possession and trafficking. Since her arrest there has been several investigations into baggage handlers using domestic passenger luggage to move drugs around the country. However Ms Corby is still in prison because there has been no proof that she was in fact the victim of this practice. There was also no security footage of her bag being handled, despite security cameras in all of the relevant areas.

  38. cypherpunks says:

    The minimum Delta should refund is the amount you spent retrieving your camera — the reward you paid to the buyer, and other associated costs. Practically, they should also give you much more — probably a free flight voucher. Most likely, you won’t get jack squat without suing. You can probably win in court, though. You paid for safe transport of yourself and your luggage. They didn’t do their part of the bargain. Small claims court is fast an efficient at resolving issues like this. You should sue for cost of flight (since it didn’t do what it was supposed to) and cost of camera retrieval. It will probably be cheaper to pay than to send a lawyer to defend.

  39. E-Bell says:


    You’re correct – because you got your camera back, your damages in the eyes of the law are exactly zero.

    Damages for lost time investigating your case and the distress of not being able to take photos during your trip are not recoverable.

    Delta knows this, which is why they won’t give you anything.

    For the sake of argument, let’s say that you DIDN’T recover the camera or that you’re a professional photographer and you can prove that the camera theft caused you to lose income.

    In that event, I’d say you have a solid small claims case. Even though the baggage handler was convicted of a crime, I’m not convinced that Delta would be let off the hook – depending on the circumstances, you might have a claim of negligent hiring or supervision.

    Or, you could make a claim that Delta had a responsibility – as the bailee (custodian) of your bag – to ensure that it was properly cared for.

    At any rate, nice work tracking down that scumbag and ensuring his prosecution. It looks like he was given the benefit of a pretrial intervention program, which means that this is likely the first time he got caught. Maybe he’ll think better next time.

  40. Jupiter Jones says:

    This guy had his camera stolen from him after it was in Delta’s care. He proved it. That alone should have Delta apologizing and refunding his money.

  41. Fist-o™ says:

    Honestly, I don’t think the guy legally deserves to get his ticket back.

    However, if Delta cared about their public image, they would send him some compensation.

    If his case is so justified, why wouldn’t he sue them in small claims court? is starting to cross the line between “Reasonable” and “Over the top”….

  42. pgworldwide says:

    Charles M,
    I produce a travel radio show and we would like to talk to you about being on the show. Please email me at if you’re interested. Thanks!

  43. tbrough says:

    Problem is, all airlines bite. This account was on my personal blog from November 2006. The names were removed from the blog, but did remain on the posted letters.

    US Airways – Customer Relations


    I was amazed to see the proposed merger of US Air with Delta in the news of late. If this letter is indicative of the levels of service this union will yield, perhaps you should consider upgrading your services before taking on additional burdens of absorbing an airline. May I present you with:

    The Saga of US Air 3451

    My companion Joel and I were trying to get to Chicago this weekend. What was supposed to be a weekend of me doing support to my books became – without exaggeration – the absolute worst airline experience of my life. We started off on Friday night turning around from the Philly airport, as our original flight was canceled. While this was irritating, it was because of very bad storms in Chicago, and therefore was not any fault of the airline. But that was the last thing they could excuse away themselves of the blame.

    We were given tickets to fly to Chicago from Philly at 6AM Saturday morning, Nov 11. US Air 3451. We get on board and fly to Chicago without incident. Once we land, incremental problems began. For almost a half hour, we sat on the runway, waiting for a gate to take us. “Customer service issues,” the pilot tells us. After numerous “we’ll be pulling up in about 5 minutes…” we get to a gate. Finally, 30 minutes later, we disembarked and headed for the baggage claim.

    There is construction at O’Hare. This means that US Air had exactly one carousel for all their flights into this terminal, and approximately 50 passengers from the flight stood there waiting. And waiting. And waiting. After another half-hour, I go the US Air office next to the carousel. A sign in the window reads “Computers are down,” and the door is locked. I go upstairs to the US Air ticket counter and inform them that, it’s been a half hour and we’re all still waiting for our luggage. “The office is right by the baggage claim” I am told. When I inform of the sign in the locked office window, I am told someone will be sent down shortly. I return to the baggage claim.

    After about 15 more minutes pass, a woman appears. And she is clueless. Her name was J.U. By now (over an hour has passed), most of the crowd is a little testy. Without her computer, she can’t find any information about our flight. “Get a supervisor,” the crowd implores.

    “There isn’t a supervisor working today” we are informed. Appears that “Supervisor” is a Monday through Friday position. When our Customer Service person basically says she can’t get help, the crowd gets a bit more annoyed. We demand she try to get one. She does, then, with a not too pleased expression, informs us that the supervisor refuses to come to help. At this point, people have moved from annoyed to angered. I step out of the office and try to call US Air from my cell phone. The lady in the office is trying, none-too-convincingly, to get everyone to fill out a lost luggage form.

