Unfortunately, items keep going missing from traveler’s luggage and in a variety of scenarios. Bags are stolen from hotel lobbies, the back seats of of limousines, even slipped from beneath a traveler’s chair while they sip their drinks. It’s not just your average thief-on-the-street either. Sadly, many airport and TSA employees are being discovered as thieves as well. A quick scan of this year’s news media on baggage thefts turned up a number of reported incidents in 2011:
- Earlier this year, a Newark Liberty airport supervisor and two TSA agents at New York’s JFK airport were arrested for stealing money and property from checked bags.
- In October, at Spokane International Airport, police were called in to help when passengers began reporting a number of baggage thefts. Three people were later arrested for snagging the bags from baggage claim before passengers were able to retrieve them.
- Very recently, one South Carolina passenger decided to solve the case of her missing laptop herself. When she recovered her laptop bag from baggage claim, it was empty. When airline representatives proved unhelpful, she scoured Craig’s list for her laptop, found it, then enlisted the help of local police who recovered her laptop, minus all documents and photos.
Overall, nearly 14,000 travelers each year report items missing from their luggage, but these figures do not account for the true total of thefts because the process of reporting these crimes is cumbersome and time-consuming and many travelers discover the theft much later in their trip.
How travel insurance helps (and doesn’t)
Some travel insurance plans and credit card travel protections include coverage that is intended to reimburse a traveler if their bag is lost, stolen or destroyed anytime during their trip (not just on a flight). This is important because the reimbursement you’ll get from an airline or hotel or transportation company is very limited and may come in the form of future-use vouchers instead of actual cash.
Of course, the reimbursement you’ll get from travel insurance plans or your credit card travel protection isn’t unlimited either. Most plans (including your credit card protection) have policy limits, item limits, and limits on special items such as jewelry, watches, furs and more.
7 Steps to prevent baggage theft
- Keep your valuable objects on your person and don’t store them (however hidden) in your checked bags. Jewelry, cash, cameras and other expensive or important items easily show up on security scanners and should never be packed in your checked luggage.
- Know what you packed by writing it down on a list (you can add items you buy along the way). Keep the list on your mobile device or simply photograph everything before you pack it all in. This helps you confirm a theft has occurred and makes it easier to report what’s missing.
- Keep your bags close. If you need to get a little shut-eye on a train or airplane, don’t expect that everyone else is sleeping as well. Thieves are opportunistic and fast. Slip the handle of your bag under your foot, use it as a pillow or foot rest, or attach it to you with a strap – all of these will make it more likely that you’ll wake up if anyone tries to rifle through the contents or snatch it away.
- Lock your bags with TSA-approved luggage locks or locking luggage straps. This won’t prevent theft by TSA agents, but it will help prevent theft by other thieves if only by making your bag look less easy to access.
- Always watch your bags – even if they are passing through the security scanners before or after you are, keep an eye on them. Thefts have been known to occur at security checkpoints before the traveler even boards the plane.
- Annoyingly colorful bags are not a thief’s friend. A colorful bag is far easier to recognize and spot in a sea of plain black bags, so choosing a colorful bag – or even marking your bag in a unique way – makes it stand out, which is not what a thief wants.
- Get off the plane quickly and skip the bathroom break. Getting to the baggage claim quickly means you’ll be there when your bag rolls off the belt, so a thief can’t snatch it without you noticing.
Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.