Baggage pilfering: high-risk items

2014-02-11 11:20
Cape Town – After a video of a Cape Town International Airport ground handler allegedly rifling through luggage being loaded onto a British Airways plane did the rounds on Monday, we asked our readers whether they have ever had their luggage tampered with and what the outcome was.  

Watch the video here*

In the mean time, Comair has responded to the video, stating that the alleged tampering activities are unsubstantiated and that the security officer was performing a legitimate task.

Read Comair's full response here

However, this does not always seem to be the case, as a large number of readers shared stories about luggage being pilfered, stolen or tampered with at various airports.

From the responses, we’ve drawn up a list of awareness tips, including items most commonly removed from bags or damaged.

1. Broken locks, cut bags and mangled zips. Perhaps obvious, but almost all respondents reported that locks and zip ties had been broken, and that their bags had clearly been rummaged through. In some cases bags had even been cut or damaged, leading to many now opting for hard cover cases.

“I have had my bag broken into no less than 7 times since 2007. 3 of which occurred in one yr at O. R. TAMBO International airport on route to São Paulo… I reported it each time & SAA paid for the baggage repair & even replaced the whole bag in one instance where not fixable,” said reader, Adam Metcalfe.  

“Me and my wife's TSA friendly locks were cut from all our suitcases and allot of our items were found not to be in the same suitcases we have put it in when we left the USA!” stated Andre Muller.  

And if you thought, plastic wrapping your bag would discourage thieves, Michelle de Vries warns otherwise: “On a trip my husband did to Frankfurt in November, he had locks on his bag and had the bag wrapped in that security plastic that is supplied at the airport. (R50.00 for this service) At the end of his journey, not only had the plastic been cut off his bag and the locks broken, but in the process of cutting the plastic off, the person/s also cut through the top layer of this brand new bag.”  

2. Perfume and cologne. At least five of the more than 30 responses we received from readers, reported that perfume or cologne had gone missing from their bags.

“My expensive cologne was stolen from my bag on a Mango flight from Durban late last year. I wrote Mango customer care an email but they never responded,” said Tshepo Kgwaila.  

Andisa Macanda shared a similar story: “A bottle of perfume was stolen out of my luggage. Was travelling between EL an JHB. Reported this to SAA and was paid a bit more that a R100 for a bottle that I had purchased for R1250.”

3. Electronics. Unsurprisingly, electronics also make the list, with readers reporting cameras, iPods, phones, GPS and laptops disappearing from their luggage.  

Two of the worst cases reported involved cabin crew or ground staff forcing passengers into sending hand luggage to the hold, due to ‘lack of space in the cabin’.  

“My daughter was intimidated by cabin crew to have her hand luggage stowed in the hold when there was "insufficient space" on her flight from joburg to cape town two yrs ago, of course to find that her laptop was stolen from her bag when disembarking. SAA of course would take no responsibility after much correspondence to and fro,” said Jennifer Abrahams.  

Abdullah Banderker had an almost identical experience when a ground handler ran up to him and asked him to hand over his luggage, as the cabin was already over capacity. He did it reluctantly, only to get a nasty surprise on the other side. “Landed in PE, collected a hired car from europcar on the airport and when I wanted to take out my gps realised it was stolen out of my bag along with the charger and holder. They decided they didnt need a cell phone car charger n left that behind.”  

4. Souvenirs and gifts. While it sucks losing valuable items, having gifts and souvenirs you’d spent hours picking out for friends and family disappear is almost worse.  

“A few years ago my daughter & her family came to visit us in Cape Town from Ireland for Christmas . All the Christmas gifts they brought were stolen out of their luggage at Cape Town International,” said Linda Fochessati.  

Taznah Prins states: “Yes we have been unfortunate enough to arrive for a Christmas visit with our family only to discover that someone decided to do their Christmas shopping from our suitcases! !!! Nescafe coffee, tim tam biscuits, sheep skin slippers but to mention a few items.”

5. Jewellery. Three readers claimed to have had jewellery stolen from their luggage. John and Christine Strates lost two valuable rings a couple of years ago, one which held seven diamonds.

“I caught a flight from OR Tambo to Cape Town yesterday morning. Took my suitcase off the conveyer belt, had no lock on.  They stole my jewellery, threw my make up out and stained all my clothing.The same happened to two other people on the same flight,” said Tanis.  

6. Clothing. It seems as though clothing remains largely untouched, although one reader did report that a single shoe went missing out of her bag on a flight to Cape Town once, while another reader tweeted us about her entire suitcase being returned empty after reporting the bag missing.

7. Money. One unfortunate reader lost a large amount of cash on a flight between Johannesburg and London a couple of years ago.

“$2000 were taken out of our bag when we landed in London we did not have the money for the taxi,” said Peter Stavalos.  

8. Sports equipment. Surprisingly, only one reader responded with a story of sports equipment being stolen, when he discovered that a driver had been snatched from his plastic-wrapped golf bag.  

9. All of the above/bag missing completely. While most readers reported single items missing from their luggage, there were a few who experienced the worst of all luggage theft – losing everything!

“I flew to Port Elizabeth and they didn't break into just one of my bags, 3 of them. I notified SAA immediately and they said I should put in a claim. Well needless to say SAA only paid out R1300, of a R13 000 claim.It was shoes, clothes, perfume and Christmas gifts. I tried to fight this but eventually ended up claiming from my own insurance to replace the goods,” said Natalie van Niekerk.  

Now, while it sucks to have items taken OUT of your bag, a number of readers raised their concern over having items placed INTO their bags and the security risks this holds.

One reader called Robyn shared a spine-chilling tale: “I traveled on Mango and there were major delays with the flight. I was using a sports bag, the main compartment of my bag, where my possessions were packed, was locked but the side pockets, which were empty, was not.  Upon arriving at my destination I opened the side pocket of my bag to find a brand new iPhone 5s box inside. The accessories for the phone (sim card, earphones, charger etc) were still inside but the phone was gone. I'm pretty certain that the phone was pilfered from someone else's luggage and the box (which would have been too incriminating to keep on their person) was discarded into the open pocket of my bag.”

She contacted the airport and reported the case, but says that nothing has come of it so far.  “I panicked, imaging a whole host of illegal things that could have been deposited into my luggage without my knowledge. Thankfully that wasn't the case, but it easily could have been, which is what's so frightening about it all,” she concluded.              

Safety tips for luggage:

- The hard and fast rule for keeping your stuff safe is to avoid keeping any valuables in your check-in luggage. Therefore, jewellery, electronics, money and even favourite clothing items should be kept in your hand luggage if at all possible. 

- With strict rules regarding liquids in carry-on, especially for long-haul flights, this could be slightly harder when it comes to perfume. If you do have a particularly soft spot for your perfume, consider decanting some of it into a smaller container... or rather just leave it at home.

- For larger items like sports equipment and musical instruments, we have one word for you: insurance! Read more about why taking out travel insurance is important
- As for having items placed INTO your bag, take a look at these 14 tips to get your luggage safely through the airport.

- If your luggage does go missing, you may want to check out what your passenger rights are as far as lost luggage is concerned

*Since this article was initially published the original video and YouTube account has been deleted.
Read more on:    travel  |  travel south africa

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