There’s A Rash Of Thefts At Airports, And Almost No One Gets Caught

Watch your stuff! Airports have more surveillance than just about any other place in the country. There are numerous law enforcement agencies on site, from the TSA to Customs and Border Patrol to the DEA. There are cameras everywhere. Yet passenger belongings are being stolen all the time, and almost no one gets caught.

That’s the conclusion, at least, based on data from the Charlotte airport where about 200 reports of theft have been logged since the beginning of last year, despite massively depressed travel numbers during the pandemic.

One retired Marine who had two XBOXs stolen from his luggage after checking in for a flight from Charlotte to San Diego reported no one even caring when he filed reports.

Shorter filed reports with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, TSA and Frontier Airlines but felt that none of them took it seriously.

…Frontier Airlines told Shorter that their Contract of Carriage doesn’t cover stolen items…TSA told him they would only investigate if he could provide an inspection receipt, but he couldn’t find one in his suitcase.

…Shorter says CMPD only started looking into his XBOX theft after he started calling and emailing frequently. He says an officer told him he found footage of his luggage being searched by an employee but no video of the actual XBOX being stolen.

“The first thing he told me when he got on the phone was, ‘I understand you have a problem with the investigation. Maybe the first thing you need to realize is your Xbox is gone and you’re not getting it back’,” Shorter said.

Most theft reports “came from people who said something was stolen at a checkpoint, in a terminal or even on the plane.” The most common items stolen are wallets and purses; cell phones; laptops; and luggage. At the Charlotte airport fewer than 4% of reported thefts end in arrest, and that includes for reports of shoplifting from stores in the airport.

TSA screeners steal from passengers at checkpoints. One TSA screener even stole a CNN camera and sold it on eBay (he got caught because he forgot to remove the CNN stickers first).

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. I’ve even reported on a ring of thieves stealing from passenger bags in the overhead bin.

Here are some things you can do to avoid being a victim yourself,

  • Don’t let your items out of sight at the security checkpoint. If a screener wants to move you away, insist that you be allowed to watch your stuff, that you can collect your belongings or that they bring your items to you.

  • Mark your bags clearly and don’t use luggage that looks like everyone else’s bags, because sometimes theft is inadvertent (and when someone realizes they have the wrong bag they may not return it).

  • Board early enough to get overhead bin space above your head, so you’re more likely to notice someone taking your belongings during the flight.

  • Carry the most valuable items on your person, or in a bag that remains underneath the seat in front of you.

What do you do to protect yourself while at the airport or on board?

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. I was once delayed at the TSA checkpoint and thought another passenger was about to steal my laptop bag because she was reaching for it. I told the TSA agent inspecting me of the problem but not much response so I yelled at the top of my lungs “STOP, THIEF, STOP, THIEF” and pointing. The suspicious passenger looked at me and ran away without my laptop. Eventually a TSA supervisor came and I told him that the suspicious passenger walked away after I started yelling. He said that was good but that he would review the video.

    In Seattle, I heard that the police no longer investigates crime except murder, rape, and assaulting a police officer. That is because criminals may now claim that they needed money so they did the crime. In addition, the police are being defunded partially.

  2. Another passenger and I accidentally switched laptops at the TSA checkpoint. I made the mistake. Thankfully, we found each other before flying to our respective cities. It shows how easy it really is to take something.

    Derek doesn’t live in Seattle and can’t separate what he “hears” from reality.

  3. Lock any bag you put in the overhead – to reduce the crime of opportunity. They’ll go to the bag without any deterrent. Even simple cable ties can make a difference.

  4. Not surprised by the Charlotte reports. Terrible attitudes from everyone working there that either I, or other people I inadvertently overhead, encountered. This is from numerous flights connecting there over several years.

  5. As someone who has lived in Seattle for decades, including this past year, I can say that Seattle police have long placed a low priority on investigating theft, because investigating it yields very few results. Recent calls for defunding, restructuring, re-envisioning policing, etc., have nothing to do with this long-held decision on priorities.

    For the most part, stolen belongings are never coming back, except in the rarest of situations. My shocking example: one summer, my wallet was stolen near a big public park. I replaced everything and went on with my life — until one day, seven months later, I got a call from the Secret Service, saying they had recovered my wallet in a large house raid. They mailed it back to me in an unmarked box, and, except for the cash, everything was still in it. They had much bigger fish to fry, so I was impressed that they bothered to return my wallet.

  6. I have a brand new razor broken which I placed in my checked in luggage. TSA has some good people and bad people alike. Being a federal guards there is not much in getting back grounds other than the simple back ground check. The other is because they are federal that they are out of reach of state and local representatives. Your only recorse is Congress which is the worst bureaucracy and TSA knows it. That’s why they get away with a lot.

  7. Uh where’s the rest of this story please,: links to it don’t work

    “ I came across a story in my social feed about a female solo traveler recently staying at a Le Meridien in Saudi Arabia. She wasn’t allowed access to …”

  8. Re: “… get overhead bin space above your head … more likely to notice someone taking your belongings during the flight.” Actually, more likely to notice if you get overhead bin space immediately ACROSS THE AISLE from where you’re sitting (especially for a window seat), much better vantage point.

  9. This is what happens when you hire people from the dregs of society to work for minimum wage to perform a job that doesn’t even need to be done, but is forced on everyone to make the ignorant masses feel better. No surprise that it’s the TSA agents commiting the theft and then the agency covering it up to protect their image.

  10. Coming from Saint Louis to Jacksonville NC through Atlanta someone used a TSA lock opener and dumped my bag. I had my medicine in that bag which I never should have done. There was NO TSA card so I am not sure if the thief was an employee of the airport or a TSA employee. There is no where to really report the theft and no way for me to definitely say which airport the theft occurred.
    I can’t believe people are so evil. Not only did they steal a controlled substance from my luggage they dumped everything out and jammed it back in without zipping the bag back up. When my bag came on the carousel items were falling out onto the carousel. The thief frolicked my TSA approved lock but left my bag unzipped.
    Who cares? Trying to find someone to report this theft to is a waste of time. Why even bother? Why fly? I might never fly again once I get home from this trip. I have never experienced anything like this before. I travel internationally and have never had a problem but traveling in my own country I find the most dishonest corrupt individuals. But with the new ‘no law enforced’ attitude towards criminals what can we expect? The rule of law is nonexistent. Criminals are respected but law abiding citizens are thrown in jail.
    They got me once but I guarantee it won’t happen again. I hope they choke on my medicine. I hope they get caught with it and find a real DA and judge to lock them up with boofoo loving men.

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