Photographer Has $2,000 in Camera Gear Go Missing After a JetBlue Flight


When photographer Jess T. Dugan picked up her luggage after a flight from Chicago to Boston on December 18th, something didn’t feel quite right. It felt a bit lighter than it should have. She opened it up, and, lo and behold, several thousand dollars of camera equipment was missing — oops.

Just as you or I would have done, Jess’ next move was to send a concerned e-mail to the folks over at JetBlue, reporting the incident and asking that they reimburse her for the insured value of her equipment — an amount far less than the costs she will actually incur in replacing it. Her argument was that, in accordance with TSA regulation, she did not lock her bags. She also knows for a fact that only JetBlue employees touched the bags between Chicago and Boston. The issue seemed fairly cut and dry.


Unfortunately, all she received in return was a cordial e-mail apologizing for her misfortune, explaining that the TSA does, in fact, allow you to purchase approved baggage locks, and informing her that she will not be compensated for her loss per JetBlue’s Contract of Carriage. Here’s an excerpt of the email:

At JetBlue we make every attempt to minimize situations such as that which you have described. Our crewmembers have extensive background checks and work in a closely monitored environment where they are not allowed to open your bag in most situations (barring safety issues, or in attempt to determine the owner of a bag that is missing its identification). The same may be said of the monitoring and employment verification of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Unfortunately, it is not always possible to determine the cause of this type of incident unless it is witnessed or the missing item is located.

We certainly do not allow or promote any type of disrespect toward our customers’ belongings. Proof that a crewmember had not treated a customer’s belongings with such respect as JetBlue’s values dictate would result in swift and appropriate action toward that crewmember from JetBlue. If you have evidence of theft you may wish to also report this to the police, who are the proper authority to investigate allegations of criminal activity.

Our records do indicate that Baggage Report BOSB600262964 was opened for this incident. However, as the items that were reported as missing fall under limited liability per the JetBlue Contract of Carriage, please be aware that this is a courtesy report that will not result in monetary compensation […]

If we are able to locate your belongings you will be contacted to verify ownership.

Please be aware that TSA regulations do not prohibit you from placing a lock on your baggage. For more information about TSA policies regarding baggage locks, please visit [this link]

The airline representative also recommends that Dugan file a claim with the TSA, which may be the guilty party in this situation.

Jess then decided to write and publish an open letter on her blog, explaining the situation to her readers and asking JetBlue, again, that she simply be reimbursed for the insured value of her equipment. And as is often the case when something like this happens, the online photography community has jumped to her aid, spreading the story through various channels and garnering some serious attention for her complaint (and bad press for JetBlue, no doubt).

Locks bearing the "Travel Sentry" mark are among those approved by the TSA

Locks bearing the “Travel Sentry” mark are among those approved by the TSA

TSA-approved locks, which can be opened by security officers using universal keys, may be a good solution to prevent theft in certain stages in a bag’s journey, but what if it’s the universal key holders who are the thieves? Just this past October, there was a big stir over a former TSA agent who confessed to stealing over $800K worth of passengers’ belongings over four years.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: always carry-on your gear whenever possible!

JetBlue Stole My Cameras [Jess T. Dugan via Reddit]

Update: Photographer Steven Frischling has posted an article questioning Dugan’s assertion that the airline is at fault.

Image credits: Header illustration created with Baggage Claim by basheertome and Airbus A320, JetBlue at Logan, as the sun rises. “A Little Blue Will Do”. by wbaiv, JetBlue @ SeaTac by prayitno

  • Samcornwell

    That’s awful. I once put a suitcase packed with equipment in the hold. It was all there when I landed but one of the lenses had been completely dismantled! It was only a nifty fifty so I didn’t bother complaining, but still.

    Anyway, can’t Ms Dugan press criminal charges?

  • TylerIngram

    So there are photographers who actually check-in their camera gear? Though the majority would go out of their ways to make sure it would fit in their carry-on baggage, right?

    Now, if she had a rider on her insurance for her gear, wouldn’t she be able to claim it against that? I don’t think I’d ever check-in any photography gear.

  • Kay O. Sweaver

    She checked in camera gear? Seriously? FAIL.

    I used to work for an airline. NEVER check anything of serious value. The risk of loss, theft or damage are simply too high – they’re moving millions of bags and cargo every day.

    Either that or insure it yourself.

  • Michael Choi

    It’s her own fault, never ever let those thieves have a easy way to steal your stuff. Pity and stupid at the same time.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    jet. blue.

  • Nathan Blaney

    No sympathy here. Why would you check your camera gear? I either carry it on or ship it with tracking and insurance. Maybe she’s new to flying or something….

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    I love how company’s can just fob people off and in some way say “oh well, people steal – you should buy our approved locks!” pah!

