Philip Bramson’s iPod vanished from his checked luggage on a recent flight to Mexico, and recovering it seemed impossible.
“It was hidden in my luggage, so it could only have been seen through the X-ray or a pretty thorough search,” he says. “The only place this could have happened is during the luggage handling in JFK. There was not enough time in Mexico between when we landed and I was given my luggage.”
It’s an awful feeling when you open your suitcase after a long flight and notice that something’s missing. But it doesn’t have to happen to you.
Last month, after I explored the extent of an airline’s liability when it comes to lost luggage — which, sadly, isn’t much — many readers asked for tips on how to avoid having their checked bags targeted. I’m happy to help.
The best way to keep your valuables away from a thieving TSA agent or airline employee is to not check a bag, of course. It deprives the agent of an opportunity to enrich himself, and the airline of a $25 checked luggage fee, which it shouldn’t be charging in the first place.
But that’s not always possible. People fly with stuff. They can’t — or don’t want to — carry it all on the plane.
Robert Siciliano, a security consultant, said if you must check a bag, try something downscale but solid. Thieves don’t like cheap luggage, because they assume the contents are worthless.
And, “hard-back luggage can’t be cut with a razor,” he says.
Another tactic: the disguise. It works for Renee Fredrickson, a psychologist from Minneapolis, who often checks luggage with valuable contents.
One time, she accidentally left more than $5,000 in her checked bag. It was returned to her with every penny. “It was in a canvas bag with the name and logo of my son’s preschool on it,” she recalls. “Now I use pink or purple luggage when I travel, unless I’m being met at the airport by another professional. Why not exploit cultural misperceptions?”
Pack right, too. Some travelers wrap their bags in duct tape, which makes it practically impossible for anyone (including, alas, the owner) to access its contents quickly. You can hire a professional to do that. A company called Secure Wrap, which operates mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean but also has locations at Houston’s Intercontinental Airport and JFK, will cocoon your checked bag in clear plastic for a small fee.
Ann Lombardi, a travel agent from Atlanta, uses two different-colored metal bread package twisties, with each pair twisted tightly and looped through the zipper holes of her small suitcase. “Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but so far, no one has ever tampered with my luggage during my travels to almost 90 countries over the years,” she says.
What’s inside is just as important as the exterior, says Bill Horne, a consultant in Boston. If someone opens your bag, you want to give that person a reason to close it quickly.