In July this year, two baggage handlers were caught red-handed stealing money and items from the suitcases of passengers traveling on Malaysia Airlines flight, MH783 departing Bangkok's main Suvarnabhumi International Airport, bound for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
It was the observations of newly hired security guard which brought the pair unstuck when around 6pm he became suspicious of the way in which the two baggage handlers were loading luggage assigned to the flight.
The baggage handlers, aged 24 and 28 were employed by Bangkok Flight Services Company to handle checked baggage. When searched by police, the pair were found to be in possession of around CNY10,000 - the equivalent of USD$1,480, or THB50,000. The pair partnered together allowing one to keep lookout, while the other raided the bags. A large suitcase was utilized to obstruct the view while the thefts took place.
After the incident, a search was undertaken at the apartment of one of the pair, where items deemed suspicious were found including a watch, two pairs of sunglasses and around THB500 worth of cash in Turkmenistani currency. Under questioning, one of the thieves revealed he would steal from unlocked luggage, then hide the looted items in his shoe or pants to smuggle them out from the controlled area.
Both were charged with theft on airport grounds, which is punishable with a stint in jail of between 1 to 5 years and fines of THB2,000 to THB10,000.
Suvarnabhumi International Airport
The truth is airlines really have no idea the numbers of bags that are tampered with each year as most thefts are not reported to them. In fact it's the job of the airport to maintain baggage security and handling, however the airports are not about to disclose the numbers publicly is it many have negative implications and damage the 'brand'.
In an effort to 'cap' the number of thefts and send a message to baggage handlers, sting operations are conducted in and around baggage handling area at airports. Of late though there have been more and more reports of incidents of theft on board aircraft involving passenger's carry on bags, by fellow passengers. Luggage stored in overhead compartments present a high value target as items including cameras, laptops, jewelery and wallets are likely packed away in carry on luggage to bypass a possible theft from checked luggage.
Confessions Of An Airport Baggage Handler
Interviewed a few years back by travel site Skycanner a baggage handler, under the veil of anonymity, was asked to answer nine interview questions providing an insight into the world of a baggage handler. Let's take a look at what he had to say.
1. What’s the most common cause of lost baggage?
The most common cause of lost luggage is when people check in their bags at the very last minute. Another common occasion is when people transfer between flights.
2. How often do things get stolen from bags?
I have only experienced this once. We see quite a lot of professional football teams going through the airport for international Champions League and Europa League football matches and once the guys who loaded the bags into the plane got hold of a captain’s arm band of a famous club. Apart from that I have never experienced any instances of anything like that.
3. Do baggage handlers ever purposely put bags on the wrong flight?
No, I have never seen this happening (at least not on purpose).
4. What is the worst thing about being a baggage handler?
The worse thing is loading planes in high temperatures in the summer. Because of the tarmac it really feels like it is 50 degrees C, but we still have to work even then. It gets especially hot when you are in the hold of the plane and you have to be very precise with the way you stack the bags, to make sure that they all fit in the plane. You have to imagine that an average suitcase weighs about 30 kilograms and that we normally have to load about 200 bags.
Another unpleasant experience I had was when we had to carry a guy who couldn’t walk onto the plane. The guy had really bad body odor… and had peed his pants. Furthermore, the guy weighed about 130 kilograms. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience.
5. What’s the best thing?
The contact you have with the other staff. At the airport where I work there are a lot of young students, which makes it great fun. Furthermore it is a good opportunity to look at the ladies, especially in the summer. After loading a plane you have time for this…!
The most satisfactory part of the job however is making sure that you make the turnaround time of the plane. We have to unload and load a plane in a minimum amount of time, so to make the slots is very important. If you manage to do this with the team, it is very satisfying.
I also enjoy working outdoors and working with sophisticated equipment and technology, like the aeroplane itself. Baggage handlers love planes.
6. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen someone trying to transport on a plane?
We sometimes handle unusual outsize items for example, a pole vault and a big canoe, but the strangest thing was probably a walking stick with a dagger hidden in it. After a thorough inspection by customs it was allowed to on the plane (in the hold).
7. Sometimes it looks like bags get rough treatment – do baggage handlers ever break stuff on purpose?
Yes, sometimes we make a game out of it. In the hold of the plane we would throw the suitcases to each other, from the belt to stacking them up. We throw them to each other as hard as we can. We don’t want to break the bags or cases, but you can imagine that it is not exactly beneficial to the bag, so sometimes handles might break, especially as the more expensive suitcases, like Louis Vuitton, aren’t very robust.
8. What tips would you give to travelers to avoid their bags getting lost or damaged?
First of all, get a hard sided suitcase with wheels. Don’t use luggage without wheels as it tends to be much weaker and very vulnerable. Second of all, don’t make your bag/suitcase too heavy. If a bag is too heavy handles will easily break.
And last but not least, ‘seal’ your suitcase. At a lot of airports there are professionals that can steal from your bag/suitcase. Sealing your bag with a layer of film helps prevent damage and is also an extra security precaution against people who want to sneak something into your bag.
9. Do you still check in your bag or travel hand luggage only?!
Yes, I still check in suitcases. I have got a good solid suitcase with wheels. Such a suitcase normally doesn’t cause any problems loading it on a plane. And over all, it's actually pretty rare that suitcases and bags break or get lost.