Robbed in the Air: How To Protect Your Valuables and Not Be A Victim While Flying

by brian on January 20, 2010

Should this sign be on your next flight? Maybe…

pickpocket Robbed in the Air: How To Protect Your Valuables and Not Be A Victim While Flying

credit: doctorow

In a previous post I talked about a flight from Tokyo to Paris where someone stole over $5000US worth of cash and valuables from other passengers WHILE IN THE AIR. I was incredulous that could happen so I asked for other stories of in-flight theft.

My findings in summary: Hide your stuff! Just because you’re in the air doesn’t mean you can drop your guard and leave your cash and valuables lying about. Don’t depend on a flight attendant to look out for your belongings. Act the same way you would if you were in any other form of public transportation, or a movie theater or at a beach or park.

From Paula Patrice:
On a not-too-full flight for I had my large louis vuitton purse/tote bag on the floor in front of the middle seat, where nobody was seated. There was a 20-something brunette girl in the window seat of my row, I was on the aisle.

I tucked my bag under the seat in front for takeoff, and once we reached cruising altitude I pulled my bag out, leaned down, pulled out the change purse that had my money in it- not a big wallet, more like a small coin purse, that had a roll of bills inside. I counted out a few singles for the drink service, tucked them back inside the coin purse folded up separately and ready to give the flight attendant, with the rest of the bills (some loose 5s, 10s, 20s and a few hundreds folded on the inside of the stack) folded next to the singles.

I closed up my bag, got up to use the toilet…came back, sat down, got a weird vibe because the girl in the window seat seemed a bit uneasy, but she was kinda odd (read: unwashed and crazy eyed) so I let it pass.

Drink service came around and I reached down to pull out the bills… nothing. Empty coin purse. Just some loose change in the bottom.

I had already ordered my drink, so as the flight attendant put down my cup of wine I stammered that I did have money, but it seemed to have disappeared when I went to the bathroom, all of it, and now I had no cash at all, and I looked at the girl next to me and realized as she shifted uneasily in her seat and looked out her window that while I was certain she had taken it but I couldn’t prove it.

The flight attendant got the gist and gave me the wine for free, and I got to ride the rest of the way knowing somebody was dining on my dollar that evening.

But what can you do? Can’t bring your purse to the toilet with you… ditto Amtrak fyi. It’s so awkward, I always make sure I’m not in the toilet between stations when someone could grab my bags and get off the train.

Lesson Learned: Cash, wallet, passport should be on your person, not in a bag under your seat.

Especially when someone looks as sketchy as the window seat gal did.

From Amy:
I was flying Southwest from Albany to Las Vegas non stop. We had to make an unannounced stop in Chicago, Midway. I got off the plane to grab a snack and reboarded affter showing my ID. I dozed off and when I arrived in Vegas, my wallet was gone from my pockietbook. What a nightmare. I had Southwest check the plane, but nothing was found. So, I had nothing, no license, no credit cards, and no money. I did know a gentleman on the plane who lent me some $ to get a shuttle to my hotel. I had to call my credit card companies for new cards and get cash advances. It was a total nightmare!!

Lesson Learned: Ladies, your pocketbook should be with you at all times.

If you need to sleep wedge it in the seat with you, but out of view of the flight attendants who might tell you to put it away.

If it won’t fit then it should be in the magazine holder in the seat in front of you. But don’t forget it there!

From Marjorie:
Greetings! My then-boyfriend (now ex-BF) visited me when I lived in Japan in the mid-1990s. During the long, Dallas-Tokyo flight, about $2,000 in cash was stolen from his duffel bag. It was definitely stolen in flight, probably when he went to the lavatory, because he had checked it shortly after boarding but it had disappeared by the time of disembarkation. He suspects that a fellow passenger in his row had taken the money. That was all the cash he had, by the way, except for $100 on his person, so during his entire stay in Japan I paid for most of his expenses, save for the rare occasion when we found a local business that accepted American Express, the only credit card he had. Despite everything, a good time was had by all.

Lesson Learned: Ideally that $2000 should have been in his wallet or in an envelope in his pocket. If you’re by yourself, ask someone to keep an eye on your things. It does not guarantee anything, but it is better than have no pair of eyes on your things.

Unless the person who is looking after your stuff is the thief…

From TJ:
Can’t believe it’s still a sore subject, but several years ago, when returning to Michigan on a red-eye from Las Vegas, I was forced to take the last available seat in the middle of the aircraft because I was on stand-by in an effort to get home early. BTW-giving up my customary first-class upgrade was tough enough!

Anyway, since I was one of the last on the aircraft, I was very lucky to be able to store my small carry-on and neatly folded Sport coat. As a frequent flyer, I usually stand a good part of the flight because I find the seats rather uncomfortable. I’m the guy who always wanders around on the flight.

Once on the ground, when our row stood to deplane, we opened the overhead and the coat was gone. Nobody noticed and nobody cared. The NW gate agents were focused on turning the plane around and the lost baggage folks couldn’t have cared less.

Lesson learned: Never take your eyes off your valuables…especially at night.

From Kat:
Over the holidays, our family traveled on a red eye from the West Coast to the East Coast. My 7 year old son was on the aisle seat and during the night someone stole his travel neck pillow! It likely slipped out from under him and fell to the floor during the night and someone scooped it up and took it! In the morning we searched the floor and seats and asked all the passengers in front of and behind us as well as the flight attendants and no one had it. Who steals a pillow from a kid?!?! Very disappointing.

