Checked Bag Screening Melted Down With Thousands of Bags Piling Up in Cell Phone Lot Today

More than 3000 checked bags today weren’t put on their passenger’s flights today at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport when the TSA checked baggage screening system melted down.

“The TSA in Phoenix is experiencing delays in its checked bag screening system. A backup system is in place, but checked bags are likely to be delayed reaching their destinations,” Deputy Aviation Director Julie Rodriguez said early Thursday afternoon. “The Airport is advising passengers to avoid checking luggage if possible.”

The ‘backup system’ that was in place? The cell phone lot was turned into checked baggage storage, where bags were to be checked manually (TSA says, “the alternative process is more time consuming than our automated system.”)

The airport and TSA were telling passengers that they should carry on luggage instead of checking them if they can — because many people won’t be getting their checked bags for days.

“These bags will be driven to nearby airports … screened and then flown on to their destinations,” Rodriguez said, emphasizing that the process is safe and urging travelers to “bring on what you need for the next few days.”

Yes, she said days.

The “nearby airports” that will handle the backed up baggage are in L.A. (6-hour drive), Las Vegas (5-hour drive) and San Diego (6- hour drive).

It’s a good thing the government isn’t trying to make airlines take more checked bags, to relieve pressure on the TSA’s inability to screen people efficiently. Oh wait.

(HT: Robert H.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I clicked on one of your ads. So if haven’t gotten money from me on the affiliate links, you got it from your ads.

    Keep up the good work Gary.

  2. Good lord. It was 100’F today in PHX today.. that parking lot will be permanently stained with melted makeup, toiletries etc. I can only imagine the damaged luggage claims.

  3. Well, this sucks. Wife and I head out tomorrow to Phoenix on our $1200 business class RT to Prague. Yes, things will definitely melt in the heat.

  4. There goes the TSA killing off a bit more of the idea of passengers getting a better experience at passenger screening checkpoint lines if passengers would substitute away from carrying so much cabin baggage and substituting into checking in more luggage.

    When it comes to dealing with the TSA or the airlines that have a sort of love-hate relationship with the TSA, it seems like they both really know how to make the traveling experience worse for passengers in the main and keep doing it.

  5. Just as bad as the clear incompetence this shows is the bureaucratic “the alternative process is more time consuming,” lack of urgency to get it solved. Heads should be rolling, but really they seem to look at it as something for the customer to deal with. I was going to say it was a sort of third world indifference of incompetent officialdom, but that’s unfair to those underpaid third world bureaucrats. These TSA people get paid a decent salary to do their jobs. This agency needs to be completely overhauled or replaced with private contractors. I’d like to see Gary’s proposal on that.

  6. I have to agree with DaveS – in that “heads should be rolling” and in the private sector that is exactly what would be happening. But in the alternate world of government bureaucracy several people will get promoted to make room for some more incompetent bureaucrats. Then our government will throw some more of our money to the TSA to “fix the problem”, which, of course, we all know won’t fix anything.
    The TSA’s total indifference to the ridiculous wait times for passenger screening is maddening.

  7. @Goinawae – just to stir the pot a little bit…do you really think that in the private sector heads would be rolling? Let’s say that the airlines took security in house. OK, then this would just be like any other issue with the airlines…either written into the CoC that they don’t have to do a darn thing about it (like weather) or that they’d provide some meager compensation (like for mechanical delays). Either way, it’s not like the consumer has any more power over an airline than they do over the government.

  8. So, how does this even happen? Do they have like one machine? It would be interesting to know the details.

  9. use some of the machines for carry on to xray bags, same as some airports I depart from in S.E, Asia. can’t be that difficult to figure out.

  10. @CW Money would be lost if this was a private contractor so they would try to find a solution as fast as possible.
    What does the TSA have to lose if they take 1 week delivering the bags? More people will be mad at them?
    Also if companies screw up pretty bad you can at least take them to court as last resort, can’t really do that with government.

    Aside from poor service, the lack of accountability in government just adds to their incompetence.

  11. I was in Chicago yesterday afternoon and the lines for screening at ORD were astronomical. The entire AA check in concourse was jammed with people in lines that snaked around forever. It was bedlam. I am an Exec Plat and I have TSA PRE so I was able to get through in a long but workable amount of time. Many, many others definitely missed flights. The team at Priority Check In said that this is the new norm for afternoon flights. I am unsure about AM flights. And they said that this was the case with most kids still in school in advance of the Summer crush. It will get much worse! While there have been articles here and there in the press, the airlines ARE NOT WARNING THEIR PAX sufficiently as they do if there is weather. They clearly take no responsibility, they blame TSA totally and they prefer not to make a big deal as they do not want folks to decide to stop booking and to stay home. This is truly insanity. I fly 150,000(+) per year and I have never, ever seen anything like this. Congress just approved some new funding, but the problem is more vast. What is the real story here? I tweeted AA telling them that they should at least send warning with pre-departure emails and texts that already are sent to many PAX automatically. I doubt that this will happen….

  12. If it were the private sector, the CEO would be given a bonus and their lobbyists would have secured the company a new contract…

  13. If you haven’t written one yet a good article would be what rights passengers have in this situation and I believe some credit cards actually cover some luggage issues.

  14. No mention of TSA in the title? A missed opportunity for an anti-govt rant…. You’re slipping.
    I’m not all that sure that the private sector is the answer…. The problem seems to be that govt tried to use the private sector ‘cut cut cut’ mentality when they’re trying to provide a basic govt function of providing security. Let’s try to charge people for pre-check so we can cut staffing (at least this was a recent excuse for the bedlam)…. Well these are the same folks that won’t pay 25 dollars to check a bag and you want them to pay XX dollars for precheck? And it didn’t work out? Duh.
    In my experience govt is not great at running the show like a business…. The end result seems to be even more havoc than not.

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