Stolen Souvenirs and Other Embarrassing Baggage

Cranky is on vacation, but I’ve lined up some excellent guest bloggers for you while I’m gone. Today I have The Traveling Optimist, who is a frequent commenter and previous guest poster on the blog.

Recent articles have highlighted inexcusable stealing out of passenger baggage. It does not happen often based on the number of bags handled every day but consider the phenomenal temptation in that volume, what you personally pack in your luggage and what you can do to reduce the likelihood of it happening to you.

Statistics are not easy to come by but here’s a few “wow” numbers to ponder for three main international gateways:

Per Day Passengers Number of Bags Number of Flights Bags per Flight
LAX 82,500 153,000 1240 125
JFK 122,500 226,500 1100 200
LHR 184,000 340,500 1300 260



Passenger boardings: FAA.Gov/Airports Airtraffic, 2007
Bags: Industry average of 1.85 combined domestic international checked bags
Flights: PANYNJ.Gov, Wikipedia and LAWA.Org

Where there is bountiful chaos there is always opportunity and theft can occur at any point from check-in to drop off at baggage claim. A commuter hop might have 20 checked bags on board but the late night 747 full of migrant workers going home to the Philippines, however, can easily “max out” at 1200+ pieces. I once wanted to bring an ancient battle mace from Scotland back to Washington D.C. on United Airlines. The ticket agent at Heathrow agreed to additional security measures so no one on board would be alarmed. I never saw it again.

Security screening devices reveal solid, bulky objects in recognizable shapes. Consider that statement. While paid to look for weapons, other things come across the screen in front of bored or opportunistic eyes. The thief is looking for bling while the honest agent is looking for weapons but comes across a bag full of non-lethal but very personal items. Nothing like luggage loaded with rather long and large sex toys to perk up a dull shift.

Job cuts mean that most airport workers simply don’t have time to rifle through your belongings. Further, baggage should not announce embarrassing riches inside; the exotic destination bag tag does all the broadcasting. Two Louis Vuittons stuffed to the gills, screaming at the stitches and fresh off an inbound from Hong Kong or heading home to London? It doesn’t take a brain surgeon.

Overstuffed bags or faulty zippers burst every day. That is on you for using old, cheap or poorly packed luggage. But is the worker faced with the situation truly pilfering or simply trying to stuff your junk back inside as best as possible? You’ll know when you unpack. Avoid ostentatious or even matching luggage, pack nothing you can’t afford to lose and for Pete’s sake, leave the bling and the bedroom toys at home.


The Traveling Optimist lives in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and believes glamor and excitement still exists in the airways of the world. A 24 year veteran of the airline industry, he now peacefully earns his living in mortgage financing. Presently working on projects that will redefine his life yet again, the Optimist is ever ready for the next adventure, plane ride and vacation to the far corners of the only planet he’ll ever live on.

16 Responses to Stolen Souvenirs and Other Embarrassing Baggage

  1. David SFeastbay says:

    Good advise, even if you can afford to shop at the Louis Vuitton store in Beverly Hills, you should buy your travel luggage at Kmart, Walmart, or Target. Sturdy but cheap and it makes your checked luggage look like all the rest.

    Also a big red flag that your checked bags might have some nice goodies inside is those special tags airlines put on first class passengers checked bags. Anyone working in the belly of the underground baggage system could see that and go exploring inside even your generic Walmart bag.

    It’s just the luck of the draw if you will ever have something go missing from your checked bags. But you are more likely to have something taken from your hotel room then a checked bag.

  2. Bobber says:

    And, hence, why I never check bags anymore.

    Plus, I’m an impatient git who just wants to get out of the airport at the other end.

  3. The Traveling Optimist says:

    Bobber – Please share some tips on how one can pack for a two-week holiday and not check any luggage? LOL

    Of course, this is not counting those who still have the means to buy on the fly all they’ll need for their stay.

  4. Bobber says:

    Simple, TTO – just be as poor as me and don’t take 2 week vacations! Seriously, my work trips are usually a week, and I can get sufficient clean clothes for a daily change in a carry-on. The other trick is to stay with friends. With laundry facilities. Which you can use for free. Yes, I am cheap.

    I’m presuming the T5 luggage issues are sort of sorted at LHR, as there’s been no coverage in the press of late. When I did used to check luggage in, I favoured the Indian process (certainly at the smaller airports, eg GOI) where they used to make you ID your bag on the tarmac before they put it on the plane. A little extra security there.

  5. Frank says:

    As one of those who travels to the Philippines — the standard baggage is the corrugated cardboard box, loaded to within .0000001 of the legally allowed weight. Naturally it is totally taped shut with tamper-proof tape.

    oh, oh…no TSA-approved locks. If the delightful people in that organization decide to rip open the tape, there is no guarantee they will repack the box or even re-seal it.

    14 hours later am I going to get a nasty surprise?

  6. The Traveling Optimist says:

    @ Bobber –

    Yea, that’s definitely being frugal, mate! Also gone from most airports (budget cuts?) are most baggage claim security that required you to match the tag with some form of ID before leaving the area.

