How to Protect Your Luggage and Documents at the Airport
Stolen at the Airport?
You're walking across a vast and crowded airport lobby. The only thing on your mind is your flight back home after months away on business and how much you miss your family. You briefly snap back to reality and turn to unzip the back pocket of your rolling bag to check on your ticket and passport – but they’re gone.
Have your travel documents disappeared into thin air? No, obviously not – they were stolen. Theft is an ever-present threat in airports, particularly in lobbies and terminals outside of security check areas. You might ask how thieves could possibly operate in an airport, where scores of police and security personnel are constantly posted. These officers are not perfect, however, and they will miss things. Don’t believe that your documents and luggage are safe from theft simply because security officers are on duty nearby.
Susceptibility to theft is often caused by simple carelessness, especially when it occurs in guarded or monitored areas. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that nobody swipes your important belongings while you’re at the airport.
Never carry your cash, passport, credit cards or any other related documents in your back pocket*
1) Don’t store your documents in a place that is out of sight or unprotected.
Many travelers store their passports, tickets, travel insurance policies, and other travel documents in an outside pocket of their rolling bags, their duffel bags, or their purses. Don’t do this unless you are positive that nobody can covertly open the pocket while you’re not paying attention and steal whatever is inside. And in an airport, your attention will be averted more often than you think – most fliers have to stop and gather information from departure screens and ticket agents on the way to their flights. Airports are also typically crowded places, and crowds provide even more opportunity for distraction.
If you’re carrying a purse, a laptop bag, or a messenger bag, store your passport, ticket, and other documents in that bag and tuck it under your arm where nobody can get to it. If you’re not carrying such a bag, zip your documents into an inside pocket of your rolling bag or large suitcase. If you’re wearing a jacket, you might also consider holding your documents in one of its inside pockets. Wherever your documents will be safe and secure from theft, that’s where you should carry them.
2) Keep all your documents in the same place.
Some travelers keep their passports in their front pocket, their tickets in their carry-on bags, and their travel insurance policies and itineraries in a pocket of their rolling bags or in some other place. Again, don’t do this. If you scatter all of your important documents, you’ll make it that much easier for a thief to make off with one of them. You’ll also make it more difficult to get together your own documents when you need them; for example, when buying your ticket, going through a security check, or boarding your flight. Keep all of your documents together in a safe and secure place, and you won’t have to fumble for them constantly while making your way through the airport.
3) Don’t trust anyone you don’t know.
This may sound like insultingly obvious advice. “Obviously, I’m not going to trust a stranger,” you might be thinking, “especially at the airport.” However, to be totally safe, you’ll still have to actively practice caution.
If you frequent coffee shops that have wireless access, you might have seen this scenario before: one patron gets up to go to the bathroom and asks another, who is obviously a complete stranger to him, if he would please watch his laptop in the meantime. You may not do this, but many people do. It’s a natural human instinct to put some level of trust in strangers, especially those who “seem trustworthy.” If you would never steal someone’s laptop, neither would this other, respectable-looking coffee shop patron, right?
Predictably, many laptops and other belongings are stolen as a result of this sort of carelessness. At the airport, such behavior is not only careless, but reckless. Standard airport announcements have long included a warning to not leave your bags unsupervised. This is partly to prevent theft, but also to prevent strangers with criminal or violent intentions from putting something in your bag when you’re not looking. And leaving your bags in the care of that “trustworthy stranger”, even for a minute, is just as bad as leaving them completely unsupervised.
None of this is to say that you should be paranoid when you go to the airport. If you have your bases covered – if your travel documents are all together in a secure place that you can quickly and easily access, and if your guard is up against criminal activity – you should actually be more relaxed than if you hadn’t properly prepared. Thieves don’t lurk behind every bush, even in an airport lobby, but it’s better to be overly cautious than to have to report a missing laptop or a stolen passport.
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