  • Michael Choi

    At the same time they have to protect themselves from cons and scams

  • HDR Media

    Only $2000? It’s unfortunate, but that’s not a lot of gear. Our stuff depreciates a lot more than that every year.

  • Lance Andrewes

    Does the TSA ever use the “secret” code to get into approved locks? Last time I came back from the States the lock was inside my bag, cut open, with a note from the TSA. I can understand that the TSA doesn’t want to fluff about opening locks, but I suspect you’d might as well use a cable-tie as all the lock does is show that a bag has or hasn’t been opened.

  • Jason

    Well for starters. Checking it was stupid, though possibly unavoidable. Additionally, in reality $ 2000 is not really a lot of camera gear. I am sure there are much more expensive examples of this type of stuff. Besides, there is no proof that her gear was there in the first place. If the ‘insured’ value is really $2000 then she should file a claim with her insurance, or maybe she already did and she is also trying to get the airline to also cover her gear, which would be insurance fraud.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    all they seem to do is to avoid anything troublesome in any way possible – even when it’s their employees that are to blame. Even if things weren’t stolen and they somehow fell out of her bags (!) there doesn’t seem to be any kind of follow-up or investigation here, just “oh, if your things turn up we will let you know” it’s quite ridiculous

  • Jim

    2k isn’t even a camera or good lens… but to everyone else’s point… checking camera gear, any camera gear… what was she thinking? or is this just a way to get publicity so people read her blog??

  • TommyNIK

    First of all, why would she EVER check her gear? I ALWAYS make my camera gear a carry-on. It never leaves my sight.

    Secondly, two grand is nothing. That could be the cost of one lens and would barely cover the cost of a pro body.

  • TommyNIK

    “or good lens”

    It certainly is. Some of the very best pro lenses fall in that range.

    I’m wondering if what she checked wasn’t a bunch of lighting equipment, tripods, etc.?

  • kel

    Sentiments are the same as many here – why would you ever check your camera gear? Then again, $2K worth of equipment is nothing and could have been far worse. Clothes are rarely stolen. If you’re bringing a carry-on, make it your gear. Common sense and logic.

  • pippa

    I think it sucks but she shouldn’t have checked her camera gear. You can carry A LOT in hand luggage. And while she is most likely telling the truth, it’s possible she is not. It’s her word against theirs: who is to know who is right? And she should have replacement cost insurance, not current market value insurance.

  • Sonya

    My first thoughts were the same as the others. With the current check in baggage fees, I would’ve just shipped it or find a local camera shop and borrow the equipment. I always use zip ties to secure my luggage. Traveled 3-4 times each year and have never had anyone open my bags. It deters people who shouldn’t be opening my luggage from doing so.

  • Sonya

    Yes they do. There is a universal key. That is why it is ‘TSE Approved’.

  • TSY87

    pack a gun (if flying within the US) in with your check in luggage. That way, you can use a real lock and only YOU get the key. Also, it helps if you are taking pictures in sketchy areas… haha

  • Chris Hayworth

    Sorry to say this but it would appear another Part time amateur photographer has bitten the dust. One why wasn’t the kit insured 2 Why wasn’t it in carry on and 3 Why wasn’t she asking for the full value from Jet Blue. That’s the least a professional photographer would do. They are the tools of your trade there fore it’s your responsibility to keep them safe.

  • ga1n

    I second that carry on is a must w camera gear.

    But all you folks minimizing her 2 grand loss are full of yourselves. What’s your point in minimizing her loss. I would be damned pissed if i had lost $100 during travel and most importantly my images..

    more empathy please–quit stroking your ego

  • Nathan Blaney

    Also, the other reasonable thing to do is to rent on the other end (which she ended up doing anyway) and just billing the client – problem solved.

  • kikinlily

    As a professional photographer, I never check my camera gear, but i do put some stuff like batteries and my tripod in my bag. While many of the posters on this site have commented about how this is “stupid” and jess is “not a professional”, i’ve worked with literally thousands of photographers who have had gear “misplaced” through shipping, even with tracking, lost for weeks in the mail, or shown up damaged.

    I read through Jess’ post, and the reason why the digital gear was checked, was because a large format and medium format camera were carried on board. Quite honestly, I don’t know many amateur photographers who just toodle around with large format cameras, or are shown in major galleries + publications.

    Thanks petapixel for picking this story up. This is one of my greatest fears, and as a traveling photojournalist, I think there needs to be better accountability for all airlines. As travelers, we seem to go through way more invasive procedures than what happens in the back rooms. If airlines aren’t aware of how stuff is stolen and who is doing it, makes me wonder how secure the flights realy are.

  • Lee

    Look at all these camera snobs posting here. Blaming the victim for not checking her paltry 2000 dollars worth of gear. Read the blog post where she claims she was already carrying on as much as she could.