    I am going to guess that, once I stepped away from the office to try to raise someone more interested than the stay-at-home local super on my cell, our customer service lady decided that the crowd was getting a little too unruly for her tastes. Instead of trying to get anyone from US Air who could propose a solution to the problem of an en masse luggage disappearing act, she called the cops. A situation that was distinctly unpleasant, she had just managed to exacerbate into something worse. Suddenly, a squad of about six police officers appear. When one comes right up to me while on the phone outside the office, I tell him he needs to “Do something, dude.”

    He immediately gets in my face, yelling “You telling me what to do?” ARE YOU TELLING ME WHAT TO DO?!?” When I try to explain that some 50 passengers have lost their luggage and are none too happy about it, he proceeds to argue with me. Meanwhile, the rest of the crowd is getting yelled at by Chicago’s finest and one proceeds to repeatedly jab his finger into Joel’s stomach, arguing with him (Joel being the tallest in the group, they must have decided he was the ringleader of the “riot”). The cops are yelling, the passengers are not taking too kindly to the O’Hare welcoming committee and are complaining right back. We even had one of these Macho Cowboy Clowns barking “You want hard-ass? I’ll show you hard-ass. I’ll throw you in county for a couple months…” for the heinous crime of wondering how the heck US Air managed to lose an entire planeload of suitcases.

    Perhaps the most ridiculous moment came when one of these men, who was dressed in a varsity jacket, a flannel shirt, two days worth of beard and a bushy moustache, while getting generally obnoxious, had one of the passengers snap at him “Who are you?”

    “I’m a cop!” he snarled. Obviously, we were expected to pick up that fact telepathically. After all, every disheveled man who looks like he spent the night asleep on a park bench MUST be security, right? And while these shining examples of public service demanded ID’s from some of the passengers at the office, only one single man, an Officer G. who was manning the Traveler’s Aid booth, gave his name. I think I heard one of the officers refered to as Blake or Blaine, but otherwise, “I’m a cop” was all the information any of them wanted to volunteer.

    So now, after over two hours, still no luggage, insulted by the Alpha Dog Donut Eater’s Brigade of the Chicago Police and threatened with a few months in the local hoosegow when someone in (I think) the cops comes to the genius revelation that maybe, just maybe, finding out what happened to said luggage might be the actual solution to the problem. Enter one K.S., someone with enough presence of mind to figure out that our luggage was probably inbound on the next US Air flight, scheduled to land at 10AM. By now, a good many of the passengers had filled out their missing luggage forms and left, but since I need my books if I want to sell them, Joel and I waited it out. Without as much as “we’re so sorry,” we were told that our luggage had arrived.

    After 10AM, we stood at the luggage rack as, one by one, our three suitcases appear. That’s right….over three hours since our plane had touched down. Without any apologies or explanations from US Air, Chicago Police Dept. or O’Hare Airport, we were unceremoniously dismissed. The only single men there who seemed to have any class were Mr. S. and Officer G. (who gave me and Joel a pair of discount coupons for the Airport Shuttle by means of his apology long after all the other parties had wandered away). These two men deserve both your commendations and a bonus.

    On Monday Nov 13, I called US Air customer service and told them that I fly sometimes two or more times a month, and this was the most inept, pathetic, insulting situation I had ever been put into while traveling – and at exactly what percentage of chance the snowball’s survival in Hades would be before I’d spend another dime on a US Air flight. While they didn’t reimburse us for the tickets, I was informed there were to be a pair of $125 flight vouchers mailed to me and Joel. They’re good for a year. We’ll see if we actually use them. They arrived on Nov 24th.

    Tim B.

    CC: O’Hare Airport/Chicago Aviation Dept; Chigago Police Dept; FAA; City Of Chicago/Office of Tourism; Better Business Bureau/Chicago

  44. suckonthat says:

    Holy shit tbrough that is the craziest story I have read in a long time. I was going to post that Delta has stolen my friend’s Xbox and then gave him the complete brush off after the fact.

    I also have a question about Delta not being liable: If I stay in a hotel and leave my camera on the bed. I come back to my room to find my camera gone, the only people who had access to my room other than me was the hotel staff. Does the hotel have to reimburse me?

    I ask because this airline policy of “we aren’t liable because we put it in the disclaimer” seems absolutely disgusting. When I fly I have a limited amount of things I can carry on (weight limits, size limits, weapon limits, *liquid* limits) and I am not allowed to lock my checked luggage. I think it is really unreasonable to say that I need to keep anything of value with me, especially considering that there are reports of stolen chargers (what good are they without the electronics that need charging?) and my one friend who travels a lot had moderately expensive shampoo and basketball jerseys stolen.

    This is bullshit and I am just glad I haven’t had anything taken yet. Is there anything, other than the starter pistol that we/I can do??

  45. formergr says:

    Delta may not be liable, and maybe they don’t owe him a refund on his ticket, but holy crap they could throw this guy a couple of dollars-off or free domestic ticket vouchers. Airlines (at least United, who I fly for work) throw these at people all the time just to get them off their back. I know specifically that United will often give up to a $175 voucher to a passenger just because the little seat-back video was broken on a 4 hour flight. So I think CharlesM certainly deserves the equivalent with an apology for his troubles.

