Airport gate Dublin
Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

7 Simple Ways to Reduce the Risk of Luggage Theft and Loss

There are many reasons why I loath to check baggage: the cost of ancillary fees and waiting for it at the carousel in the baggage claim area of the airport at the destinations are only two of those reasons — but the chance of theft of my belongings while they are out of my sight is one of the most significant reasons.

7 Simple Ways to Reduce the Risk of Luggage Theft and Loss

As one of many examples, police in Italy had arrested 19 baggage handlers working for Alitalia at Aeroporto Internazionale Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino in Rome in 2013 as the result of a probe investigating greater than 100 reports of luggage theft — although a video which was recorded by one of the hidden cameras that supposedly caught some of the workers “red-handed” has since disappeared.

The passengers who lost their luggage had been reimbursed — and according to FlyerTalk member bungler, a total of 86 baggage handlers were either arrested or reported to police.

While the chances of items being stolen from your luggage — or your luggage being stolen altogether — are relatively rare, it could happen. Approximately 26 million pieces of checked baggage are reported missing every year, according to this article written by Barbara Peterson of Condé-Nast Traveler.

Here are some precautions which you could take to minimize the risk of your luggage being lost or stolen:

1. Try to Never Check Baggage.

Many airlines allow you to carry on one bag plus a personal item at no charge. As a result, you do not lug around unnecessary items which could get lost or stolen — and it will be easier for you to travel.

With very few exceptions, I never check baggage.

2. Never Place Valuable Items In Your Checked Baggage.

In addition to the possibility of valuable items being lost or stolen, there is also the possibility that they could potentially be damaged as well. After all, baggage handlers are not exactly well-known for treating your belongings with the utmost in care.

3. Ship Valuable Items to Your Destination.

If for some reason you cannot or will not carry your valuable items aboard the aircraft with you, consider shipping them — especially during a time of year such as Christmas, where luggage is more likely to contain gifts and therefore be more enticing to thieves. You can even opt to purchase insurance in case anything happens.

4. Use Inexpensive Luggage.

Notice that I did not write cheap luggage, but inexpensive luggage — and you decide where the threshold should be for you. Just keep in mind that thieves will more likely target expensive luggage over inexpensive luggage.

For the record, I use inexpensive luggage in the rare occasion in which I need to check it.

5. Ensure That Proper Identification is Clearly Outside and Inside of Your Checked Baggage.

This may not prevent theft per se — but proper identification will play a critical role in increasing the chances of your lost or stolen baggage being returned to you as quickly as possible once it is found. Include your name and telephone number as well as use the luggage tags provided to you by the frequent travel loyalty programs of which you are a member — but do not use your home address.

In fact, you may want to include the addresses and telephone numbers of the hotel properties at which you will be staying during your trip, as well as the dates of when you will be staying at those hotel properties — just in case your checked baggage is lost or stolen and can be returned to you while you are still traveling.

6. Does Your Luggage Stand Out?

This could go either way: a bright red piece of luggage might attract the attention of a potential thief — but then again, could help in ensuring instant identification that it is indeed yours, if necessary.

Rather than having just another black piece of luggage, put something subtle on it that will be enough to distinguish it from the myriad of other black bags but without it calling undue attention onto itself.

7. Lock Your Checked Baggage?

If you were a thief and you had your choice of attempting to steal a piece of luggage, which would you choose: one with a lock or one without a lock?

Well, if you wanted to quickly steal items out of that piece of luggage, you would probably choose the one without a lock — but if you wanted to steal the whole bag altogether and pilfer its contents later at your leisure, the lock may indicate that there are items of value inside the back and therefore could be the more enticing choice.

I personally usually do not lock my luggage if I ever check it — although in the past I have been known to either use a really cheap lock or twist ties. Guess what? I have never had anything lost or stolen in the years I have been traveling.


I hope that the advice listed above is helpful to you — although none of it is absolutely guaranteed or foolproof.

I have toured and seen baggage operations systems at different airports — typically hidden from view from the traveling public — and I am quite frankly amazed at how complex they appear with their miles and miles of high-speed conveyor belts whisking the personal belongings of millions of passengers to dozens of gates for thousands of flights. They are like miniature highway systems and roller coasters combined into one frenetic network controlled by both technology and by humans.

It is a wonder that more bags are not lost within this maze of what appears to be tangled metal — and yet in ways can be conducive to thefts similar to those alleged by the baggage handlers at Alitalia.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

  1. How about (8) sit near front of plane so you will be first to arrive in baggage claim (9) get global entry (same) (10) be very careful on rental car shuttles (had someone take a bag once when I was distracted) (11) don’t leave bags unattended

    1. Those are all excellent suggestions, BOraxo. Thank you.

      Another suggestion could be to keep your belongings in an overhead storage compartment which is within your view at all times while aboard the airplane.

      I am sorry to learn of your experience of someone taking your bag while you were aboard a rental car shuttle. I have to admit that the rental car shuttle was not on my mind when I wrote the article; but that is probably because I am always near my belongings at all times without even giving it a thought.

  2. This sounds like a joke: “Avoid lost luggage by never checking it”. It simply isn’t relevant for intercontinental and long-stay travel.
    And who isn’t tired of the DYKWIAs who carry luggage on board the plane that should have been checked if the airline enforced their carry-on size limitations? How many of us have seen those with “super-sized” carry-ons take other’s luggage out of the overhead bins so that theirs could fit in? How about airline credit for those with no-carry-ons to incentivize civility?

  3. It certainly is relevant for intercontinental and long-stay travel. We go abroad for a month and each have one bag in the overhead bin that meets the size requirement and easily fits. It does take practice in packing and also having the right clothing for travel. It sounds like you need an incentive for civility.

    BTW, I have never seen anyone remove someone else’s bag to replace it with theirs. I have seen them rearrange them to provide more space, but not remove it.

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