Protecting You Baggage From Theft & 1,000 Bags Stolen From PHX

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4/11/2009 – Protecting You Baggage From Theft & 1,000 Bags Stolen From PHX

A frequent topic I have written about on Flying With Fish has been passenger security and protecting yourself from airport thieves. While I have extensively researched this subject, some still seem to think I am an ‘alarmist.”

An e-mail this past August from an airline executive (who shall remain nameless) reads “It is preposterous to think there is some rampant group of thieves who make their living off of walking into airports and stealing luggage off the belt.

While I have known for quite sometime that there are in fact unscrupulous people who make their livelihood spending their days stealing from passengers are airports…and some make pretty good livings off of it!

The top of the news for much of the day has been a couple in Phoenix, Arizona, who have been stealing baggage off the carousel at Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX). When police raided their home they carted off approximately 1,000 bags.

What a surprise, from the images of the bags being taken away from the thieves home, more than 98% appear to be black ballistic nylon bags!

So…now that I have been able to once again prove I am not an alarmist when it comes to airport baggage thefts, let me share some basic tips on how to avoid being the victim of an airport baggage thief.

1) Brightly mark or label your bags, especially if your baggage consists of black ballistic nylon bags. Thieves generally only steal bags that blend in and are not easily identifiable.

2) If you are traveling with a task-specific bag that stand out as one carrying expensive equipment, such as a Pelican Case or Think Tank bag, make sure the bag is extremely visible and identifiable, then pack it inside a non-descript bag. My Pelican 1514 case tends to fly inside a bright green Mountainsmith Cube when it needs to be checked (the Cube never blends in anywhere).

3) Following a flight head to the baggage carousel as soon as possible. Don’t stop and browse the magazine shop.

4) Position yourself as close to the exit to the baggage chute or entryway of the baggage carousel. By positioning yourself close to where the bags come out you can watch for your bag.

5) If you have multiple bags, stack them in front of you against the baggage carousel as you await your others bags. Do not stack the bags behind you; some one can easily away with it

Below is a video clip of the Phoenix baggage theft story, as well as photos clearly showing both how I hide one bag inside another and how I make my bags very visible to make them easily identifiable and deter theft.

Happy Flying!

a suitcase with stickers inside of it a green and black bag

a black suitcase with yellow tags on it a black suitcase with writing on it


  1. Ross,

    From Mountainsmith I presently use The Tour, The Day, Borealis AT, Parallax, Correspondent, The Cube, Network…and a few others. Most of my travel bags are Mountainsmith.

    Happy Flying!


  2. That looks like Fish’s 1510 he’s shown in other posts.

    I always feel like I’m paranoid about watching my stuff in airports, and I see so many people leave things unattended. It’s nice to read an article that confirms I’m not crazy.

  3. So, you’re saying that we should a) make our bags look distinctive, but then b) hide our most distinctive-looking bags inside nondescript bags?

    Bit of a contradiction there, heh.


  4. No, what I am saying is take your standard checked bags and make the extremely distinctive so you do not lose them, they are not the target of a thief and so if you get separated from your bag in transit the airline can easily identify your bag.

    For checked bags with expensive gear, such as camera equipment, it is best to disguise the case so it does not catch the eye of thieves working ‘air side’ at an airport and to further decrease the chances of someone attempting to steal the contents of your bag.

    Happy Flying!


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