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Dear Matt:

Last night I flew back to Lindbergh Field, claimed my bulky luggage, and was stopped on exit by the luggage-claim checker -- officious personnel who insist on seeing your luggage-claim check before they let you leave the baggage claim area. I do a lot of traveling, both domestically and internationally, and cannot recall ANY OTHER MAJOR CITY in the world having these folks. Who hires them and pays them and, more baffling, why? Does anyone REALLY think thieves hang around the baggage claim area merely to spirit away your luggage? Do you have any idea how much this dubious "service" is costing us, the taxpayers, every year?

-- Louise, Mission Hills

Obviously with Louise constantly winging off to Cuzco or Reykjavík or Attu, she can't watch all those TV "news magazine" shows about rings of thieves stealing our Samsonite from under our very noses. Men so crime-hardened and brutal that they're willing to risk a suitcase full of dirty underwear on its way back from a week in Fiji to get at our valuables. Made you feel that the only way to guarantee you'd have a change of clothes when you got to your destination is to wear seven or eight pairs of pants when you leave for the airport. Well, TV news magazines being what they are (voracious consumers of "news" and "information," preferably "little known" and "shocking"), there's a bit of overreach in 'em.

Airlines handle a couple of billion pieces of luggage every year. Thefts from airports domestically? About 32,000. And most of those don't occur at the carousel. The figure you'll hear/read most often is that 1% of our luggage annually is spirited off by bad guys.

According to Lindbergh Field law enforcement (the Harbor Police), about 14 million folks manage to find their way through all our bad art and confusing signs each year. Total crimes last year, 236. That's crimes of any type. About half involved theft, and maybe 1% involved theft of baggage. So you gotta figure Louise has a point.

By law the airlines are responsible for your baggage from the time you let go of it until you pick it up. The tag checkers at the carousels are paid by the airlines, not by Lindbergh. Most airports are loaded with security cameras (about 200 at LAX), which have generally replaced luggage-tag checkers, since passengers complain mightily about being slowed up at the claim area. SDO just happens to be one port where more security for the traveling public is considered a good and reassuring thing, especially if you're a tourist.

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