Alitalia Baggage Handlers Arrested for Theft — and How to Reduce the Risk For Your Luggage

There are many reasons why I loath to check baggage — and this article highlights one of those reasons.
As the result of a probe over the past year investigating greater than 100 reports of luggage theft, police in Italy reportedly arrested 19 baggage handlers working for Alitalia at Aeroporto Internazionale Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino in Rome — and this video recorded by one of the hidden cameras supposedly catches some of the workers “red-handed”:

According to FlyerTalk member bungler, a total of 86 baggage handlers were either arrested or reported to police.
The 19 people who are currently under house arrest could face up to six months of being incarcerated. Meanwhile, the passengers who lost their luggage have reportedly been reimbursed.
While the chances of items being stolen from your luggage — or your luggage being stolen altogether — are relatively rare, it could happen. According to Condé-Nast Traveler, approximately 26 million pieces of checked baggage are reported missing every year. Here are some precautions which you could take to minimize your risk:
Try to never check baggage. Many airlines allow you to carry on one bag plus a personal item at no charge. As a result, you do not lug around unnecessary items which could get lost or stolen — and it will be easier for you to travel. With very few exceptions, I never check baggage.
Never place valuable items in your checked baggage. In addition to the possibility of valuable items being lost or stolen, there is also the possibility that they could potentially be damaged as well. After all, baggage handlers are not exactly well-known for treating your belongings with the utmost in care.
Ship valuable items to your destination. If for some reason you cannot or will not carry your valuable items aboard the aircraft with you, consider shipping them — especially during a time of year such as Christmas, where luggage is more likely to contain gifts and therefore be more enticing to thieves. You can even opt to purchase insurance in case anything happens.
Use inexpensive luggage. Notice that I did not write cheap luggage, but inexpensive luggage — and you decide where the threshold should be for you. Just keep in mind that thieves will more likely target expensive luggage over inexpensive luggage. For the record, I use inexpensive luggage in the rare occasion in which I need to check it.
Ensure that proper identification is clearly outside and inside of your checked baggage. This may not prevent theft per se — but proper identification will play a critical role in increasing the chances of your lost or stolen baggage being returned to you as quickly as possible once it is found. As I mentioned last week, include your name and telephone number as well as use the luggage tags provided to you by the frequent travel loyalty programs of which you are a member — but do not use your home address. In fact, you may want to include the addresses and telephone numbers of the hotel properties at which you will be staying during your trip, as well as the dates of when you will be staying at those hotel properties — just in case your checked baggage is lost or stolen and can be returned to you while you are still traveling.
Does your luggage stand out? This could go either way: a bright red piece of luggage might attract the attention of a potential thief — but then again, could help in ensuring instant identification that it is indeed yours, if necessary. Rather than having just another black piece of luggage, put something subtle on it that will be enough to distinguish it from the myriad of other black bags but without it calling undue attention onto itself.
Lock your checked baggage? If you were a thief and you had your choice of attempting to steal a piece of luggage, which would you choose: one with a lock or one without a lock? Well, if you wanted to quickly steal items out of that piece of luggage, you would probably choose the one without a lock — but if you wanted to steal the whole bag altogether and pilfer its contents later at your leisure, the lock may indicate that there are items of value inside the back and therefore could be the more enticing choice. I personally usually do not lock my luggage if I ever check it — although in the past I have been known to either use a really cheap lock or twist ties. Guess what? I have never had anything lost or stolen in the years I have been traveling.
I hope that the advice listed above is helpful to you. I have toured and seen baggage operations systems at different airports — typically hidden from view from the traveling public — and I am quite frankly amazed at how complex they appear with their miles and miles of high-speed conveyor belts whisking the personal belongings of millions of passengers to dozens of gates for thousands of flights. They are like miniature highway systems and roller coasters combined into one frenetic network controlled by both technology and by humans. It is a wonder that more bags are not lost within this maze of what appears to be tangled metal — and yet in ways can be conducive to thefts similar to those alleged by the baggage handlers at Alitalia.
What are your experiences? Do you have any tips or advice to add pertaining to preventing your baggage from being the target of thieves?

4 thoughts on “Alitalia Baggage Handlers Arrested for Theft — and How to Reduce the Risk For Your Luggage”

  1. dhuey says:

    Years ago, I had a DVD player swiped — probably by a baggage handler — on a Delta flight. It was in a checked bag. The most annoying thing to me was how pointless it was. The idiot didn’t take the charger. I doubt he had a compatible charger at the ready, He probably tossed the player not long after he stole it.
    Also annoying was how when I reported this, Delta had me fill out claim forms. I did so, only to learn that this particular electronic device is not covered by the lost/stolen rules. Ugh. Maybe tell me that before I spend an hour dealing with the forms, Delta.

  2. oneworld82 says:

    Your generalizations are horrific… I have checked luggage tens of time and nothing bad ever happened. As everything, someone will have bad experiences, but from that to say “try to never check luggage”.. well, it’s a LONG shot.

  3. Brian Cohen says:

    …which is why I prefaced the article with “there are many reasons why I loath to check baggage — and this article highlights one of those reasons”; and why I prefaced the advice section with “while the chances of items being stolen from your luggage — or your luggage being stolen altogether — are relatively rare, it could happen”, oneworld82. Other than a tear here or there, nothing bad has ever happened to me either whenever I have checked luggage — but then again, hopefully what I wrote can help other FlyerTalk members avoid what dhuey went through.
    Thank you for taking your time to give feedback, oneworld82 — and thank you for sharing your experience, dhuey.

  4. planestupid says:

    As always we need to see things in perspective. Yes, not checking in any luggage eliminates the risk of having it stolen by baggage handlers. But then again lugging around ten kilograms of hand baggage plus a three-kilo personal item will kill my back. And I’d rather have the occasional stolen item than a strain injury.

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