Beware of sneaky baggage burglars onboard your next flight

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A story from a passenger flying to Hong Kong has drawn attention to a recent spate of onboard baggage burglary, particularly on flights to Asia.

The traveller, whose tale was published on Johnny Jet, explained how he saw someone moving her bag in the overhead locker and assumed, at the time, that it was a passenger moving his bag to gain access to their own.

As the plane landed in Hong Kong, a niggling feeling prompted him to check his bag. When he did, he found, or rather, did not find, his wife’s jewellery and cash. It had been stolen.

He immediately alerted flight staff, but they seemed disinterested in his pleas. He then told other passengers to check their own bags, and three had also been robbed. Flight attendants then decided that the situation was worth investigation.

The passenger described the man he saw moving his bag and asked everyone to check for someone matching that description. At this point, the thief tried to offload jewellery, camera equipment, false documents and “tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of stolen goods. Finally, the captain was informed and eventually policemen intervened.

Evidently, this thievery is not uncommon, especially on flights into Hong Kong. Supposedly, all the thieves come from the same town in China. They sit in back rows and watch for passengers who put their bags in lockers a little away from their seat. Then , when passengers are sleeping or engrossed in inflight entertainment, the thieves rifle through overhead stowage and steal whatever they can before putting the bags back in place, with the victims often none the wiser until they get to their destinations. Yet only around five per cent are being caught.

To safeguard your precious cargo, you should always lock your bags. It’s also probably best to store your more valuable items under your seat, although there have been instances of thieves stealing from under-seat bags while passengers sleep!

The bottom line is, be wary and keep a watchful eye on suspicious passengers. If you have cash or jewellery, stash it in your pocket, or find a way that you’ll be alerted if your bag is ever being burgled.

Were you aware that thieves operated onboard airplanes? How do you suggest keeping your baggage safe and secure?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 32
  1. 0

    This has happened to me, I was on a flight to the UK via Amstedam, and two bottles of duty free went missing from the overhead locker, this happened quite a few years ago, the flight attendants couldn’t do much I suppose many people had bought duty free so how could you prove which was yours? This is one reason I always insist that my bag goes into the overhead locker above my seat.

    • 0

      I am always concerned someone will steal my stuff. Especially when the first thing the air stewards tell you to do is to put handbags etc in the overhead locker for take off.
      I find these days people take so much on board that “my space” above me is often gone and I feel very uneasy putting my stuff a few metres away.
      Men are lucky enough to have wallets they can keep on their person however there is so much valuable stuff carried on a plane – all the things you wouldn’t trust in the baggage hold.
      How disappointing to hear this is going on. No doubt cheap air fares make this more possible.
      Of course the airline could fix this with a lockable overhead compartment or on board security lockers for those who need to store valuables. No doubt the airline could sell the locker space for a premium and make a little money on the deal.
      Security cameras would be good to – if planes are now just buses then lets have the same security that our land travellers enjoy.

    • 0

      Pretty well agree with you Rosret. Lockable compartments are a great idea but they would only compound the problem of disembarkment. I find it really galling that some people sit in their seats until people start moving down the aisle and then get up and take their time getting their carry ons out. In the meantime traffic comes to a standstill and I can only see this hold up doubling as the same people decide to fumble around for a key after they are on their feet. Also, how do the airlines get their keys back?

    • 0

      Rosret you can keep your handbag with and just place it on the floor under the seat in front. You do not have to put it in the overhead locker.

      Mick I cant see there is a suggestion that people be able to lock the lockers. The advice is to lock your take on luggage. There may well still be a hold up whilst people fumble for keys because people will insist on unlocking their bags to replace whatever they retrieved from them during flight. But there simply isn’t room for all passengers to be standing in line waiting for the doors to be opened, so there will always be those who wait then jump up and take then their time with their carry on. Just another of the joy of flight travel.

    • 0

      I don’t understand the sudden leaping that happens when you know it’s going to be quite a while before the doors open and then a wait at the luggage pick up point. I stay in my seat until most are off the plane.

      The frenzy to disembark is bizarre.

    • 0

      Rae these days most people try not to put anything in the baggage hold. It is such a pain because embarking and disembarking takes so much longer than “in the old days”.

