Are airline thefts on the rise? The simplest answer is that we don’t know.
Airlines do not disclose their statistics on in-flight theft. However, recent events have brought the issue to the headlines.
In December 2023, a man was accused of stealing USD $23,000 (£18,200) cash from three fellow travelers on a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore, while in October Police arrested a man on the way from Taipei to Tokyo. Suspected of serial in-flight robberies.
Do these high-profile cases correlate with an overall increase in light-fingered passengers in flight?
Not necessarily, according to Jonathan Frankham, UK managing director at Travel insurance for world nomads. However, they do remind you to be careful with your belongings during a flight.
While there are no concrete statistics on in-flight theft to indicate whether it is increasing or not, several high-profile cases have recently brought the problem to the headlines.
Jonathan said: “While we have not observed any discernible trends in the claims submitted that suggest in-flight baggage theft is historically prevalent or increasing in recent years, it remains crucial to be vigilant and take steps to ensure the security of luggage. possessions and important documents.’
Most people carry several high-value items with them when they fly. In addition to a wallet and phone, it’s not unusual to carry a passport, laptop, cash, and perhaps a camera or other valuables. This, Jonathan warns, can be easy prey for thieves.
He said: ‘It is a calculated gamble on (the thieves’) part, exploiting travelers’ sense of security once they are comfortably seated on board. However, it’s during those times – the hustle and bustle of mealtime, the dimming of the lights, or those quick runs to the bathroom – that thieves can try their luck.’
In the case of the Tokyo arrest, reports say the 51-year-old suspect pretended to be checking his own luggage in the overhead compartment, but instead stole US dollars, euros and yen from his fellow travelers’ bags. The cash was exchanged for Cambodian riel or Indonesian rupiah of lower value and small denomination, to maintain the weight and size of the wallets.
Not only cash or valuables can be attacked. Passports continue to fetch a considerable price on the black market.
So how can you make sure you don’t become a target for aircraft theft?
Pack smart and take your valuables with you
Avoid leaving high-value items such as passports, cash or phones unattended.
This is your first line of defense. Jonathan said: ‘Packing smart is crucial. Opt for a sturdy backpack, preferably one that can be closed securely and marked with colored zip ties for easy identification. (If) the flange is missing or tampered with, it is important to alert a member of staff immediately.
‘Store larger bags in the overhead lockers to keep them safe. If space is available, it may be useful to place them across the aisle so you can easily see if anyone who shouldn’t be searching between them.’
For high value items such as passports, cash and phones, Jonathan advised: ‘Best practice is to use a secure fanny pack or carry them in your pocket. Avoid leaving them completely unattended and always keep them in sight. This not only minimizes the risk of theft, but also ensures that insurance claims are not adversely affected by negligence.’
What should travelers do if they are victims of theft on board?
Report the incident to the airline as soon as you realize something is missing, in accordance with Montreal Convention guidelines.
Jonathan explained: ‘This international treaty requires airlines to offer compensation for lost or damaged luggage on international flights. Although the treaty’s stance on stolen luggage is less explicit, it is crucial to notify the airline as soon as possible.
‘Secondly, travelers should obtain all necessary documentation to support their case. This includes requesting a Property Irregularity Report (PIR) from the airline. Additionally, it is vital to retain all related documents such as tickets, luggage tags and receipts for any emergency purchases as they form an essential part of any subsequent insurance claim.
‘It is important to also involve the local police. Reporting the theft to the police and obtaining a police report is a critical step as it provides official documentation of the theft, which is often necessary for insurance claims.’
What should travelers do if they need to file an insurance claim?
Eating, sleeping or bathroom time offer opportunistic thieves the perfect time to strike
Once you’ve notified the airline and the police, Jonathan says it’s vital to thoroughly review your travel insurance policy. “While it typically covers these types of incidents, it is essential to understand the policy limits and exclusions, and additional premiums may be required for high-value items,” he added.
‘Next, collect all necessary evidence, including proof of ownership, age and value of the stolen items, which are crucial to the claims process.
‘It is also important for travelers to evaluate their responsibility in the situation. Ensuring valuables are insured and luggage is not left unattended is key, as negligence can affect the viability of a claim.
“If they have any concerns or questions, travelers should not hesitate to contact their insurance provider.”