Airport dismisses complaints over damaged luggage

New rule that took effect last month allow inspectors to break into bags

Officials at Václav Havel Airport Prague have had just two complaints about damage to luggage or contents due to the new security protocols that took effect May 15, but both complaints were found to be unjustified according to airport spokesman Michal Řehořek.

Airport security workers are now allowed to open baggage and check the contents for traces of explosives under the new rules. This includes opening locked baggage outside of the presence of the owner and even damaging locks to do so.

“Detection controls for trace elements of explosives at airports are not a new phenomenon. The system has been used around the world for decades and we also use it during our security controls. However, to keep up with the safest airports in Europe, it is necessary to continue improving the safety measures and react to situations at hand,” Milan Špaček, member of the Prague Airport board of directors responsible for the area of airport safety, said in a Prague Airport press release then the new procedure was announced.

Airport officials now recommend passengers secure their baggage using TSA locks, marked with a red diamond sign, which can be opened using a special safety key, or other options of securing their baggage, such as shrink-wrapping or using removable covers. Standard padlocks or integrated baggage locks without the TSA symbol may be damaged during the opening process, a press release issued when the rules were announced stated.

The security control worker opens luggage and obtains a sample by swabbing its contents. The sample is then checked for possible contamination with explosives. The entire process takes place under camera surveillance. Detailed records are supposed to be kept of every inspection.

In the first complaint, the passenger complained about a missing TSA lock on the luggage. According to Řehořek, however, this particular piece of luggage was not inspected, and the lock apparently “fell off” when the luggage was handled in loading or unloading.

In the second case, a person complained that a bottle of liquid was spilled in the luggage. Video of the inspection showed that the bottle was not spilled at the time of the inspection.

In both cases, the airport recommended the people complain to the airlines involved in the baggage handling.

Critics have pointed out the TSA-approved locks are easily opened with a variety of skeleton keys or even a paperclip, and that anybody in the baggage handling process or who otherwise has contact with the lock can open it in less than a minute. TSA combination locks can also be opened quickly even without a paperclip, according to several videos on Youtube.

The airport checks dozens of pieces of luggage daily but does not provide exact figures for security reasons.

They also did not disclose how many pieces of luggage were damaged, just the cases where there were complaints.

Passengers traveling from Prague should learn about possible luggage damage from an attached inspection report, where they will also find contact information for complaints and questions.

In general, luggage damage should be reported to the complaint department at the destination. However, the claim may also be submitted within seven days using documents are on the websites of specific airlines.

This year the airport is expected to see 14 million passengers, which is close to the estimated capacity of 15.5 million. Planned investment in the next decade will increase the capacity of Václav Havel Airport Prague to 21 million people per year.

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