BAGGAGE THEFT IS RIFE AT AIRPORTS THE WORLD OVER, BUT THERE ARE WAYS TO SAFEGUARD YOUR POSSESSIONS WHEN FLYING, WRITES BERNARD O’RIORDAN
Never pack valuables in your check-in luggage. It’s one of the mantras of international travel.
But let’s face it, it’s not always possible to cram everything into your carry-on – especially shoes.
Having taken dozens of flights and always recovered my bags intact, I always thought those stories of baggage theft – particularly at major US airports – were probably overstated. Until it happened to me.
Having checked my bag at the Qantas desk at LAX a couple of years ago, I watched as it flopped onto the conveyer belt and vanished out of sight. It wasn’t until a few days after I returned home to Sydney that I realised an expensive pair of RM Williams boots was missing.
Thieves targeted bags checked to long-distance destinations, like Australia.
I clearly remembered packing them at the hotel in Hollywood, but hadn’t seen them since.
I have to admit I had stopped padlocking my bags when visiting the US because, without fail, the locks were always broken and my bags searched on previous trips.
So it’s possible those much-loved boots could have been pilfered at any point on my homeward trip, including the hotel where the bags had sat for much of the afternoon prior to my flight.
But when I read about systemic bag theft at LAX I realised it was more likely that I had been stung. Police at LAX said the thieves had targeted bags checked to long-distance destinations, like Australia, or those that had multiple connecting airports.
A separate CNN report also revealed passengers lost more than $2.5 million in valuables like jewellery, electronics and clothing at major US airports like LAX and JFK between 2010 and 2014, with more than 30,000 individual thefts reported.
The amorphous and sporadic nature of baggage theft makes it hard for the industry to tackle it in any systematic way, with multiple parties – airlines, contractors, airports and authorities like the TSA – responsible for baggage integrity at any given point in the system.
I’m still not convinced there’s much merit in locking your luggage these days, particularly at major US airports where they’ll rip the locks off regardless. But there are some basic steps every traveller can take, if only for peace of mind. It starts with identifying the weakest link in the chain and strengthening it.
Invest in Anti-Theft Luggage
In these days of increased theft, it pays to invest in hard-sided suitcases that are zipper free.
Typically made of PVC, Aluminum, Polypropylene or Polycarbonate, these cases might be slightly heavier than fabric bags, but they are the best way to protect your belongings.
That’s because they are slash-proof and they don’t rely on zippers to close them. So it’s virtually impossible for someone to cut open your bag quickly – a common tactic for thieves who are in a hurry. If you can slow would-be thieves down by just a few seconds, it might be enough to deter them altogether.
Locked zip bags can easily be opened just using a ball point pen, as this clip shows. The pen is run along the length of the zipper until the bag is wide open. It is then resealed by running the locks back over the tracks.
There’s no truly secure solution, but you can deter would-be thieves by buying a bag that’s zipperless, like the Samsonite S’Cure Spinner 28 with its three-point locking system, or the Samsonite Luggage F’lite GT 31 Spinner.
Buy a TSA-Approved Lock
You can use any type of lock to keep your baggage secure, but be warned that TSA officers in the United States will use bolt cutters if they want to open your bag for inspection.
Since 9/11, passengers flying to and from, and even within the US, have been required to use TSA-approved locks that can be unlocked by one of seven master keys held by a few higher-ups in the TSA, allowing travel sentries to search bags without having to damage the locks or bags.
These locks can be bought at most airports, but be sure that the packaging clearly states it is TSA approved. You can tell if a lock is TSA certified or TSA accepted if it has the special Travel Sentry Logo on it (pictured).
However, it’s worth noting that there have been many complaints on travel forums that suggest these locks are actually worthless, claiming TSA officers simply cut them off when they’re in a hurry.
Use a Cable Tie On Your Bag
Cable ties are no substitute for a secure lock, but they can be an incredibly useful way to determine whether your bag has been tampered with.
A cable tie is easy to break, but it might just make a would-be thief think twice about breaking into your bag.
If your bag appears on an airport carousel with the cable ties missing, you’ll know instantly that something’s not right. You’re best advised to call a security officer over and tell them you think your bag’s been tampered with.
Don’t Pack Valuables in Your Checked Luggage
It’s the most obvious tip of all: don’t put valuables in your checked luggage. That includes anything that’s a prime target for thieves including electronics, cameras, jewellery, money, credit cards, wallets – and expensive boots.
Expensive souvenirs that you bought during your travels should be protected in your carry-on, or packed up and shipped home.
And don’t risk something happening to a prized possession. I remember several years ago a friend put their child’s adored teddy bear in the checked luggage, but the bag went missing and the bear was never seen again.
Consider Travel Insurance
It’s often said that if you can’t afford travel insurance, then you can’t afford to travel. Travel insurance can provide a much needed safety net that protects you from theft, damage and loss of luggage or personal items.
But like any insurance product, it pays to read the fine print and understand what your’re covered for and what you’re not.
When it comes to baggage theft, a lot of insurers simply won’t cover you for items that were lost or stolen when they were ‘unsupervised’ – that means once they’ve been checked in with an airline (or bus or train) and they’re no longer in your sight.