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11/04/2008 - Protect Yourself From In-Flight Theft
Over the past few weeks I have received some e-mails alerting me to a an interesting twist in airport thefts. These thefts are happening in-flight, right over your head while you snooze the flight away. I had heard of overhead bin thefts in the past, but assumed they were a rare occurrence. While we should be vigilant for "rare occurrences," I tend to focus on the clear and present dangers, this new information, which I am still trying to gather more information on, appears to be less than "rare" in specific types of flights.
My initial information was sent to me as an anonyms message through Flying With Fish. The detail in which this message was sent to me leads me to believe the person who contacted me has detailed information and is a flight attendant. Upon asking around I have found other information that supports the initial message I was sent.
What exactly is happening in flight? Well, it seems that on overnight (red-eye) long haul flights, and red-eye transcontinental flights, thieves spend part of the evening patrolling the overhead bins for obvious items, such as women's purses to steal wallets and small electronics. These people often try and board first, sitting near the back of their cabin to scan for what people are placing in the overhead bins. When they get up they act as if they are pulling their own item and can walk off with your camera or laptop. The majority of the thefts happen as people sleep, although some are brazen and do it in broad day light right over the victims heads. Most victims have no idea the theft happened until they are off the plane and checking their bags. By the time they discover the theft they assume they lost the item in either the departing airport or the arriving airport, rather than having lost the item in flight.
Some of these thefts happen in cabins people assume are 'safer' such as domestic first class and international business class cabins. I have yet to find anyone discussing these thefts in international first class, but that is most likely due to the cabin being small, closed off, and very cost prohibitive for thieves.
What can you do to protect yourself?
When you board the plane make sure you don't expose valuable items in an "open cabin" (standing in the aisle so everyone can see you). You should place your valuables at your feet. Flying with your cameras out? Make sure they are at your feet for the flight. Have you laptop and passport in your bag overhead? Lock it! People lock their bags while sitting in the gate area awaiting departure, then open the bag to grab something in flight and leave it unlocked. Next time you put your bag overhead secure it, bury it behind coats, turn it backwards, anything that makes it harder for a thief to access your bag. These people need quick and easy targets, they cannot fumble around, they cannot pull a bag out, spin it around then fumble with the clasp. They need easy targets, make sure your bags are not easy targets.
I'd like to thank whoever the person is who sent me this initial message!