New Travel Scam: Stealing From Passenger Bags in the Overhead

A man traveling onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH751 from Ho Chi Minh City to Kuala Lumpur reports that a passenger in the business class cabin took his laptop bag and began removing money from it. He says flight attendants tell him this is a common scam.

After putting in my laptop bag in my designated overhead cabin, I settled in my seat on the 2nd row, minding my own business. One of my partners who sat behind me noticed a fellow passenger taking my bag which he brought to his seat on the 4th row. My partner alerted me to check on my bag and true enough it was gone.

I went to the man’s seat and caught him off guard going through my bag and his left hand holding some of my foreign notes currency (EURO and USD, which I am 100% sure are mine), looking like he was about to keep them in his pocket.

There are occasional stories of passengers stealing from others’ carry on bags, usually this happens during long international flights when the cabin is dark and many passengers are asleep. Here is happened on the ground prior to departure.

What’s concerning is that “the crew informed us, there is a syndicate that has been conducting this modus operandi on China, Hong Kong and Vietnam flights.”

Here’s video of the perpetrator being put off the aircraft.

Don’t put your most important items such as money and passports in the overhead bin if you can avoid it. Not every seat allows bags at your feet, but computers should go there at least during flight and check that everything is in place immediately once it’s been out of your sight.

TSA screeners steal from passengers at checkpoints. Baggage handlers steal from checked bags. oneworld’s head of finance allegedly stole $2.2 million. And a former Miss USA stole noise cancelling headphones. So why not passengers stealing from each others’ carry on bags?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @ Gary — This is why I always place my luggage across the aisle from my seat. If someone wants to touch my bag I am going to see them do it if I’m awake. On flights where I expect to sleep, I keep everything of value stuffed in my seat. Except in Japan, people will steal from you anywhere in the world anytime you’re not looking. Very sad state of things. People can make racist remarks and blame certain ethnic groups but I really do think it cuts across ethnic lines. Basically I trust no one.

  2. If it’s not at my feet, whether checked or carry-on, it has a combination PADLOCK (TSA approved kind, for checked items) on it.

    While that will not guarantee theft like this, it will make it a more difficult by making it a slower process–to get past the padlock. And may send the thief to someone else’s unlocked carry-on.

    Can’t fully trust many people nowadays. Sad commentary.

  3. This is why coach passengers should be banned from using the bathrooms in FC. I think in the future only fully paid FC passengers should be allowed in the FC and business class cabins. They need to avoid riff raff in these cabins with people with free tickets and free loaders. Every time I fly AA in FC internationally 90% of the people in the cabin are flying on free tickets. Why should i buy my FC ticket and then have to wait to use the bathroom from someone who was a free loader? Shameful.

  4. Eh? Think I missed something here. Various FF blogs have been reporting this kind of story for years now. There’s nothing “new” about this from what I can tell…

  5. Someone stole the cap to my water bottle when I went to the bathroom on a recent ET flight. Now I take my backpack with me to the bathroom. I also put my locked carry on bag in the overhead bin across from me so my bag is visible and more difficult to open to deter theft.

  6. Someone stole the cap to my water filter bottle on a recent ET flight while I was in the bathroom. I now bring my bag with me. It was at the start of my trip and super annoying.

    I also place my locked carry on bag across from me rather above me so that I can monitor it.

  7. This is definitely not new.
    Emirates used to be a popular target, but airlines that had less than eager airline staff or bribable airport police were also viable candidates.

  8. My passport and wallet never leaves my person on and flight, be the economy or business class. And my computer under my seat. I don’t understand how people can allow such essential things out of their control.

  9. @Mark – If you believe everyone who flies on award tickets in first and business are “riff raff” and “freeloaders” that should be banned from those cabins, probably a blog dedicated to flying on award tickets is not for you. Is there a “ban all first/biz awards” blog out there?

  10. Care to list what trump and his top officials steal?

    It would be a much longer post…

  11. altho I hate to give them pr – Scottevest is a good way to keep important stuff on your body (or behind your back while in flight – in F or C it stays next to me while I’m sleeping!

  12. I had the side pocket of my camera bag opened, on a Delta flight. This is the type of pocket that people put wallets in, to go thru security. I had only charging cables in there. But I didn’t notice it open until we were home. I then discovered a missing cable. An expensive proprietary cable for a Lumix camera. $25 for cable is nothing compared to losing a wallet or camera. But, now I know!

  13. I really appreciate Gary posting on this topic from time to time. I have never had anything stolen on a plane. However, it is easy to get complacent. Thumbs up.

  14. New travel scam? Hardly. This has been going on for years and I’m kinda surprised you were unaware of it.

  15. SAD STATE OF THE NATION GUY YOU ARE A political left wing idiot!!! all roads lead to politics for you not funny!!!

  16. What you put in your checked luggage is even more vulnerable. Those suitcases come out the conveyor belt and are easy pickings for ANYBODY who walks in off the street and fancies your suitcase. I’m very surprised that checked luggage doesn’t get stolen 100% of the time. There’s nothing to stop anyone from stealing a suitcase, any time, any baggage carousel.

  17. Just had jewelry stolen from my briefcase in the first overhead in Yes first class. Flight from Tampa to Dallas on American Airlines flight 1351 on December 21st 2018. Could have been the woman sitting beside me or a flight attendant as I was asleep. Called AA airlines and they said they were forwarding my call to security but didn’t. No one wants to help. They can easily check the passenger manafest and look for theft patterns on planes with certain passengers. No one at American Airlines wants to help. Real criminals and cons are stealing and the Airline won’t help I suspect because of liability issues. I need help and I’m willing to help with the investigation. I plan to file a police report in Dallas and Tampa. Is there anyone in law inforcment and especially the media willing to help me stop these Grand theft robberies! I was sick to my stomach! Someone at American Airlines must have a conscience?

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