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5 Common Ways to Lose Your Money on Airplanes

Ryan Ong

Ryan Ong

Last updated 23 November, 2017

Losing money can happen at any stage of your trip, and insurance may not always cover your losses.

There’s been a tremendous rise in in-flight theft over the past five years.

Criminals have discovered that airplanes are among the best places to steal: passengers tend to be less alert, there may be lighter penalties if they’re caught, and they’re almost impossible to catch after disembarking.

Here are the common tactics they use.

preventing theft in airplane overhead bins

1. Rifling Through the Overhead Bin While You Sleep

This is the simplest and most direct form of theft. The thieves - who often work in groups - target long haul flights. Over the course of a 12 to 24 hour flight, it’s practically guaranteed that passengers will sleep. During these times, cabin lights are turned down, and window shutters are often closed.

The thieves will target lone travellers, who have no one looking out for them while they sleep. The thieves rifle through the overhead cabin, to steal valuables and cash from carry-on bags.

If you think that other passengers will stop them, you’d be wrong: most other passengers assume that anyone looking through the overhead bin is handling their own luggage. Besides, the thief would have planted one of their own bags in your overhead cabin (see point 3).

To prevent this:

If you're travelling alone on long-haul flights, inform the cabin crew. This is so they can help you keep an eye on the overhead bin.

Also, keep cash and valuables on your body, such as in an inside coat pocket - this makes them harder to steal.

2. The Distract-and-Snatch

This method is often used when the plane is close to landing. The timing minimises the chances of a theft being discovered, before the thief can disembark and flee.

One thief distracts you by asking for help; she may ask for help filling her disembarkation form, or ask you to interpret something because she doesn’t speak English well. If you’re in a group, she may even feign illness - anything to draw attention.

While you (and possibly the people around you) are distracted, another thief goes through your overhead cabin luggage, and steals your belongings.

To prevent this:

Be aware of this trick, and keep an eye out when asked for help. Be especially careful if you are being made to look away from the aisle.

passengers queuing to get off the plane

3. Pre-access Boarding

This is the most preferred method of in-flight theft. Using this trick, the thieves obtain some reason to get pre-access boarding (or early boarding). It may be due to a feigned medical injury, such as being on crutches, or even having frequent flyer membership.

Once on board, each thief plants a bag in an overhead bin that’s in front or behind them. This gives them an excuse to search bins later on, as their bags are in there. While they’re apparently taking out their own stuff, they also rifle through other bags and steal.

Boarding early also allows the thieves to see where other people store pricey items, such as high-end cameras. They will often walk up to their target’s overhead bin just before boarding is over, and place one of their own bags in it.

To prevent this:

Don’t make your valuables obvious, when placing items in the overhead bin. Keep your cash and other valuables on your body as much as possible. Loose items like cameras should be kept in their bags, and placed between your feet.

person checking pocket after getting pickpocketed

4. Old-fashioned Pick-pocketing

Pickpockets love airlines as well.

There are hundreds of places to dispose of a wallet after it’s been stolen - in some cases, they may even slide it under the seat, and kick it forward, so some other poor passenger gets blamed. Many times though, the victim doesn’t even realise a wallet was stolen until they’re off the plane.

Pickpockets prefer to strike just when passengers are lining up to get off the plane. They will make excuses to brush past people in the aisle (e.g. to get to the toilet), and easily reach into coat and jeans pockets to steal.

To prevent this:

When lining up to get off the plane, be extra wary with your wallet - keep it in an inside coat pocket if possible. Periodically check if your wallet is still on you, when you make trips to the bathroom or to stretch your legs.

5. Lost-and-Found Theft

There are growing instances of cleaning crew staff stealing items. If you leave anything on board the plane, including cash, there’s a high chance you’ll never get it back. At best, your bag or wallet will be at the lost-and-found; but not your money.

Even worse, many travel insurers will refuse to pay out for this - if you left behind the item, it’s considered your negligence - regardless of whether someone stole it later.

To prevent this:

Try to keep items attached to you, such as via a chain (for your wallet), or by putting a bag strap around your wrist while you sleep. This ensures you won’t get up and leave without it.

Read This Next:

5 Steps to Recoup Your Losses (If You Get Thrown Off an Overbooked Flight)

Book Now, Travel Later Deals You Don’t Want to Miss

Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.


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