    CharlesM, if you haven’t yet, I suggest posting your story in the Delta thread at I don’t know if it’s as active as the United one, but if it is you will likely find someone who can give you contact info for someone higher up at Delta who can actually do something. I do encourage you though to reword the letter a bit to ask for some sort of goodwill gesture, versus the specific refund amount.

  46. Nerraux says:

    I think Delta’s right

  47. janroc67 says:

    I would worry about flying on Delta because if things can be taken out of checked luggage so easily than things could be put in the luggage just as easily.

  48. hildeaux says:

    I think don’t think Delta is obligated to refund the money he paid for the flight. It would make more sense for them to reimburse him the value of his camera. Of course, cabinaero made a good point- was the baggage handler a Delta employee the employee of an outside contractor? If the guy wasn’t a Delta employee, then it wouldn’t be Delta’s fault.

  49. leondraw says:

    Delta “should” do something, but probably doesn’t want to set a precedent. Can’t blame them, as it opens the door to all kinds of claims, true and fraudulent.

    However, why anyone would put a valuable camera in their checked luggage where any number of people can get at it is beyond me. The airlines specifically tell travelers not to put items such as cameras, computers, jewelry in their checked luggage and usually say they cannot be responsible for the security of a checked bag.

  50. SMHayne says:

    Why should Delta give him vouchers, free flights, etc. They could offer to replace the camera though for no other reason than a PR one. I’ve had the same thing happen on United with a very expensive designer sweater jacket, a piece of jewelry & a Swiss Army knife all packed in the checked baggage on several flights. Delta is not the only one! Like taking cash, never take or pack anything more you can’t afford to lose.

  51. carolyn says:

    Delta was not ready when we were.A Delta agent placed the wrong ticket on my baggage; she failed to follow up and correct the error therefore sending my baggage to the Dominion Republic while I went to Aruba. That was 2/10/07; it has never been found. I find it amazing that they insist I send the claim form in right away, yet tell me it will take twelve weeks to process and I will hear nothing in the interim? It took them only 1 day to lose the baggage… There were no electronics in the bags , just lots of clothing and vacation stuff . Why are they exempt from the normal customer service procedures–ie acknowledging receipt of a claim….keeping you posted on develoments etc. I paid $1500 for two tickets for this kind of treatment!!

  52. adam2dot0 says:

    Cheers for persistence winning the day (and refund)!

  53. Baz says:

    Understand that the camera was stolen, but why the hell should Delta pay for the flight? Give me a break – he is lucky that he got the camera back at all, and it sounds like TSA would have paid for it anyways. Delta was right to refuse to pay – he received the full travel that he paid for, without question. At most, Delta should only be liable for the missing camera – his travel was not affected at all. This guys is basically extorting Delta by threatening to slander them! Guess who ends up REALLY paying when people pull this junk? – everybody else via rate hikes and service reductions. I’m not really sure why Consumerist gave this case a mention – won’t that just encourage more of these frivilous complaints that are completely self-serving and severely undermine legit claims?

  54. ArmyMP84 says:

    While I do agree that it is bad business practice to not at least offer an apology for the inconvenience, I also agree it’s no worse than if someone on this site didn’t offer him an apology; you had something crappy happen to you, I’m sorry (sincerely, because I’m about to sound like a… not nice person).

    After reading this I have a few points that come to mind: One being, if the purchaser of your camera (regardless of his level of frustration at losing a camera he spent time bidding on) had DEMANDED a reward for returning it, how would you have reacted?

    A corporation, while having more money to throw around, is no different than that. From a corporate perspective, justified or not, you (which you admitted was the wrong approach, so I won’t beat a dead horse too much, this is more for the people who didn’t feel like actually reading the whole story) demanded something that they were not legally obligated to provide. Crappy, yes. Wrong — not really.

    Everyone keeps mentioning “if that can take something out they can put something in”. True, however it’s not like they can just cart a bomb to work and put it in. By the time they see your bag, it’s been x-ray’d and is on the “clear” side of security. Which means their on the “clear” side… which means they’ve been x-ray’d and screened. Which means they probably don’t have a bomb.

    The TSA’s act of “security” is, however, laughable. It’s not meant to actually secure anything. It’s meant to give the PERCEPTION of security. It’s meant to deter the dumber terrorists, while making people feel warm and fuzzy about flying. Here’s an idea of security for you: Your allowed 1qt of liquid in 3 oz bottles. Anyone know what 3 oz’s of Bleach mixed with 3 oz of Ammonia would do on a small stuffy — internally dependent plane would do? Yeah, lots of not good things. TSA security is the equivilant of slapping a “Protected by ADT” sticker on your house when you can’t afford an actual alarm i the hopes that the everyday burglar won’t enter it. One who WANTs to break in…. can.

    Sorry, I’m rambling a little bit, for some reason this whole post just hit close to home. To summarize my point on the issue: Delta: Should have offered at least an apology, OP: Should have not demanded anything, Thief: Was fired, so sue him for your money (Or use Delta’s [Not my fault, he just works here] mentality against them: Sue Delta and have a random teenager employee of theirs (a legal representative of Delta) served with the papers…. he’ll most likely just throw them away and you’ll receive a default judgment because of delta’s failure to appear in court. Of course, they might actually get the papers and show up… so be ready for that, too.