How dare you?

How dare you?

Wendy Knowler asks what it’s going to take to nab the airport baggage handlers who can’t keep their hands off our stuff...

woman walking with luggage pexels
Woman walking with luggage, Pexels, Photographer: Oleksandr Pidvalnyi,

Listen to the audio or read the details below: 

Baggage handlers are supposed to get our bags on and off planes - they are not supposed to handle what’s INSIDE our bags, but that’s happened to me twice in the past two months, and a lot of other people, too.

Both times, in my case - excuse the pun, they took nothing. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or insulted!

Their number one target is expensive perfume. You can carry up to 100ml of liquid in your hand luggage, so that’s where to carry your perfume!

My most recent baggage tampering incident happened after I checked my bag in at Durban’s King Shaka airport for a FlySafair flight to Cape Town this past Sunday.

I had put a padlock on the zip tabs of my soft Samsonite bag, and then fitted a full Samsonite cover on the bag before checking it in.

When I saw it again on the carousel in CT airport, the cover was on very skew, so I feared the worst. Sure enough, the padlock was gone, and again, my toiletries were scattered all over my bag.

I’m getting a bit over having my bag opened and my personal toiletries and clothing fingered by strange men. Of course, the burning question is: How could anyone have had the time and the privacy to do all that - take the cover off, zip-open the bag, zip open the toiletry bag, and go through everything in it?

I posed it to both ACSA and Kirby Gordon of FlySafair.

“Where in the bag’s journey from check-in counter to plane would someone have that amount of time and lack of monitoring to pull something like that off? This is a crisis, with massive repercussions,” I told ACSA. “Something needs to be done, and done soon. How about putting undercover people in those areas, for starters. SOMETHING EFFECTIVE!"

This is the very short version of what Colin Naidoo, ACSA King Shaka spokesman, said: “We assess every report of baggage tampering to understand what new methods are being deployed.  Baggage pilferage is an ongoing challenge - we work in collaboration with security agencies, airlines and handling agents in finding a resolution.”

Re a bag's journey from check-in to plane: “Once checked in, bags are not touched until they reach the area where they are loaded onto wagons.

“The baggage handling system and loading areas are covered by many CCTV cameras. All employees of baggage handling companies are subject to integrity checks, background checks, employment history checks and criminal records checks. Unscheduled or surprise checks are carried out at different points in the baggage process.”

I also asked Naidoo how many cases of pilfering were reported at King Shaka during December.

Would you believe just four?

Clearly there is a huge difference between incidents and reported incidents. Many people just don’t bother, especially if nothing was taken. So do report every incident, if only to make sure the stats are accurate.

In the six months from July to December, there were 33 reported incidents of tampering out of one-million bags.

The numbers don’t appear to reflect what’s actually going on.

When I shared my experience on Twitter on Sunday, loads of people responded with their “me too” tales of woe.

And that plastic wrap offers false comfort, apparently - quite a few people told how their plastic-wrapped bags were pilfered; the plastic cut off and stuffed inside the bag, and the bag damaged in the process.

And when the Sharks' lead physiotherapist, Deane Macquet, went to the SAPS charge office on Monday at King Shaka to report the theft of his double cab bakkie from the airport’s shaded parking area at the weekend, he says he saw four women with five bags that had had their locks and zips broken, and contents stolen. They had flown back from Cape Town that day.

ACSA at ORT - a hot spot for baggage tampering - told me last month that there’d been a spike in baggage tampering incepts at that airport.

FlySafair’s Kirby Gordon told me airports’ baggage collection areas are “blind” to the airline. “We have no access to that footage or that area as this is ACSA territory, but it is our (unfounded) suspicion is that this area is where things went wrong,” he said.

In all the areas the airline can and does monitor by camera, there was no evidence of bag tampering around the time of my flight, and no-one else on my flight reported their bag being opened, he said.

I STILL don’t understand how the system allows for someone to do what they did to my bag and others, undetected. It simply should not be possible. And how do they leave with stolen goods undetected? Ludicrous!

Who is responsible for pilfered luggage?

According to CAA and DOT regulation, the relevant airline.

But even if they do take responsibility, according to a global aviation compensation policy, they pay out only the equivalent of $20 per kg for stolen goods - a fraction of actual cost.

What to do:

Avoid checking luggage at all costs. Perfect the art of packing light, and take your bag on board with you. You have to make sure you’re at the front of that boarding queue or you risk having your bag whipped away from you as you board and stuck in the hold anyway.

If you must check-in:

Never put your perfume in a checked-in bag; Either use an ordinary, cheapish case with no lock or cover so the thieves assume there’s little of value in there,  or invest in an expensive hardshell, no zip, clip together suitcase.

Ensure your goods under the all-risks section of your home contents insurance policy. And take a photo of the contents of your bag before you close it.

You could also follow the advice which @Iqwakka shared on Twitter this week:  “We need to pack puff adders and use coffin-shaped suitcases."

 Also read: Airport Valet Operators: How to avoid the fly-by-nights

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Contact Wendy

Get in touch with Wendy via her website or her Facebook page. Please note that Wendy is not able to personally respond to every email she receives. If she is able to take up your case, she will contact you directly. Here are other avenues for you to consider.

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