    • 0

      Yes MICK keys would be a pain you are quite right. They could have a pin number access however that would probably slow everything down as well.

  2. 0

    Lock the damn bag – is my suggestion. No brainer!

    • 0

      People steal the entire bag on the way out the door. I have seen someone do just that but the owner realised just in time. However he had to call out loudly have the steward stop them.

    • 0

      It would take a very brave person to try and steal my bag. I keep strict tabs on anybody who goes into the locker where I have my bag stowed. If someone ever attempts to steal it or interfere with it in any way, I can guarantee the person attempting the exercise, would be taking a slightly different route home……one via the hospital!

  3. 0

    I’ve always thought this overhead locker issue was risky – I lock my bags in overhead locker just in case. Glad to read this reticle as it validates me.

  4. 0

    I find it hard to believe that anybody would thieve on a plane as there is no escape if caught out.
    We have never had this happen to us but we always make sure our luggage goes into the overhead locker above our seats.
    We refuse to travel on any Chinese or third world carrier having had one bad experience with Chinese travellers on a Malaysian Airlines flight years ago. As with all things there are some races who are to be avoided in certain situations. That may be ‘racist’ and may not make the politically correct living in their world of false ideals happy but it is what it is.

  5. 0

    Many years ago when backpacking I made a little device that when the two parts were separated a loud squeal was emitted.Cylinder, battery and electronic alarm. One side connected to one side of the bag, one to other. Intruder opens the bag, shrill noise. Looks like I had better resurrect it.

  6. 0

    Advice to lock the in flight bag is a good one. But I have to say why are people still taking expensive jewellery and the like on holiday? If it is for a special event and you simply can’t be without it, either wear it or keep it very close by say on the floor by your feet. You can even put the strap around your leg if you sleep. That way if someone is thin enough to get under the seat to swipe the bag they will wake you up.

    • 0

      I strap my bag around my leg.
      I think you will find jewelry is a very advantageous purchase overseas. Bahrain gold is beautiful and affordable, Italian crystal necklaces with gold infusion is not comparable, Swiss watches etc etc.
      Australia can’t offer these items at prices for the everyday person so its well worth the purchase on an overseas trip. The traveler should probably wear the items for safe keeping.

  7. 0

    I check luggage and carry very little aboard. Usually only the laptop and a handbag.
    Don’t take jewellery and use a money belt, under clothes, for cash and paperwork including passport and debit card. People are taking too much stuff onboard.

    The only time we were robbed was a wallet taken out of a backpack by an expert going down an escalator as we went up. Nothing could be done as they were gone very fast.

    We keep the credit card in the wallet and the very important debit card at our main bank in the money belt.

    My son had his phone taken from his back pocket a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona during the kerfuffle going on. They waited until he was occupied with two coffees and bumped one taking the opportunity to move in during the distraction.

    These days the professional thieves are everywhere people congregate so avoiding being distracted is vital. Patience and waiting until crowds ease also helps.

    I keep my handbag under the seat but if sitting in a seat with no under storage in front then I ask the hostess to secure it for the flight. I’ve never been refused this when in those seats.

    • 0

      The backpack is such an easy target. Those crowds and distractions are deliberate. Its very well organised crime. I think there is a market for knife proof backpacks.

  8. 0

    I think I would rather keep my credit card and cash in a pocket in my travel pants as they usually have strong clips or zips. I always have a backpack that I can put under the seat in front rather than up in the lockers but of course unless you have a partner with you to keep an eye on things when you line up for the toilet someone could still go through it while making it appear to others that it belongs to them. The moral of the story is don’t take expensive jewellery overseas and carry as little as possible stuff that is of value.

  9. 0

    I have always locked mine with combination locks but not always able to put it where it should be because of inconsiderate passengers.
    More importantly is to keep your eyes on your belongings AT ALL TIMES whilst going through the scanners after landing at the airports.

  10. 0

    For valuables like money, passports and expensive jewelry, put them in a passport wallet that straps to you and wear it underneath your clothes on the plane so no one can get to it and no airline staff can take it off you and tell you to put it overhead.

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