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Thieves on airplanes

The stress levels for flying are high enough already, but I always thought my valuables were safe as long as I kept them overhead or under the seat in front of me. But thieves fly too, it appears. Do you pay close attention when someone is supposedly rearranging stuff in his/her bag next to your's in the overhead? There is no way to see, anyway. Do you take your purse/messenger bag or laptop with you to the bathroom? Do you wake your sleeping spouse or travel companion to watch your stuff when you leave your seat? No, me neither.

Posted by
3901 posts

Anything extremely valuable to me (money/credit cards, passport/ID, camera gear, ipad/ipod) are either in my or my hubby's personal item and under the seat...I really wish people would try their best to put their bags above their seats tho (I know it's not always possible because of more carry ons vying for the same amnt of overhead). Half the time, we've been able to put the bags either above our seat or in the middle compartments, but a few times had to put them 3 or 4 compartments ahead, and once they were about 8 rows back behind the seats against the bathroom bulkhead (that was fun for trying to retrieve our bags...)...

Posted by
8293 posts

It's my feeling that people who can afford to fly are probably not thieves, at least not petty thieves. They may be corporate thieves or jewel thieves like the ones who stole $70,000,000 of diamonds etc., from a store in London recently but it's unlikely the guy across the aisle is waiting for you to use the washroom so he can rifle your carry-on. The thief in the news story noted above was flying on Judge Judy's dime and is obviously a petty thief not likely to be a frequent flier.

Posted by
6766 posts

It must be a slow day at the local news station (the reference to Judge Judy immediately made me laugh)...pretty much every sensationalist story is reported to drive ratings and entice fear. One incident does not clarify the scope or breadth of the problem, assuming it amounts to a major issue worth worrying about. I guess you (not the OP, just any person in general) can spend your time being worried or anxious about things that have not happened to you yet, or you can just go on and take each day as it is, use good judgment with valuables, stay positive but self-aware and maintain your mental health. If something is uniquely valuable, insure it or leave it at home.

Posted by
21327 posts

A slow news day but am interesting story. I suppose that theft is possible anytime but what self-respecting thief is going to pay three or four hundred dollars for the opportunity to look through a couple of bags. I mean you would have to steal a lot to off set your business expense for the days. And who would want to be catch is small metal tube with no opportunity for escape. A lot of things to worry about. This is not one of them. NO to all your questions.

Posted by
1064 posts

No, this is not a big worry, just another thing to be aware of. The story seemed both odd and interesting, so I am sharing it as proof that scorpions can fly. As for who would spend hundreds of dollars to steal stuff from fellow passengers, the answer is no one. But kleptomaniacs and professional thieves fly for the same reasons as everyone else. Again, not a big deal, but nothing to be brushed aside, either.

Posted by
3921 posts

Traveling domestic, I always have my small purse at my feet and take it with me to the bathroom. Traveling international, I pack my small cross-body purse (containing Euro coins) in my suitcase stored overhead, and I'm wearing my moneybelt with my Euros, passport & ATM card.

I'm on of those crazies who always wants to board the plane as early as possible - only because I want my suitcase directly above me. I want to know that when I arrive, someone else didn't deplane with my suitcase; it also helps that I have a blue suitcase vs. a black one.

All being said, I'm not checking out people thinking there might be a thief on the plane - I'm just reducing the chance of wasting valuable time, especially time on vacation.

Posted by
8625 posts

Interesting story.

When I first started traveling with just carry on, I read something that said to place your carryon in the bin across the aisle from you to keep an eye on it. I did that a couple of times but then on crowded planes it just seems better to have it over you because it confuses others.

I also read a suggestion for women to wear a very small crossbody bag on the plane which would contain just your passport/money/credit/debit cards. I tried this a time or 2 and it worked fine, then I decided this was probably overkill even though. Last time I traveled internationally I put my purse in my totebag and shoved that under the seat. I kept all the purse compartments zipped as well as the tote zipped and figured having to go thru a number of layers of zippers would be a deterrent and perhaps someone else would be an easier target.

I am not certain thieves would fly just to steal, but I do believe if thieves are traveling for other purposes they might take any opportunities that open before them.

editing to add after I read Joan's response that I have started traveling with bright pink handle covers and a bright pink luggage strap on my dark green RS bag.

