Earlier this week, police nabbed a Phoenix couple suspected of stealing over 1,000 pieces of luggage from airport carousels and selling the contents at yard sales and flea markets. The arrests come on the heels of October’s similarly startling admissions by a Northwest Airlines baggage supervisor in Oregon who pled guilty to stealing $10,000 worth of checked luggage (subsequently hocking the loot on eBay) and a Philadelphia TSA officer who heisted multiple laptops while screening passengers’ bags. With luggage theft cases involving everything from switched destination tags to underwear burglars hitting the news lately, concerned fliers are now questioning the security of their belongings from check-in to carousel.
The TSA has responded, pledging to crack down on luggage theft by amping up surveillance at airports around the country. Officials in Atlanta, one of the country’s main hubs of air transport and where multiple theft arrests were made this year involving Delta employees, say new technology, like TV systems monitoring carousels (as well as security personnel) and handling networks limiting human interaction with bags has and will continue to help stave off cases of thievery and make sure criminals are caught. In October, the Department of Transportation mandated an increase in lost luggage reimbursements of up to $3,300 per passenger on domestic flights, and required airlines (most of whose “contracts of carriage” allow them to deny liability for valuables) to drop arbitrary limits on reimbursement claims for missing items (like only picking up the tab on outbound flights).
Statistically speaking, when considering the hundreds of millions of individual bags handled by airlines annually, cases where suitcases completely disappear still remain rare (even declining in 2008), and doesn’t justify the need for airports nationwide to revert back to the practice of enforcing claim check matching at carousels…yet. Still, since the handling process isn’t perfect and no international standards for luggage security exist, theft proves a “sticky” issue for all parties involved, no matter how it occurs. It’s impossible to completely avoid, but there are ways to protect your belongings from becoming castaways:
Only carry on – or at least your most valuable items The #1 defense, TSA and airlines say, is making sure what you can’t live without sticks with you at all times during flight. Not checking bags at all? The best possible route.
Have your suitcase shrink-wrapped Some airports will seal your luggage, for a small fee, in tamper-resistant plastic, and some will even wrap bags before passing them through security.
Make sure your bag stands out – but not for the wrong reasons A black bag that looks just like everyone else’s is tempting to thieves, but so is an expensive Louis Vuitton that advertises the likelihood of expensive contents inside
Get insurance Common options will pay you 5 to 10 percent of the trip price if your luggage goes missing. If worse comes to worse, always file claims right away.
Readers: Do you have any of your own tips on luggage theft prevention? Please share!