    The outrage should be pointed at any company that allows its employees to out and out steal from its customers.

    But no, it’s more cool to write “pfft only 2000 dollars worth of equipment, get some real camera gear you loser.”

  • Monica

    #1 Don’t pack items in your bags that are not covered by the airline. Carry them on or ship them. #2 When the bag goes down the bagbelt it is inspected by the TSA so it is not in the hands of the airline the whole time.

  • Ayden Gotzmer

    The problem with the TSA locks is that they are so thin and flimsy, I managed to cut mine with a scissor just to see if someone could get into my luggage that was not TSA.

    What’s to stop anyone else from doing it?

  • Monica

    She can’t press charges since there is no proof she packed the items and there is no proof of who took them if she did.

  • ga1n

    I couldn’t agree more with you on closing your point on “tools of trade”.
    I think she deserves the criticism of not checking in.

    But your snarky comment deriding her as one less hapless “amateur” only serve to point out you are an amateur yourself.

  • Lance Andrewes

    Oops. I missed out a crucial element in my post. It was a “TSA Approved” lock that had been cut off my bag They’re relatively expensive (at least when bought in New Zealand).

  • 11

    How about putting a *Cell-phone with GPS* to log the location to internet? This devide could be expensive ($100)? but at least allows one to track where the bag is?

  • Richard Ford

    God it’s a couple of grand. All that fuss you’d of thought it was 20K. :-S Carry on – or let it be. It ain’t worth the agro – it’s just stuff.

  • shashinka

    I lost my key for my TSA lock few years ago. It took me thirty seconds to find master key on eBay. Needless to say, I tossed out other three keys/locks I had. One key will open all three of my locks now.

    If it was easy for me to get one, it is easy for anyone to get, including ramp agents, outside baggage haulers, the guy in the Sbarro’s cafe in Terminal; B.

  • shashinka

    How do you point the blame at “the company?” JetBlue is not only point of contact with baggage. TSA, sub-contracted baggage handlers for Airport Authority, and everyone in between. Not saying the vic deserves blame, but how can she prove who took her gear?

  • Anthony Luke

    No photographer I know checks their cameras. ALWAYS carry them on.

  • Anthony Luke

    “…or good lens.” hmmm. 50mm 1.2L is $1600, 24mm 1.4L is $1700, 35mm 1.4L is $1479….

    I could go on but you get the point.

  • Thirteenguy


  • Thirteenguy

    I would just fly southwest and avoid the luggage fees. Instead of carry on the film gear/check in the digital gear, I would do the opposite. A theft might not know WTF the medium format film and view camera are anyways. Digital gear has a hight chance of theft

  • Bob T Hood

    I never ever check my cameras….. Ever!

  • szfofa

    You can’t really carry on your Tenba Air cases with all your lighting gear in it….

  • Bua

    Fairly poor by JetBlue. So let me guess this, if they cancel, delay, crash my flight they are not responsible, They are not responsible if they lose my stuff. What the hell am I paying them for? Is it really just pure luck that I get to my destinations? ;)

  • loosecanvas

    I never put my laptop in my checked luggage, but was forced to on one trip. The bag didn’t show up when I arrived, until three days later. My laptop was there…with screws missing.

  • Lee

    She shouldn’t have to prove it really. In a world of cc television and security cameras on every corner, airports could go a long ways towards this kind of thing by monitoring who they employ.

  • Saul B

    Just think: if the screening of employees — both airline and TSA — who have access to items that go into the cargo hold of planes is so lax that they can leave their shifts with passengers’ belongings, just think what such an employee who perhaps has been bribed could load *onto* a plane.

    Anyone who thinks the TSA’s show at the checkpoint is keeping them safe is a fool.

  • slvrscoobie

    Some professional she is checking her luggage.
    How to prevent this in the future : DONT CHECK LUGGAGE. Ive carried on $10K worth of camera gear for this reason.

  • Ron van Middendorp


  • MD

    This is embarrassing. Anyone chastising the concept of checking a bag as though it’s invariably avoidable is just proving how inexperienced they really are. I went to school with Jess; I know a bit about her process and the amount of gear she uses. There’s absolutely no way that ANY airline would allow a passenger to carry all that on.

    Every working photographer is going to be backed into this corner eventually. If you’ve never been in a position to have more than one camera bag, perhaps you shouldn’t be advertising that fact as though it qualifies you in some way.

  • MD

    I’d be willing to be Jess makes better pictures with that $2000 than most of these posters have ever made with their “real” equipment.

  • MD

    Not all artists have clients. But of course, if she’s not making money she must not be a real photographer, right?

  • Richard Ford

    Habeas Corpus, Lee. Every heard of it?