Beware of thieves on planesEach Friday, we feature a reader-submitted tip as our Travel Tip of the Day. This week’s tip comes from reader Estelle H., who shares a “story from a passenger who rode an airline going to HK”:

“I would like to draw your attention to an attempted robbery on a flight into Hong Kong last week. With an hour to go, during the flight, I thought I noticed my bag being replaced in the overhead locker. I wasn’t sure and decided it was probably a fellow passenger, moving it to access their own bag.

I dismissed any thought of any wrongdoing, but upon arrival in HK, something told to me to retrieve the bag, just to make sure nothing suspicious had occurred. When I opened the overhead locker (not above me) and saw my leather bag was the only one occupying the space I knew there was a problem. I examined the contents, only to find all of my wife’s jewelry, along with some cash, had been stolen during the flight. I raised the alarm and my wife and I quickly blocked both aisles to stop anyone at the back of the plane disembarking…there were around 120 passengers…

My wife and I both shouted for assistance from the stewards and stewardesses. Eventually a steward told me that security had been called but passengers were becoming very agitated and unwilling to show patience or understanding…they just wanted to get off the plane…my wife and I were the only people controlling the passengers.

I pleaded with the passengers to check their own bags at which point three fellow travellers reported they had also been robbed. It was only at this point that I saw any evidence from the cabin crew that they were willing to provide any meaningful support.

I vaguely remember seeing a passenger wearing black, sporting a white baseball cap, and pleaded with the rest of the passengers to see if they could remember anyone fitting my description. It turned out to be a passenger standing in front of me, who once identified proceeded to offload money, jewelry, camera equipment and false documents, running into tens of thousand, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stolen goods. By this time security had boarded the plane, the captain had been informed and was standing in the rear section watching the events unfold.

Eventually a policeman boarded the plane and I was able to explain the events leading up to my apprehending the thief. I have since been informed this criminal activity is reaching epidemic proportions and the authorities caught three thieves just last week, (with 30 already on remand since early December) on flights into HK, with all the criminals coming from the same town in China.

It is estimated that only 5% are being caught judging by the reports of passengers contacting the police after they have arrived at their destination. They sit in the back row of the plane observing where bags are behind or away from the passengers and systematically pull them from the overhead lockers, while passengers rest or watch movies, take them to the back of the plane and steal any valuable contents. They prey on foreign airlines as the penalties are so lenient, the pay-off makes it worth the risk.

I naively have never thought of robbers operating on planes, but now I have experienced it first-hand, there are a few takeaways:

  1. Hand luggage should ALWAYS be locked.
  2. Do not assume luggage under your seat is safe…last week one passenger had her purse stolen by the guy sitting next to her while she slept!
  3. If in doubt, wear or keep any valuables ON YOU at all times!
  4. Don’t assume, like me, that everyone on a flight is a law-abiding citizen.
  5. Do not assume business class travel is secure…robbers can be wealthy.”

This is scary stuff. Thanks for the tip, Estelle!



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12 Comments On "Beware of Thieves on Planes"
  1. Bill Burabge|

    Based on that story it would also be prudent to store your carry-on in a compartment in front of you. That way you at least have a chance of seeing them.

  2. Christie Andersen|

    I think one recommendation has been left off of here. Put your bag above your own seat so you can monitor it. A flight attendant on a recent flight stopped someone who shoved their bag above a seat that wasn’t there and told them that they have had things stolen because of that. The person looked confused, but now I get what she was saying. I know this isn’t always possible since overheads fill up. But it’s good information.

  3. Sandy|

    Rather than putting your bag above your seat, I generally try to put it across from me. I can’t see what’s going on in the overhead directly above me, but can easily observe what’s happening across the aisle.

    1. Tessa|

      Excellent tip!

  4. Melanie Galuen|

    This is very real. I was on a flight about a year ago when a woman’s laptop was stolen. She was in tears. Poor thing. It obviously happened while she was sleeping. It was in the overhead.

  5. dana @|

    Reminds me of my youth hostel days (having drying clothes stolen, etc). Yowza! I use Rick Steves’ branded rucksacks. Guess I ought to break out the cheap combination zipper lockers, at least for the main compartment.

  6. aiman Parween|

    thieves in the plane like seriously.

  7. WBM|

    I was never robbed while traveling but, before reading this post, I was among those who considered a plane one of the safest places in the world for such things. Next time I fly, I will be more prudent.

  8. Izy Berry|

    Wow! This is the first I’m hearing of this but I’ve always thought about how easy it was to steal thing in flight! Crazy story. Glad to hear be aware of this! The next time I’m flying, I will definitely be more careful.

  9. Fred|

    Is the story believable? You decide.

    1. “..tens of thousand, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stolen goods”.
    – Where did he hide them, did all of it fit in his luggage?
    – He must have opened a lot of luggage very quickly. No one noticed him taking different bags from overhead compartment?

    2. “…on flights into HK, with all the criminals coming from the same town in China”
    – criminals from same China town travel just to steal in the air plane?

  10. Rahul|

    I always read your blog which is very interesting and I can’t believe that there is thieves up in the air.

  11. Suzanne Fluhr|

    I’m always surprised I don’t know anyone who has had their checked luggage stolen. I have never had my baggage claim check looked at in an airport anywhere in the world.

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