Sleeping in Airports

Keep Your Valuables Safe with these 9 Air Travel Tips

Unfortunately for travelers, pre-flight and in-flight theft is on the rise.

Just this month, South African Airways announced that a theft syndicate might be using its airline to run organized robberies. The report was released after R30,000 was stolen from Johannesburg resident Warren Becker as he slept during his flight from Johannesburg to Hong Kong. A witness to the incident had seen several men take bags from overhead lockers and rummage through them near the bathrooms.

On a brighter note, there are simple and effective ways to protect yourself from these kinds of thefts. Here’s a list of easy adjustments you can make to ensure safe and secure air travel for you and your carry-on:

1. Mark your bags

Most carry-ons are black, plain, and all-together indistinct. Thieves can take advantage of this by boldly opening another’s bag as if it were their own. The unsuspecting owner may even see the thief do this, but simply assume the thief must own a similar carry-on.

The easier it is to identify your bag, the easier it will be for you to notice when someone’s handling it that shouldn’t be. Whether you’re moving through airport security or falling asleep to an in-flight movie, a ribbon, lanyard or ID card can be the difference between catching a criminal in the act and being robbed in plain sight.

2. Move through security alongside your carry-ons

If you want to keep your valuables secure, it’s important to avoid circumstances where you can’t access your bags, but airport employees and other airline passengers can.

This situation often occurs when moving through airport security; random searches can cause the line of people being body-scanned to be longer than the line of bags being X-rayed. In these cases, don’t put your carry-on items on the luggage conveyer belt until you’re about to be scanned. You don’t want your belongings to end up at the other side of security unprotected while you’re stuck behind a line of guards.

3. Keep your most valuable items in one place

When it comes to recovering stolen items, time is of the essence. If you don’t realize your passport is missing until you get off the plane, chances are it’s too late to find the thief and get it back.

The easiest way to keep tabs on your most important belongings is to keep them all in one place; placing your passport, jewelry, wallet, and electronic devices in one designated area of your carry-on will ensure that you can do routine scans of your stuff and know right away if something’s not where it should be.

4. Stow your carry-on where you can see it

When you’re boarding a plane, the best place to store your carry-on is in the luggage rack directly across the aisle from where you’re sitting. That way, you can see directly into the rack anytime someone opens it and make sure that your bag goes untouched.

If that spot is taken, try to at least find a place for your bag where you can keep an eye on it, as opposed to storing it on one end of the plane and sitting at the other.

5. Make pockets inaccessible

You can ensure that your valuables are more than a quick zip away simply by placing your carry-on luggage upside down in the luggage rack. This makes it harder for any thieving fellow passengers because the belongings tucked in your bag’s front pockets can only be taken by awkwardly lifting your bag inside the luggage rack or removing your bag entirely, both of which are more likely to attract your attention.

That goes for storing your carry-on beneath the seat in front of you as well; make sure you don’t position your bag in such a way that someone seated in the next row could lean down and open any pockets.

6. Bury your wallet and cash

Most airlines only take credit and debit, meaning you don’t need cash or your wallet during your flight. Those are #1 and #2 on any thief’s list, so it’s a good idea to hide your cash and wallet so deep in your carry-on that someone would have to basically upturn your bag to find them.

7. Lock your bag

This is admittedly inconvenient, but if you’re flying on a long haul or overnight flight it might well be worth it. Once you lock your bag, your luggage security comes down to the much easier task of making sure a thief doesn’t make off with your entire carry-on.

8. Speak up

If someone is handling your bag that shouldn’t be, say something immediately. It’s important to be tactful in these situations as innocent mistakes do happen. That said, saying something right away allows for people to witness the event, which would be helpful if after inspection you found that something was indeed missing from your bag.

9. If you need it, wear it

The closer something is to your body, the harder it is to steal without your knowledge. Keep your ID, a credit card, your phone, and any prescription medications you might need directly on your person at all times.


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  • Thanks for the tips on how to keep your belongings safe during the flight journey. I will really follow the one where you have advised to mark the bags with a ribbon lanyard or an id card…it’s very true as all bags look the same and it’s so difficult to find out even if a thief is handling your bag right in front of your eyes!

  • People always underestimate the importance of locking their carry-ons. Like you said its a tad inconvenient but worth it cause additionally thieves get put off by a locked bag too. Also #9 was something i learn’t the hard way a travel wallet that one can wear around the neck is the way to go to keeping things safe!

  • I have found that those annoying twisty wire thingees on bread bags have utility in wiring the zippers together on packs thus causing time for a potential thief to untwist and then access contents. My pack is black and the black twists are relatively invisible. Of course, that delay also applies to me trying to get into the pack to get something but I believe it’s worth it. I wear a travel vest with multiple pockets to safeguard essential documents and cards.