Bag tag sabotage

Luggage carousel

For various reasons, my luggage is hard to steal from. I take hundreds of flights every year, and so far, thank goodness, nothing has gone missing permanently. It’s no secret that there’s a problem with some airline and TSA employees stealing from luggage. It occurred to me that those thieves might sabotage the tags on luggage they’ve stolen from, in order to make the bag “disappear,” rather than to be traced to their handling of it.

Thieves who steal luggage off the carousels are another matter. These have flourished since 9/11, when “security” was taken from the baggage claim area in order to focus on security at the gates.
Currently, there’s a bag theft epidemic at Atlanta Airport carousel.)
My new “bag tag sabotage” theory is based on these facts:

1. A huge number of suitcases go missing in the airline system;

2. I take hundreds of flights (every year for the past 16), yet my bags have never disappeared;

3. My bags are harder than most to steal from;

Therefore, I’m proposing that much of the “lost luggage” has been ransacked, then deliberately made lost.

What do you think?

© Copyright 2008-2012 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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  • I’m surprised this story hasn’t had more follow-up. It’s a fact that baggage carousel theft occurs, and you don’t even need to mess with tags. About 5 yrs ago my checked bag apparently failed to come onto the carousel at Basel-Mulhouse-Freiberg airport. I reported it there and then. Was told it’ll be on the next flight. Nothing.
    Then, 3 days later I get a phone call from an unknown Dutchman who says he has found my suitcase lying open in a parking area on a German autobahn, most contents intact including some important documents but a few valuables gone. Anyway, we arranged for me to get them back and this was such a great act of citizenship by the finder.
    But the point is this. If you have ill-intent and want to steal a suitcase from an airport baggage reclaim, nothing could be easier. Simply stand ‘upwind’ near where the bags come out of the belt exit. There’s lots of people milling around. All the bags look vaguely similar. Just lift off a tempting looking one and walk confidently to the door. There are zero checks within the EU (or on internal national flights) on baggage leaving the baggage hall. And if someone challenges you, you just look surprised and apologise that you got the wrong bag. It’s really that easy.
    So until airports check your baggage tag against your passport as you leave, the message is ‘watch out for baggage hall thieves’.

  • Once, coming back from the US, I unpacked wiithout noting anything special and found a TSA note at the bottom of my bag. I have heard horror stories, but sometimes they pack your bag like they found it.

  • Baggage theft by airport employees is also pretty bad in France and getting worse. Here is a few articles if you read French:

    Often, screeners work in concert with the guys putting the bags in the airplanes, calling them to describe interesting bags.

  • One simple thing that will always cause “security” to open and rifle a checked bag is a stack of magazines—even a short stack. The coated paper scans like a solid block. So agents open the bag, confirm the obvious, then allow their curiosity to run rampant. TSA is required to leave its calling card, but tend to “run out.”

  • I think this is a good theory. It explains why my luggage has never been lost: I never leave anything valuable in checked luggage. Valuable items all go on the plane with me. Nonetheless, sometimes, when I open my checked luggage (and I’ve heard this from a friend of mine, too), the contents are totally disarrayed – not as if it has been tossed around, but as if somebody really went through it and then sloppily repacked it, all out of order. I’m a careful packer, and so is my friend, and there’s no way it would come out like that without some help.

  • My earlier comment was along the lines of…..

    Ha, nice idea & probably so obvious / easy to a baggage handler that I expect you’re right.

    Hard to test, given that the bag is “lost”. One idea: put GPS tracking hardware in the bag (concealed in some way, or just non-obvious) along with irresistible goodies for thieves. But you’d need a decent sample size to statistically prove anything.

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