I always feel a bit of anxiety when I drop my suitcase at the airport check-in desk. Despite many trips, I’ve only had to deal with lost luggage a couple of times. But luggage goes missing a lot, either from negligence or theft, and there are things you can do to prevent your suitcase, luggage, and bags from going astray.
I decided to look at ways to prevent luggage theft when flying and at airports, whether locally or internationally.
Here are some tips I found work best for preventing your bags from getting stolen or misplaced:
- Carry-on luggage vs. checked bags
- Stay organized by removing the air
- Make your luggage unique – colors, stickers, etc.
- TSA-approved luggage locks
- Head straight to baggage claim, don’t wait around
- Avoid certain airlines
Stick to carry-on luggage
I’m torn on this one because Americans and their stupid carryon baggage constantly make traveling slower than it needs to be. Watch Japanese when they fly. Often they carry on nothing but a small bag. It makes flying on JAL or ANA a dream. And here I am with my backpack, rolling suitcase, lunch…
But checked luggage is the easiest for thieves to steal, whether it’s the whole bag or just some of its contents. More than 7,900 claims for luggage theft and personal injury were filed with the TSA in 2016.
Try to think about how much you really need to take with you when you’re traveling. You’ll be surprised at how little you can get away with.
I like to stick to the basics by only packing enough clothing for a week at most and wearing my bulkiest clothes to the airport. I’m also thinking about getting an anti-theft bag like something from Pacsafe for even more security.
Plus, by packing light and sticking to carry-on luggage, you avoid the hassle of checked baggage concerns entirely.
Use compression packing bags to squeeze in more and stay organized
Back in 2012, there was a huge scandal about the 200 daily luggage thefts at JFK Airport. A lot of it was from baggage handlers and TSA agents.
In 2015, CNN wrote an article on how the same thing was happening in other airports too. Los Angeles, Orlando, and Miami also make the top of this list by Cheat Sheet.
So if you absolutely have to use checked luggage, pack it super neatly. When your bags go through the X-Ray and it’s a mess, it gives them an excuse to open your luggage and rifle through your stuff.
I use compression packing bags (like these ones by Eagle Creek) to save space and keep my luggage tidy. You might even be able to get everything you need into a carry-on bag!
Another great suggestion is browsing Pinterest for “compact packing” tips – some people get very creative in organizing their suitcases.
Make your luggage unique with colors and straps
When your luggage looks the same as everyone else’s, it’s super easy for thieves to pretend they thought it was theirs if they get caught like in this video.
Making your luggage look different makes it more difficult for this to happen, or even for someone to genuinely take your luggage by accident.
There are a few easy ways to do this:
- Avoid black or dark blue luggage – these are the most popular colors
- Don’t use expensive-looking bags, skip the LV
- Sew some bright material onto the bag, use some unique stickers, otherwise make it stand out
- Safe Bag can wrap your luggage in bright plastic (and give you a trackable code too), which will also deter baggage handlers from rummaging through your bags
- Use a brightly colored luggage strap, like this belt with a TSA-approved adjustable lock
Always use a TSA-approved lock
Speaking of which, you should always use a TSA-approved lock to secure your luggage, so baggage handlers and other thieves can’t get into your bag and steal your valuables (which should actually be in your carry-on).
The luggage strap I mentioned is awesome, because it also makes your luggage stand out. But you could also use these Pick Proof Seals or a Pacsafe Bag Protector.
Just remember – the lock needs to be TSA-approved. If it’s not, security can legally cut it off and throw it away. It’s an unpleasant surprise to find your bag’s been rummaged through, had the stuff stuffed back in, and your lock’s been traded for a slip of paper explaining why your bag was opened.
Head straight for baggage claim
There’s always that crush to get off as soon as the plane lands. It stinks, but be a part of it. You may also need to take a long trip to the bathroom.
But unless you’ve only got a carry-on bag with you, you should head straight for the baggage claim area. There’s usually almost no security there, so it’s really easy for thieves to steal your luggage before you get there or while you’re trying to find the right conveyor belt.
Especially if you have to clear customs, you may still have a long time between the plane and the baggage claim. I know, it stinks to be rushing and you may be tired or jet-lagged, but trust me on this, and try and beat the crowds.
You also shouldn’t be afraid to push through crowds of people to grab your luggage if you see it on the conveyor belt – because they’re going to do the same thing to you.
Avoid certain airlines
The worst part of stolen luggage is, most of the time, the thief is someone working at the airport. This is why it’s important to stick to most trustworthy airlines when you can.
If you want to lower the chances of your luggage being stolen by baggage handlers, avoid these 5 airlines if you’re flying in the US:
- Envoy Air
- American Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
LuggageHero has this great ranking of 12 airlines from least to most reports of baggage handling problems on domestic US flights if you want to see how they all compare.
Traveling should be an adventure met with excitement and satisfaction – not frustration and worry. Losing luggage or having it stolen is a crappy way to ruin your trip, whether at the start or end. Here’s hoping you use these ideas to keep what’s yours.