Lesson Learned: Keep your travel neck pillow close at hand. They are like gold for travelers…

From Paul:
Where you in first class or coach?
I was sitting in coach class. Coach class with an aisle seat – two seats in the row.

When do you think your items were taken? While you were sleeping? In the bathroom?
I was a single guy at the time and when I traveled long distances I would go and talk to the flight attendants and walk around. I had taken my wallet out of my back pocket and put it in my travel backpack which I stored under the seat in front of me. I was up and down the entire flight from LA to London.

What was taken? How much did you lose?
I had my wallet taken – with credit cards, drivers license, travelers checks ($2,000+), cash, pictures, etc., – from my backpack.

Do you have any idea who did it? Someone in your row? Flight attendant?
I am certain it was the passenger (guy) seated next to me. He slept [supposedly] the entire way.

When did you discover the items missing?
I discovered my wallet was missing while in line to pass through customs. I’m sure you can imagine the panic I had. UNBELIEVEABLE! All the questions that go through your mind. It’s a terrible feeling.

Did you report it at all?
I did report it to airport authorities and to airline officials with little response. I filled out some paperwork and notified the airlines who asked the cleanup crew to search the area where I was sitting but to no avail.

Did you get your money and items back?
Nothing was recovered. Fortunately, my friend in LA wired money to me and I was able to complete my journey.
What could you have done differently to prevent the theft from happening?

I learned a valuable lesson – ALWAYS keep your personal belongings on you and NEVER let your bags out of sight. I would also carry less cash & travelers checks and use my credit cards and the ATM more often.

Any other stories of in-flight theft? Do you have any tips for your fellow travelers to help secure valuables while you’re in the air? Let us know in the comments below.

468x60 Robbed in the Air: How To Protect Your Valuables and Not Be A Victim While Flying

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

AdventureRob January 20, 2010 at 6:16 AM

I've never had a large amount of money stolen from me and probably never will, the reason being is I never carry a large amount on me.

My bank account which is linked to card I use abroad also has a small amount of money in, if someone clones the card, they can only steal the small amount in the bank account (rest of money is in different account and transferred when needed online.

Most places on the planet have working ATMs so there is no need to carry so much cash.

The only thing I've had stolen was my boots on a boat trip on the Mekong River in Laos, a girl on the same trip had her boots stolen too (both of us had them tied to outside of bag) – Tip here is wear your boots or find a way of securing them to your bag via a lock.

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Kathy January 20, 2010 at 5:55 PM

I travel with a money belt under my clothes – on a flight only my passport and maybe one of my credit cards (now I have to pay for wine) and a little cash would be outside the money belt. I'd worry about my electronics, which are all in my carry-on, but not cash.

I had my sneakers stolen from the verandah of a beach cottage on one of the Gilis near Lombok. One of the guys selling wooden pendants had wanted to trade for my flip-flops. What is is with footwear?

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Travessa da Vida January 21, 2010 at 7:05 AM

As a brazilian I'm always aware of people. That's why when I'm travelling alone I'm used to lock my backpack and keep my personal belongs with me all the time, even when I go to the bathroom. The idea of locking the bag is great because you can sleep without worring.

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brian January 21, 2010 at 2:43 PM

@AdventureRob
I think you're right for most of the world. ATMs are pretty prevalent everywhere. The only place I had a problem getting money was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The real ATMs were in the only TWO Western hotels in the entire city. And sometimes those didn't work either.

@Kathy
I haven't gone the money belt route yet. Wallet, cash, passport were in my FRONT hip pockets my entire round the world trip and I never had a problem.

@Travessa da Vida
As much as we want to trust when we travel, we've got to keep our guard up, on the ground or in the air.

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Bathabile January 22, 2010 at 9:57 AM

I feel really sorry for the folks who had things stolen. I would never feel comfortable leaving a wallet or other valuables under the seat while I go to the bathroom. I keep my money and one form of ID in my bra. I have a little make-up bag that I take with me to the bathroom for my wallet and my iPhone.

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brian January 22, 2010 at 3:29 PM

@Bathabile
When in doubt, valuables in the bra!

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linda May 19, 2011 at 9:38 AM

im in the habit of carrying my change purse and cell phone inside my bra cup just about all the time. no safer way.

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MrsMaam March 17, 2012 at 12:04 PM

My husband and I were flying Southwest yesterday from NC with a transfer in Nashville. The last girl on the plane was a cute little 21 year old. I offerred her our window seat so she wouldn’t have to sit between two older men. (I thought she’d feel more comfortable sitting with a middle-aged couple.) She went on and on about how this was her first flight and how scared she was. We assured her that flying was a safe mode of transportation. While in flight she ordered a mixed drink. We informed her that this was not complimentary; she said she understood, “Nothing in this life is free,” she commented. Oops, all she had was cash. Somehow I got the feeling that she wanted me to use my credit card, which I did not. I helped her get ahold of the steward to cancel the order. He came back and delivered it to her without asking for her ID or any money.
Maybe I’m just a skeptic, but I got the feeling that this girl and the flight attendant were in this scheme together. She was never very convincing that this was her first flight, and her story of her father killing himself two years ago was even less authentic.
Honestly I’m concerned that I’m becoming more and more distrustful of the human race in general, and while traveling I’m just plain paranoid. These other stories here just add to my sour convictions:(

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