Posted by
6766 posts

I'd be more worried about airline/airport personnel taking stuff from your luggage than a passenger because they have much greater proximity and access to (checked) bags and their contents. That's why people used to have locks on luggage before TSA said to leave them unlocked. Anyone had their bags tampered through and something (like nice gifts) have gone missing, especially if your bag arrives late? Happened to me on an overseas flight a long time ago. The worst thing is there is no recourse except having insurance (many credit cards have coverage up to a certain limit so, while it stinks, who cares if you're covered? The goods won't be replaceable but you'll get some monetary compensation)

Nothing in this story suggests that a woman paid money to fly just to steal - it seems like she was simply going back home, and the crime may have been a simple opportunity (to add more sensationalism, I could posit that maybe Judge Judy put the smack down and sentenced her to pay money to the plaintiff and she needed to trade goods for money - of course I'm kidding here). Who knows, many passengers flash their gadgets and leave them in plain sight that it seems that some people can make themselves more vulnerable to begin with...hence the crime of opportunity. Having said that, I don't bring my purse or wallet to the bathroom. They're stored far beneath the seat and I tie them a certain way that I would know if they've been tampered with.

Posted by
8625 posts

Agnes, not wanting you to give away secrets but what do you tie? Handles or drawstrings of your bag? Just curious as I am always looking to improve my travel skills.

Posted by
6766 posts

@Pam - nothing at all sophisticated, just the handles (or a piece of ribbon, rope or other string). There are all kinds of different knots that are unique to the way you tie it that make it more of a pain for someone else to unravel it quickly or to recognize if someone has touched it (I can do it very discretely without any one noticing - I'm not talking about doing Boy Scout type knots on the plane which would look weird). It also serves as a signal to someone else that I care about my bag to make it less accessible. Like I said, it's a very minor thing, not at all sophisticated but something simple to alert me - that's all. I really never worry about my bags if I take some small measure.

It sounds like this thief has all sorts of other problems - prior arrests, drugs, etc so this story likely over-represents the degree of theft on airplanes. I'd rather see hard data on reported thefts especially lost luggage items that were in possession of airline/airport personnel at some point.

Posted by
8625 posts

Oh I see what you mean, Agnes. What a great idea. I usually also have a few twist ties in my purse in case I decide I want to slow someone down by using them thru my purse zippers so even that would translate to my tote bag on the plane. I am traveling with an iPad for the first time this Fall. I figured no one would bother with my years old Kindle, but will be more careful with the iPad. I cracked up at the thought of come kind of huge Boy Scout knot!

Posted by
31318 posts

Roy,

This probably doesn't happen too often, but just the same your post is a good reminder. I agree with others that anyone that can afford to fly these days probably is not someone who engages in such activities. As previously mentioned, I suspect the woman in this case had her fare paid by the show. She's probably an opportunistic thief in her "everyday life" and just continued with her usual behaviour, and wasn't too aware of the fact that she was inside a metal tube and would be corralled and searched once the flight landed.

I don't usually leave my seat on the short haul domestic flights, but I'll be a bit more vigilant on the longer flights to Europe.

Posted by
1064 posts

Frank II,
I missed that CNN story. Maybe flying scorpions are not as rare as we thought.

A good point in the article is to make doubly sure you are not leaving anything behind, which opportunists can grab. And make sure your under-seat bag is secured properly. I lost a cell phone once when it slid out of the side of a bag with gaps at the the top, even when closed. Fortunately an honest person found and turned it in to Delta. We added velcro to the inside of that bag to prevent it happening again.

Posted by
6766 posts

There can be an almost unlimited number of articles about "thieves among us" :-) On trains, in the workplace, in libraries, in airport terminals, in hotel rooms, in coffee shops, at the grocery store, etc....Not sure why anyone would think fliers would be exempt. Just for fun, I wanted to see if I could find "thieves in Starbucks" and sure enough, there are multiple articles just on that (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1382248/Starbucks-prime-spot-iPad-purse-snatchings.html). I guess I'm saying...is this really worthy of being news? There are potentially dishonest people in all settings and instead of worrying, folks should exercise diligence over their belongings. For CNN, everything is one giant headline news story as if it was breaking news that never happened before. There are folks on this forum (most likely non-frequent or first-time travelers) who will read something like this and become even more anxious about travel or will overestimate their chances of being victimized, which is a shame. Not saying that being careful is not important..but it's not cause for alarm.

Posted by
1064 posts

These accounts are nothing to obsess over but neither are they something to brush aside. The reason we point out stuff like this is to remind people to practice due diligence wherever they are, even in an airplane cabin, not to freak out first-time travelers.

