Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Reason for the Article

I just posted a rather long article, but there's a reason for it. It has inspired me to write a story with the main character being a private investigator for an airline company trying to crack down on luggage theft. I can see the short story already. He finally finds a couple that he thinks are the theives, he tracks them to their home, the whole time he is telling about how it's going to be rewarding to finally catch these theives, talking about the social contract in society about not stealing, about how everyone must do their part, self rightous stuff....then BOOM, he sees where they live. Old couple, taking care of many kids, a child that is special needs, lots and lots of poverty, and he has a momentary delimma about his course of action. I'd leave it right there so that the reader doesn't know what he is going to do.

Rather long article

As travelers get ready for holiday flights, they might want to skip tucking presents into their checked suitcases this year. That's because baggage theft is on the rise.
This year, Delta Air Lines Inc. baggage handlers were caught rifling through suitcases in the belly of airplanes in Hartford, Conn., pocketing laptops, cameras, iPods, GPS units, jewelry, watches and earrings, according to Lt. J. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police.

Authorities also broke up a ring of airline thieves in St. Louis who, according to Lambert Airport Police Chief Paul Mason, were targeting soldier's bags that were shipping off to war. Baggage handlers pulled soldiers' duffels off a conveyor belt in a tunnel, stashed loot and then picked it up later, taking it home under their coats or in backpacks. Among the stolen items recovered: laptops, electronic game systems, cameras, cigarettes, battery chargers, sunglasses and firearms.
Baggage-theft arrests have been made this year in cities around the world, from Dublin, Ireland, to Adelaide, Australia. In Phoenix, a couple was found with 1,000 pieces of stolen luggage and belongings piled floor-to-ceiling in their home. The pair had been lifting bags off carousels at the airport.
In Portland, Ore., Northwest Airlines baggage handlers were caught stealing items and posting them for sale on eBay right from a supervisor's airline-owned computer. Baggage theft reports are up nearly 50% this year, according to airport spokesman Steve Johnson. Portland airport police have received 195 reports of baggage theft this year through October, compared with 132 reports in the same period of 2008. At least 43 of the reports this year relate to the ring at Northwest, Mr. Johnson said.
In New York, police caught baggage handlers stealing items from bags and then switching destination tags so that the luggage would be lost. If the bag was reunited with owners, the circle of possible suspects who handled it had been expanded, covering the tracks of the thief.
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Associated Press
A Phoenix couple allegedly stole luggage off carousels at the airport. Police found more than 1,000 items at their home.


