It’s never safe to let your baggage out of your sight

Hands off please.
Hands off please.
Image: AP/Andy Wong
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Does this sound familiar? You land at the end of a long flight, retrieve your luggage, and head blearily to the nearest form of airport-to-city public transportation. You haul your bag onto a luggage rack and settle into a train or bus seat, finally relieved you can let your shoulders down.

If your answer is yes—then it’s time to change your routine.

Authorities in Hong Kong have cautioned a new troubling trend at the city’s international airport, whereby thieves target passengers on the city’s airport transfer buses who have left their luggage on downstairs racks to sit on the top-deck of the buses. The South China Morning Post reported that while there had only been two confirmed cases from local police, another senior police source had confirmed that “there have been many, many cases involving travelers who have come off flights landing in Hong Kong and then taken airport buses into the city.”

This threat comes after another known theft tactic in Hong Kong has gained attention: Thieves who target the carry-ons of passengers during a flight. As one writer detailed in another piece in the Post: “I was the unwitting victim of a particularly devious mid-air scam, losing some US$3,000 from my carry-on luggage in the overhead locker above my seat. Every single US$100 note was replaced with a one-dollar bill, completely throwing me off during a cursory check of my belongings before leaving the aircraft after a five-hour overnight flight.”

The second scam is reportedly common on flights originating in Middle Eastern or Asian countries and bound for Hong Kong, according to officials. Passengers see their bags in the overhead bins at the end of the flight and assume the contents are as they left them; often, they are not.

While those reported issues are localized to Hong Kong, they are certainly deserving of travelers’ wider attention. The risks of theft or property when it comes to travel are usually associated with checked baggage—particularly when it’s outside of the passenger’s sight and put in the hold—or once they’ve arrived at their accommodation. But increasingly, sophisticated thieves are going after people when their guard is down, such as using the lavatory mid-flight or when they assume everyone else onboard an airport bus is a weary traveler just like them.

As The Economist put it: “It is accepted that con artists, pickpockets, and other unsavory types will gravitate towards new arrivals at a destination. But planes are supposed to be a haven where travelers can sit back, watch a film, sleep or work with a relaxing drink.”

The lesson here is simple, if haunting: It’s never safe to let your baggage out of your sight. Just because you’re in an airport, on a plane, or at a boarding gate doesn’t mean thieves aren’t there too. And if you’re traveling with large sums of money or valuables, do what you do in a non-traveling situation: Don’t let it out of your sight.