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How Not to Get Robbed at 39,000 Feet

How to Avoid Getting Robbed at 39,000 Feet

Imagine the sinking feeling when you land after a long overnight flight and find that your cash, jewellery, credit cards, iPad, passport even, are missing from your carry-on baggage! You’ll probably keep going back and searching your bag again and again, just in case you missed it the first time, but eventually, the reality will sink in, you’ve been robbed at 39,000 feet.

Reading a recent article about an incident on a flight between Johannesburg and Hong Kong, where passengers were robbed of cash and jewellery as they slept got me thinking. This particular incident had a “happy” ending when the missing items turned up on some of the cabin seats after police in Hong Kong boarded the aircraft on landing and searched some passengers who had been observed behaving suspiciously, (https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2018-10-04-sleeping-passengers-robbed-in-mid-air-on-saa-flight/).

So, after some research into the subject, it’s apparent that while onboard theft on flights to and from Hong Kong are a recurring theme, it can and does happen on any route. Here are a few pointers that might help you to avoid becoming a statistic. So, without further ado, here are my top tips on how not to get robbed at 39,000 feet.

Economy Cabin
  1. Thieves are more than likely sit towards the back row, watching for the ideal opportunity, be aware of that.
  2. Another place to be wary is at the gate area or in the airline lounge, another prime spot for crooks to observe travellers, avoid rummaging through your bags and showing off their contents.
  3. If there is a long line at security, wait until you are ready to proceed before placing your purse, wallet or laptop onto the conveyor belt. It’s a fact that more items go missing in the security line than from any other place at the airport or on the aircraft.
  4. On long-haul flights, the airborne bandits ply their trade when victims are asleep or in the bathroom (and yes I know that the term “bathroom” is stretching reality somewhat). They most often work in pairs, one of them searches for cash and valuables while the other acts as a lookout, much like pick-pockets in a crowded street.
  5. Keep your valuables like passport, wallet, mobile phone and any important medication on you or in a small bag at your feet, at ALL times.
  6. Don’t put your carry-on luggage directly above you: rather put it across the aisle, and slightly forward, so you can easily keep an eye on it.
  7. Turn the bag around so that the zipper or opening faces inwards, making access more difficult.
  8. Lock your carry-on bag, it’s surprising how many victims don’t.
  9. If for some reason you can’t lock your carry-on, stow it under the seat in front of you, even though that will reduce that tiny space that airline executives, with much hilarity, refer to as “leg room”. Keep the zips or fasteners facing you so that the passenger seated in front of you isn’t tempted to have a little rummage through your stuff.
  10. Although the chaos and size of the economy cabin gives thieves some anonymity, don’t assume you’re safe in business class either, there have been cases of theft in premium cabins as well.
  11. Be aware of your surroundings and your fellow passengers. If you see someone acting suspiciously in an overhead bin, push the button that summons a cabin crew member. You may have to explain to an irritated flight attendant why you pushed the button at 2AM but that’s a small price to pay.
  12. It’s always better to avoid carrying too much valuable stuff with you when you travel, the less you carry, the less you have to worry about, and that applies just as much when you get to your hotel room.
  13. It’s a sad fact that while most cabin crew are thoroughly honest, hardworking and decent people, there are bad apples, crew have been nabbed on more than one occasion for theft. The moral of the story is TRUST NO-ONE.
  14. Finally, before you leave the aircraft, do as the cabin crew ask and check the seat pocket in front of you, it’s a good habit to get into anyway.

Let me know in the comments below if you have been a victim, or of any tips that you can provide to fellow travellers.

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