Airlines say baggage theft is rare among the millions of passengers who fly each year, but law-enforcement officials say it has been growing significantly. "There's been a tremendous increase in the last five years. It's pretty bad—a lot is getting stolen every day," said a prosecutor in the Queens County district attorney's office, which handles airport theft cases in New York.
Authorities attribute an escalation to the sour economy and to tighter security around cargo, which historically has been a target for thieves. Passenger baggage is now easier pickings. In addition, cost-cutting at airlines and police departments has reduced patrols and enforcement, officials say.
Missing Golf Balls
Some thefts are small. Charles Petersen of Biddeford, Maine, had about 20 golf balls stolen from a locked travel case on a flight from Boston to Tampa. "It feels like they are doing this with impunity," he said.
And some thefts amount to grand larceny. Two Kennedy Airport baggage handlers working for AMR Corp.'s American Airlines were charged with stealing a bag of jewelry worth $280,000. One of the men was a crew chief.
For travelers, the sting of a theft is often followed by frustration with airlines and the Transportation Security Administration, which often are slow to respond to reports and in most cases deny any responsibility. Airline ticket rules—the "contract of carriage"—exclude liability for any valuables in luggage, such as computers, cameras, electronic equipment, jewelry, business documents, artwork or similar valuable items.
Amanda Slaver flew from Rochester, N.Y., to Las Vegas in February and found that her jewelry bag had been unzipped. The good stuff—gold, diamond and sapphire family heirlooms—had been taken and the plastic, glass and metal jewelry remained.
"It was devastating," she said. "Your trust is broken."
For the next seven months she argued with Delta over a $3,000 claim. The airline said it wasn't liable because its contract of carriage excludes valuables from the airline's responsibility. Delta offered her a $100 voucher toward a future ticket. "It seemed less like they wanted to help me and more that they just wanted me to go away," she said.
Avoiding Baggage Theft
Baggage theft hits many travelers. Here's how to protect yourself:
• Never put anything of value in checked luggage. Airlines don't cover it. Small, easily pocketed items are most at risk, from jewelry and electronics down to battery chargers and golf balls.
• If you can't carry valuables onboard, ship them separately. With shipping companies, you can insure your valuables and get tracking information.
• Don't rely on luggage locks. They are easily broken or bypassed.
• If you do find something stolen, report it immediately to the airline, to the TSA and to local airport police.
• Mark your bag with colorful ribbon or straps (that won't get caught in conveyor belts) so it can be spotted easily on a crowded carousel. That lessens the chances someone else will walk off with it, intentionally or by accident.
A Delta spokeswoman says the airline does offer compensation to customers "within the limits of our contract of carriage."
Vijay Dandapani, a hotel executive in New York, complained to both Continental Airlines Inc. and the TSA after a brand-new iPod was taken out of its carton and stolen from his bag traveling from Newark, N.J., to Mumbai. TSA closed his case saying it couldn't help him; Continental sent him a $100 travel voucher.
"You feel violated," he said.
Both airline workers and TSA screeners have access to checked luggage, and it's often impossible to tell who is responsible unless a thief is caught red-handed. Airlines say they try to avoid finger-pointing with TSA over blame. Law-enforcement officials say TSA thefts, though they got lots of attention in past years, account for a relatively small portion of all baggage theft and have been declining.
In 2005, TSA paid out more than $3 million in claims for theft and baggage damage, but by 2008, that dropped to $813,000. Through October this year, TSA has paid out only $446,000 in baggage claims, a spokeswoman said.
Adding Cameras
TSA has reduced baggage theft as it has moved from opening bags and searching by hand to running them through scanning machines on conveyor belts, limiting the number of bags handled by screeners. The agency says it has also added more surveillance cameras to baggage-screening areas.
A total of 330 TSA officers have been fired for theft since the agency's inception, a spokeswoman said.
Complaints filed with TSA about property losses—which include theft—have also dropped, down 26% this year through October compared with the same period of 2008.
Airlines say they look for patterns in theft claims filed by customers and work with police to catch thieves. Arrests in Portland, Hartford, St. Louis and New York all included Delta employees or contractors, for example, and Delta says that's because it initiated most of the investigations. In New York, for example, Delta and TSA planted a bag stuffed with electronics in the JFK baggage system and two men working together, one a TSA screener and the other a baggage handler, were videotaped swiping a computer and cellphone, then switching the luggage tags to help cover their tracks.
Since it's hard to pin down at which airport items were stolen, airport police chiefs have launched a new reporting system that tracks the itinerary of a stolen bag, alerts airports along the route and tries to spot patterns, says Chief Mason in St. Louis, who is also president of Airports Law Enforcement Agencies Network, an association of police chiefs. In its first six months, the system has already identified one airport that might be having a problem, he said.
Lost Or Stolen
Airlines don't report statistics on baggage theft, and often never know if a bag was simply lost or if it was stolen. Carriers say they do have surveillance cameras in some locations, and they do conduct spot checks at baggage carousels to match tags on bags with claim checks. Theft of an entire bag, while rare, they say, is most often traced back to someone stealing from a baggage-claim carousel, as with the Phoenix couple.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has begun new random luggage checks and increased video camera surveillance and patrols in baggage-claim areas. Other airports say they patrol baggage areas, watch baggage handlers and sometimes send officers in civilian clothes to monitor activity in claim areas. But baggage theft hasn't been a high priority amid all the other airport security concerns.
It's the lack of responsibility for theft that leaves many customers fuming. Jack La Torre's daughter was rushing home to New York from graduate school at Stanford University in California with a medical condition affecting her hands. Since she couldn't carry anything, she checked her Mac Air laptop in her luggage. The computer never made it home.
Mr. La Torre, a retired New York Police Department lieutenant who now works at Columbia University, pressed Delta to check security tapes and to waive Delta's exclusion of liability because of his daughter's condition.
The airline apologized, but said the stolen item should have been transported by other means. "We do not feel that compensation is in order," Delta said.
"What sort of protection do we have for the consumer?" Mr. La Torre asks.
Write to Scott McCartney at middleseat@wsj.com

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Someone else reading

I found a reader online who is reading the manuscript now. Not the best way to get feedback, but the best I'm going to get at this point.

At the moment, I'm working through the remaining ten or so agents with my query letter in an effort to see if any of them want to read Toe the Line. Based on the writer's conference I attended, I should get one out of the ten to read it. Is that right? Or did he say one out of six. I don't know if I have much chance if it's one out of six! I'd be ecstatic with one of out six.

Regardless, I'm editing my previous novel. I figured with the up and coming birth of the next baby, starting a new novel would not be worthwhile. It will have to wait till next NaNoWriMo. So, I'm editing On the Edge. It's going well. Another long hard slog.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lana's Reading

I gave the manuscript to Lana to read, and brother, that was a mistake! I had planned on giving it to her so that she could read it while I was camping, but the camping trip was postponed (indefinitely postponed) so I was in town. I wish I had stuck the original plan and not been around. Isn't there some saying about the first instinct usually being right.

She started out well. She read the first two chapters in one night. I was watching Monday Night Football, so was not in the same room. It was bearable. Then Tuesday night, she didn't read it. I found myself wondering why she wasn't reading it. Was her crossword puzzle really that much more intriguing? Wednesday night, still didn't read it. Not till Friday night did she read it again. I was just at the point of having decided to take it away when WHAMO, she decided to read it again. My heart soared. My wifey had come through. Then Saturday night, back to the crosswords. Heart no longer soaring. I decided at that point that the experiment had run its course.

Here is a gal who usually reads books in two or three days and she had barely gotten through chapter three in a week. Not only that, but I found myself counting the number of other things she did on that long Thanksgiving holiday that did not include reading my book; crossword, cooking desserts, watching a new sitcom on Netflix by herself, her sewing craft and more. Each one was upsetting.

She asked me yesterday for a second chance. I demurred. I kinda found out what I needed to know. The biggest lesson I learned? Don't let the wifey read my gear.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Finished the Reading

Well, I finished the final reading and edit, and I was mildly impressed with myself. I have been more pleased with what I read than I have ever been in the past. That's a good thing. I did find some rather startling errors, and I wish now I had not sent the manuscript out as I did back in June, July and August. Had I been an agent I would have rejected it as well.

I have made all of my edits in the manuscript and I asked Lana to read it for me. For future reference....this was a huge mistake. I doubt if I will ever do that again.