Smuggling and theft in air travel

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Smuggling and theft in air travel.

As most travelers now know, you are no longer allowed to lock you luggage when traveling by air. Two concerns we have heard discussed within the trade since this regulation has been put into place are smuggling and theft. Whether you are reading this as a protective agent or one needing protection, you must be aware of the potential issues, and be prepared to deal with them.


Loss has always been an issue in travel. Because of the amount of luggage in transport, from time to time luggage tends to disappear, sometimes to reappear, and sometimes never to reappear. We have been lucky. On one occasion a bag containing a gun and ammunition disappeared. On another occasion a specially checked guitar disappeared. Fortunately, both were merely lost in transit, and re-appeared the next morning. On another occasion, a locked suitcase fell off a loading dock, dumping a gun onto the tarmac. We were summoned to the baggage office to be sure that no other weapons were missing, which they weren’t.

Theft has been a problem also, albeit equally rare. Most baggage loaders know how to throw a bag to make it pop open (some would use duct tape to seal their bags, or wrap them in plastic sheeting like some giant luggage sandwich, or add a twisted paper clip to the lock), and it is only because most people are honest that the level of theft has been so low. We travel with Halliburton cases (, which are aluminum cases with sturdy, individual locking clasps. These cases are quite strong: It is rumored that some years ago when terrorists blew up an evacuated plane on the runway, the only recoverable items were three Halliburton cases. The locks are intended to deter the casual thief long enough that it will be more worthwhile to break into someone else”s luggage, but do no good if they cannot be used: Our enthusiasm for transporting guns in unlocked bags is minimal”.

It is believed in the industry that because of this new unlocked-bags policy, we should expect to see an increased level of theft. You must therefore make sure that you or those under your protection do not pack anything in the bag that cannot be replaced, and that there is appropriate theft insurance in place. In theory, there will be more careful supervision of baggage, and if a bag is opened for inspection, a slip will be placed inside saying it was opened. In practice, we came back from a trip a few days before this article was written, and when the slip-less case was spit onto the luggage carousel there was a necktie hanging out of it. While nothing was missing, the greater concern was not theft, but smuggling.


It should be anticipated that unlocked luggage would be a tempting vehicle for smugglers. What, after all, could be more perfect? There are unlocked bags where the smugglers qua baggage handlers are, going to places to which they would like to send small packages. They merely have to open a bag, put in the package, find some way to identify it to their accomplice at the other end, and the package disappears before you get it, leaving, perhaps, only a telltale necktie hanging out. What happens if the contraband is discovered en route? You, the traveler, have a lot of explaining to do. Obviously, given the amount of baggage being moved, the likelihood that you or the people under your protection fall victim to smugglers is in the slim-to-none category. Even so, no matter what the odds, someone wins the lottery every week, and this is a scenario that is best discussed with counsel before the event, not after. Naturally, if you are traveling abroad, where no such regulation is in force, you should ensure that your luggage is locked!

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