    @Frank –

    There are many names used in the business to describe the cardboard and burlap style of luggage, none of which can or should be repeated here. TSA learned very early to have duct tape on hand for exploded luggage or to re-seal taped boxes and bags after an inspection. Whether or not they uniformly use the tape is, of course, another story.

  7. james says:

    @ The Traveling Optimist

    I’ve traveled for 10 days-2 weeks many times with a a medium size backpack and messenger bag. There’s tons of tips on the net about how to pack light and which clothes, (styles and types) are best for multi use.

    I have a couple pairs of pants, including comfortable jeans I wear on the
    plane, (and fold/roll my shirts.) I wear two shirts and a light jacket on the plane. The rest (including undergarments) can be folded or rolled, (preventing wrinkles,) and positioned around where there’s space.

    Also – most important: you can find laundry facilities everywhere, – from hotels to guest houses. I’ve found cleaners in countries where the dollar is strong and have dropped my stuff off and picked it up later in the day. It’s cheap, easy, and you get a local feel of a place doing stuff that local folks do. Like the other OP says time is valuable, and I hate waiting for luggage when I get somewhere and it zeroes the chance of a ruined trip do to lost luggage.

    And no I don’t carry on the kitchen sink or look like a disheveled backpacker :)

    I also have a small HP Mini PC in the bag, and I travel with used books which can drop off places when done or exchange for others. Of course big hardcovers are out. It’s usually paperbacks.

    just my 2 cents.

  8. james says:

    make that “due” to lost luggage.

  9. The Traveling Optimist says:

    @James –

    Thanks for the tips guy. I’ve used many of these, including taking old clothes and undergarments simply throwing them away (who wants to deal with 2 week old socks!).

    I admit to packing on the heavy side and have prided myself on getting it down to one 40lb bag. Still got some work to do but I’m trying.

  10. Yo says:

    LAX = theft.

    Had scuba gear stolen there once, not fun. Laptop and scuba computer in the carry on bag, same for the DSLR.

    Smelly underwear gets checked, if you want to steal that, go nuts.

  11. Ron says:

    O light packers! What about books, toys, bottles, snacks, and multiple changes of clothes that are needed just for the flight? Not to mention that little people, while entitled to a carry-on like any other passenger, not only cannot handle a full-size backpack/roller but often need to be carried themselves.

  12. A says:

    Also gone from most airports (budget cuts?) are most baggage claim security that required you to match the tag with some form of ID before leaving the area.

    Last time I saw a baggage security agent was before they switched to electronic bar code baggage tags. Kinda surprises me how lax security is around those areas…especially now that they are the new meeting places in airports with post 9/11 changes.

    The problem with everyone having look alike luggage is the risk of having someone walk off with your bag mistakenly. For years I had an Aer Lingus tag on my bag for checking since flying domestic you don’t see that too often. Lately I’ve just got much better at packing lightly and skip the checked baggage all together. I’m already adjust to the rental car before people the bags start dropping into the carousel. Why it takes 30+ minutes to unload luggage is a mystery to me, but something I’m too impatient to wait for anymore.

  13. The Traveling Optimist says:

    A –

    Let’s use Boston as an example. Feel free to use your own home town for the story.

    Typical 757 holds 170 people. Of those 100 will have checked luggage, the rest being on short trips, pack light or just plain know better.

    Of those 100 they have checked a total of 150 pieces of luggage. Golf clubs, bags, bikes, military duffles and six rifles for a hunting club back from Canada.

    The average baggage cart on the ramp holds right at 50 bags. Three carts. The bikes need a separate cart so make that four and toss in the rifles, which must remain accompanied and guarded at all times (CAGPT = Check and Give Protection To in airline-speak).

    Service standards at most airlines require the first bag to be on the belt within 15-20 minutes. That means the first come shows up but the rest of the trip is still being off-loaded. In the case of the 757 that means one bag by hand at a time. It’s a better work-out than any gym could ever hope to provide.

    If they follow that standard that explains the gap between bag deliveries some customers experience. If they wait and do it all at once, as often happens on the last flight of the day, that explains the wait. And that is an average 757, a plane that can easily swallow better than 300 bags without breaking a sweat.

    30 minutes for less than a full flight is definitely cause for complaint. A full flight, however…go to the restroom, get a snack, make some calls, heck, go get the rental and come back. Unless it’s stolen it’ll simply stay on the belt until one of the agents pulls it for you and locks it up until you show up.

  14. securoseal says:

    If you have costly things in your luggage and it is very important to you then make sure you have effective luggage security. Locks don’t work and can be tamper easily.

  15. Nicolette says:

    Do you know anyone in the Los Angeles area whose luggage was stolen or never recovered coming home to LAX?

    I’m looking to interview someone for a local news story whose luggage was “permanently lost” at LAX. Help!

    Nicolette
    818-655-2441

  16. CF says:

    @ Nicolette:
    Sorry to say that I rarely check a bag, so it hasn’t happened to me. Anyone else here have issues?

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