On January 1, 2014, the Boston Globe reported in an article entitled “Virtuoso’s flutes destroyed by US Customs” that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) opened Boujemaa Razgui’s luggage and destroyed his flutes. Mr. Razgui is a Canadian citizen and is a flute virtuoso who performs regularly with The Boston Camerata. At New York’s JFK Airport, USCBP opened his luggage (without Mr. Ragui present) and incorrectly determined the flutes were “agricultural items” and destroyed them.  USCBP put a little note in Mr. Razgui’s luggage with a telephone number to call.  The note provided a telephone number to call.  It was not a written report about what was removed and what happened to the removed items. By the time Mr. Razgui received the note, the flutes were already destroyed.  Mr. Razgui was given no opportunity to educate USCBP about what were the flutes.

With all the sharing of information between USCBP and the Canada Border Services Agency (and other Canadian government departments), it is difficult to understand how this could happen.  But, mistakes like this happen from time to time. In Canada, if the CBSA makes an error and destroys property, there is an informal process to seek compensation. In the U.S., the process is more complicated.  Unfortunately, Mr. Razgui will have to navigate the U.S. system since the flutes were destroyed by USCBP, not the CBSA.

This unfortunate event should remind travelers that USCBP uses those little master keys to open your luggage when you are not present.  It reminds travelers that USCBP may take something out of your luggage.  You may receive a telephone number to call, but will not be informed about what was removed and/or if it was destroyed in the note.  This event reminds travelers to make a list of what has been packed in checked baggage.  It also reminds travelers to not pack agricultural items in checked baggage as it may not arrive at the destination.

While this story tells of a horrible mistake and the problems USCBP’s error creates for a Canadian flute virtuoso, it is an important wake-up call. Other packed items may be at risk. Travelers to the United States need to be aware of what are prohibited items that cannot enter the United States in luggage.  Travelers also should be mindful of other items (such as documents, USB keys, computers, smart phones, etc.) that can be examined and copied.  Just because you have locked your luggage does not mean the items are in a safe that can be opened only by you.