Theft and Airport Security

We’re standing in the queue waiting to go through security screening in Oslo and catch our connecting flight back to Bergen. Our first flight was late, and now we, and many other passengers, are impatiently queuing and shuffling about.

Security personal open several more check points. Soon, Brian and I are separated.

As my turn comes up, I start preparing.

I empty all my pockets.

Wallet. Passport. Boarding pass. Camera. Phone. Keys. Loose change.

I put these items into the first tray and push it through.

Next, it’s my ‘liquids’. Pre-prepared, I pull out my airline-approved clear plastic bag from my luggage and put it on the tray. I lift up my bag and place it onto the bench into the next tray, taking out my netbook and iPad, for the tray after that.

Four trays so far.

As I’m about to push my jacket and back pack through on the fifth and sixth tray, the woman before me has trouble. She needs to take off her boots, and puts them in a tray in-between mine.

I pre-emptively take off my boots and push them through also.

Meanwhile, my wallet, cash, camera, computers are sitting out in the open at the other end, while several stressed and frazzled passengers repacking the items from their trays. I see someone lift up one of my trays and push it aside to make room. Someone else seems to be rummaging through my jacket contents tray, but I can’t tell for sure.

Anxious, I hastily go through the metal detector, but promptly set it off. I’m delayed further. I see, what I think is my computer, sitting there amongst some stranger’s trays.

I have to remove my hair clip, and send that through in another tray.

I finally make it through to the other side, and try and reclaim all my items.

Brian is nowhere to be seen.

How many trays did I have? Was it four, five, or seven? I hastily package my nondescript computer, and personal items, put on my jacket, stuff my change back in my pockets, and try not to drop anything.

Finally I’m reunited with Brian who had a similar experience.

We hurriedly head off towards our gate. I’m trying to think what I forgot to pack, or if anything was missing from my trays. I’m too distracted to remember.

Later that evening I google theft and airport security.

It seems it’s a common problem, ranging from opportunistic thieves – “Hm, that’s a nice phone sitting next to my jacket, I’ll just casually put my jacket over it”. “Oh look at that iPad. Hm. Let me just conveniently forget that I already packed my computer, so this one here must be mine, and I’ll just pack that”. “Oh, this looks like my bag, I’ll just take a quick look through and see everything is still there” – to more full scale professional thieves.

They buy a cheap flight, with no intention of ever flying, and instead work the security for the day. They watch for harried passengers, the ones who have decided to carry their entire luggage on board instead of checking in, the ones with children, or those looking disorganized and inexperienced. They conveniently queue ahead of them, and then pick one of their victim’s a laptop, camera, or wallet, whatever looks valuable.

By the time the victim has noticed something is missing (if they even notice) the thief is long gone, slipping out of the airport again and requeuing for the next victim. The next day, they’ll move on to another airport.

If you’re a victim of theft, the security personal have neither the authority nor time to assist you. Your best bet is the local police department, but chances are, you’re in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language and not aware of the process. And, you have a plane to catch.

And even if you are lucky enough to have police come through and assist you, the best they can do is look at blurry camera footage, but of course by then the thief is long gone.

After some more research, here are my tips:

  1. Check in your luggage. Even if you’re on a two hour flight. By the time you’ve traveled to the airport, gone through security, and caught connecting trains/buses, you’re on an eight hour trip, so waiting an extra 15 minutes for your luggage to arrive, isn’t going to make a big difference to your day. It also means you have one less bag to haul up the stairs, through security, and throughout the airport. If you have personal items (deodorant, creams, shampoo), check these in, so you don’t have to bother with security, and as an added bonus you get to take your toiletries and cosmetics in that lovely bag your mother bought you for Xmas. Note: that even checked in luggage can still be misplaced by airlines, or subject to theft. So, still keep valuable items with you.
  2. Pimp your luggage (regardless of whether you check it in or not). When we were having a hot chocolate in the Munich airport cafe, we were surprised at the number of people walking past with identical looking luggage. 80% of passengers have the airline approved trolley bags, and most of those are black. They’re made to airline standard, right down to the location of the compartments, and length of zip. If someone wanders off with your bag while you’re studying the departure board, (or when on a connecting bus/train with separate baggage department) you’d never find it again. All our luggage is pimped to the max with ribbons. It might look a little unmanly, but immediately is less of a target for accidental or deliberate takings.
  3. As you begin queuing for security, take all items out of your pockets (wallet, phone, keys, money, passport, boarding pass etc.), and stuff into your bag, rather than into the tray. Leave a compartment in your bag free especially for this, so you do not need to rummage around for these items afterwards.
  4. If you have liquids, check these in. But if you can’t, have them accessible in the airline approved ziplock back, along with computer in the top of your bag. If the computer is in a case, take it out of the case ahead of time.
  5. Put your laptop through in tray #3.  As it’s your turn to go through security:
    1. Take your shoes off first and put them through first in tray #1
    2. Then, put your bag through into tray #2. As you lift it on to the bench, take out your laptop (and any liquids), put that through in tray #3
    3. Finally, put your jacket, through in tray #4 – The important point is to ensure your laptop/camera go through in one of the middle trays, so they aren’t adjacent to a strangers’ who can then ‘accidentally’ remove your computer instead of theirs. If you have five trays, put laptop/valuables through in #4, to minimize the time it is unattended on the other side.
  6. If you’re traveling in pairs, send your partner through first, with minimal ‘problematic’ luggage – i.e. Once your partner is through, then follow with your more valuable items. If you are delayed with questions, your partner can start packing up your items on the other side.
  7. Don’t chance it. Security may or may not pick-up that tube of toothpaste at the bottom of your bag, depending on how passionate they are about their job. However, if they do, they’ll drag you away from your other belongings, and want to go through your luggage, while other passengers queue up behind you, and your trays are in the way for everyone else, leaving them susceptible to be ‘moved out of the way’. If in doubt, take it out (or check it in).
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One Response to Theft and Airport Security

  1. david says:

    Remember when international travel was fun and glamorous? Neither do I.

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