Traveling Writers Beware In-Flight Thieves

Filed in Writing Well Wednesday (WWW) by on September 12, 2018 • views: 596

~Writing Well Wednesday Tip~

Whether you’re traveling to your next writer’s conference or jetting off to a book signing or speaking engagement, you may want to think twice about how you handle your carry-on luggage.

The standard advice has been to avoid packing your irreplaceable things in your checked luggage, since there are so many ways it can be stolen. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has fired at least 400 employees allegedly because they were stealing from passengers, with the Miami International Airport, New York’s JFK International Airport, and the Los Angeles International Aiport topping the list for theft-related firings.

JFK security lawyer Kenneth Mollins told CBS New York: “The belly of the airplane has become like a flea market for airport employees. They go in there and go through all the luggage unencumbered.”

What’s worse? Airlines often report these thefts as “lost luggage,” telling customers that the bags were lost in transit.

At the arrival destination, as well, thieves can walk off with your luggage pretty easily. The Daily Mail reported in 2012 that more than 200 thefts occurred at JFK every day. There are few security measures implemented around baggage claim, and since one bag can look much like another, few thieves are caught as when someone notices, they can simply feign ignorance and claim to have mistaken the bag for their own.

To avoid losing valuable items in checked baggage, we’ve all moved to storing the things that really matter in our carry-on luggage. Thieves have caught on, though, and are now finding ways to steal even when the plane is off the ground.

They’re Stealing While You’re Flying

Bottom Line reports that about 24 percent of all thefts related to air travel today take place in-flight rather than at the airport. Thieves know that carry-ons are where the good stuff is—the computers, tablets, cell phones, cameras, jewelry, cash, and credit cards. So they’re finding ways to make off with it even while you’re sitting just a few rows away.

How are they doing this? Pretty simply, actually. If the bins over your seat are full and you have to stash your bag in a bin a few rows behind you, then thieves can get up mid-flight and rifle through that bag without you knowing it. All they have to do is act like it’s their own bag.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Writing Tools

To make sure that you don’t lose your laptop (with all your manuscripts on it!) or your tablet, phone, or other valuables in your carry-on, follow these suggestions:

  • Keep your critical valuables in a bag under the seat in front of you. It used to be you had to shoulder any bag small enough to fit in this space, but they’re now making roll-along bags that are small enough to stash under the seat in most planes. I just got one of these myself and I love it!
  • If you can’t fit your stuff in a bag small enough to put under the seat, try to get on the plane early enough to store your bag in a bin across from your seat. That is the ideal place for you to be able to keep your eye on it.
  • If you get stuck having to put you bag in a bin behind you, slide all the zipper pulls to the same side, then turn that side to the back of the bin. This makes it harder for the thief to go through your bag quickly and may deter him or her. It may also help to turn your bag upside down so the smaller pockets are harder to access.
  • Take along some extra zip-ties with you. After you go through security with your bag, use the zip-ties to secure your zipper pulls together. A thief can still get into the bag, but it will take him longer, and he’ll likely move on to an easier target.
  • Use locks. You can lock your carry-on baggage, just be aware that you’ll need to unlock it to go through security. TSA also reserves the right to check your bag at anytime, and if they can’t open the lock, they can break it. Still, with a carry-on, you can unlock it at security, then lock it back for peace of mind.

Have you ever lost important writing equipment on a flight?

Bottom Line, Inc. (2018, August 21). Guard Against In-Flight-Theft | Bottom Line Inc. Retrieved from

Chuchmach, M. (2012, October 23). The Top 20 Airports for TSA Theft. Retrieved from

Goldstein, M. (2017, July 7). How To Protect Yourself From Rising Airport Luggage Theft. Retrieved from

Stebner, B. (2012, March 27). ‘It’s like a flea market for airport employees’: More than 200 items stolen every DAY from checked baggage at JFK airport. Retrieved from

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