Posted by
2168 posts

Anything of value and important to the success of my trip--money, cards, passport, phone and camera--is in my zipped purse throughout the flight and goes with me to the restroom--no way I'd consider for a second that my valuables could be left at my seat, and I travel solo so no one to watch out for them. I prefer a window seat so that when I nap my purse is wedged next to me. My carry-on fits under the seat and contains nothing terribly exciting--knitting, book, spare shoes and clothes, guide books, toilet articles.

Posted by
1987 posts

Cmon Ray, we need details!

i know of some people that have had stuff stolen from there overhead luggage

Posted by
8293 posts

I used to post teasingly about fraidy cat travellers expecting to be ripped off or pick pocketed on the tarmac as they exited the airplane, after having heard /read from this one and that one, this blog and that blog, that Europe is rife with thievery, scams and general disrespect for tourists. Now these same fearful folks have to concern themselves about thieves on planes? I despair, I really do.

Posted by
1718 posts

This one time, flying back to the left coast from Reagan in DC, I had made a stop at an Utz store to get some authentic local potato chips for a good friend of mine who grew up in Baltimore. I wanted to keep the bag pristine, and carefully fit it under the seat where I could keep my eyes on it and my feet off of it. It was the perfect souvenir for this particular buddy.
The Utz package was inside a grocery bag but not completely concealed.

Well, sitting beside me were a mom and her ca. 5-yr-old boy.
Before the seatbelt sign came on, I got up to use the facilities, and returned to my seat.
As we were gathering our belongings to de-plane, I realized that the bag of chips had been opened and sampled and creased back shut.
I had to stand there in the aisle with this woman waiting for the plane to empty, looking at her doing her best not to look at me.
She clearly knew it was a no-no, but didn't say anything in the way of acknowledgement or apology.
Of course, she thought that all the two of them had done was steal some of my snack.
They didn't realize that they had ruined a gift that I had planned out well ahead of time, and invested a good deal of emotion in.
I would have seemed crazy (crazier) if I had made a scene about it, but honestly the incident was wounding far in excess of the monetary value of the item.

I guess the teaching moment that I draw from this instance is to try and avoid the assumption that how I read a situation, or what priorities I put on some object or event or remark, will sometimes be very different from what it means to someone else. Respect for others is a virtue in itself, not a matter of deciding what is a big deal to me or not a big deal to me.

Posted by
1217 posts

I don't worry about this all that much. But I'm a big believer in that thieves are successful when they go after the easiest possible target, and if there's a way to spend 5-10 seconds to get a person of concern to move on to an easier mark then no big deal, will take that small extra precaution.

I'm also married to A Camera Guy who is a tall fellow that stashes his high replacement cost travel rig in the overhead bin for leg room reasons. We typically pick aisle seats across from each other for leg room reasons, and yeah, if I see someone messing around in the bin over his head where his camera gear is, I do keep an eye on that person, lest a high value lens go walkies on us.

Posted by
1809 posts

Some airline theft is an attempt to cover up stupidity.

Case in point, coworker shows up at office with a story about how his laptop was stolen on a plane. It might have worked, but... the airline called the number on the laptop and said "we found this one the plane, is it yours?" LOL!

We had a guy do the same thing at security. One of our staff called the airport and "yes, we have it... we tried to page him but he didn't return" LOL!

So... reports of theft aren't always what they seem.

Posted by
4365 posts

I don't understand all of these 'anyone who can afford to fly won't be thieves' comments. Huh? Flying is cheap these days...especially if you're a thief.

I wouldn't leave my iPad sticking out of the top of the setback pouch, but other than that, I'm not too concerned. It takes an act of Congress for me to get my bag out from under the seat, so the thief would have to be my seatmate to not be really obvious...and except for some domestic travel my seatmate is also my husband. I also can't remember the last time I had a purse or anything that looked like one out for people to see. I try to make my bags look uninteresting.

Also, the overhead bins are so packed that no one could even get my bag opened - they'd have to pull it out of the compartment first. Sure, they could just stick a ball-point pen in the zipper and open up the end, but pretty much everything is in a packing cube of some sort and cinched down by the internal straps so they'd give up before they got started.

I am amazed at how easy it would be to walk off with crew members' belongings, though. They're usually just lying out in the open. Of course, they may have gotten a bag out then needed to quickly attend to a passenger...But during cart service their bags are always out in the open. It would be easy to rifle through them, but I'm a good girl.

I do watch people rifling through the overhead compartment - but that's usually because I'm bored.