Do You Leave Your Luggage Unattended In Airline Lounges?

Filed Under: Advice

Reader Jason emailed me the following question, which got me thinking:

I don’t know if this question was asked, but I was wondering when you are in the airport lounges do you leave you bag unattended? Say, while you are grabbing a drink or food or using the restroom? Does your policy/view change if the lounge is empty? Full? A contract lounge?

I don’t think there’s a single right answer here, and even as I try to rationalize my approach, I realize it’s not totally consistent. There’s a balance for me between recognizing that just about all my life’s possessions are in my carry-ons, and at the same time not being completely paranoid.


What I realize, as I consider my logic, is that my willingness to leave bags unattended does depend on the type of lounge it is… which admittedly is at least somewhat without merit.

So what’s my general approach with bags in airline lounges?

  • I’ll leave my bag unattended in just about any lounge when I’m going to get some food or something to drink, though I’ll do what I can to glance at my bag as much as possible
  • If I’m going to the restroom to tinkle, I’ll leave my bag unattended, assuming none of the people in my immediate area give me the heebie jeebies
  • In many international first class lounges I’ll gladly leave my bags unattended for a longer amount of time, even if it’s to go for a meal, get a massage, etc.

But I guess on that last point it varies as well. For example, I’d leave my bag unattended in the Lufthansa First Class Terminal or Air France First Class Lounge if I were going to the restaurant area to eat.


At the same time, I probably wouldn’t do that in Cathay Pacific’s The Wing First Class Lounge, given how crowded it usually is.


I guess the simple answer is that “it depends” on the vibe I get from a place. I’ll almost always leave my carry-on unattended briefly, but beyond that it’s a function of circumstances. I’m sure some will yell at me for leaving my bag unattended for even a minute, but then again I don’t see that many people taking their bags with them every time they go to get a drink or something to eat.

How about you — do you leave your bags unattended in an airline lounge, and if so, under which circumstances?

  1. Depends on the airport and time of the day and crowd and of course how easy it is to get in to the lounge.Even if i leave my luggage for a bit. I’ll not leave my passport or wallet/phone unattended. Also i was advised by a friend to cover the bag with a jacket you are wearing in case you decide to leave the bag for a bit.

  2. Perhaps naively, I assume it’s less likely to be stolen in a lounge than than the main airport and also an airport than the streets! I’d hope the lack of a good get away (limited by boarding times, unlikely to leave the airport) reduces the chances someone is going to flee with it. But, it must happen.

  3. I profile the others in the lounge, if I spot any mainland chinese I keep my belongings with me wherever I go.

  4. I generally will not let my bag out of my sight. I will sometimes even take it with me to get food. Depends on the crowd though and how far away from the food I would have to leave my bag. If I am in the BA F cave at JFK there usually aren’t more than a couple of others there so I tend to worry less. But I would never leave my bag when I go to the restroom.

  5. Would never leave one in one of the overrated and overcrowded Centurion lounges. They are ripe full of sticky finger freeloaders.

  6. Wow, way to go MEOW on blatant racial stereotyping. For my part I tend to think in airport lounges there’s a far less risk of your bags being stolen from an airport lounge than in many other places – given the amount of security cameras around and the controlled access, there are easier pickings for thieves elsewhere. Not saying theft doesn’t ever happen but I’m willing to take that risk if it’s just a trip to the buffet/bar/restroom. For a longer absence (eg to go to the shower) I’d probably take at least valuables like a computer or iPad. Of course this problem doesn’t exist at those lounges with lockers (eg many LH lounges), which are also super convenient if I need to make a quick dash into the city but don’t want to schlep my carry on with me.

  7. I generally will leave it within eyesight. But like others said, I won’t leave my passport, wallet, or phone unattended. But anything else, really not that concerned.

    What do you do when you have to make stinkies, as opposed to tinkle?

  8. I try to use the washroom on entering or leaving the lounge (or both!) and take my bag with me. I tend to leave it unattended when grabbing some food or a drink but I’ll glance back every now and then. If the lounge is big and crowded I would prefer to take my bag with me.


  9. I profile those around me and it depends on what I have in the bag. Usually I won’t let it out of sight unless I’m traveling with a companion and they can watch it of course. It pays to error on the side of safety.

  10. Maybe I’m taking a risk, but I generally will leave my bag unattended in most lounges. I never leave my wallet or cell phone just lying around though. Have been known to leave a laptop out if I’m just walking to a restroom too.

  11. I don’t leave my stuff unattended – I move around a few times to get food, use the bathroom, etc. And I find there’s usually someone annoying me – a crying kid, a loud idiot on a cell phone – so moving around isn’t the worst thing in the world.

  12. Just a note/tip: there are lots of free programs for laptops and apps for phones that will set off a loud alarm if their accelerometers detect motion. Throw the bag on a seat to save it, put the device on top of the bag, and if you’re within earshot no one will be moving your bag without you noticing.

    (There’s generally a small time delay for you to deactivate the alarm with the password, so you don’t annoy your neighbors when you come back.)

  13. I’ll leave my bag, but generally only if it’s in my sight (or reasonably close to it). I’m paranoid enough that it’s not really left unattended 🙂

    I assume that between passengers having been through screening as well as the cameras that are everywhere, nobody would be dumb enough to steal in a lounge anyway.

  14. My general rule is that if I’m just grabbing food and it will be within sight, then I leave it there and keep glancing back. Agreed that changing it up based on people around, crowdedness, and entry requirements is a good idea. I would not leave bags if I were going to the bathroom, but have never been in an international 1st class lounge.

  15. I am mostly traveling out of OSL, CPH and ARN.
    I OSL I have no problem leaving my luggage unattended, however in CPH, I would never consider doing it.
    I would never leave my bag in any US lounge, but then I really prefer to travel “ultra-light” hand luggage wise.
    Preferably only a small back-pack holding my Mac-book, iPad and head-sets.

  16. If I’ll only be gone briefly (going to get food, a drink, or a quick trip to the restroom), I usually leave my rollaway, HOWEVER I always take my messenger bag with me, which means I always have my electronics, wallet, passport, etc. with me.

  17. I will leave my bag(s) unattended in the lounge yet I will leave all compartments locked just as I do when my bags are in the overhead compartment especially when traveling internationally. I am terrified of someone placing something in my bag. When I go through customs I want to know what is in my bag and want all of it to be legal! I always keep my passport in my possession.

  18. Nice bag! I don’t think I would trust that out of my sight, as it looks like there is more nice stuff inside!

  19. I pretty much follow the same pattern as you do. I do make sure not to leave any electronics plugged in while I’m away for more than just grabbing a drink

  20. @02nz, I will use blatant racial stereotyping whenever I see fit, especially if it concerns my own people.

  21. I leave my bag unattended only if I can keep an eye on it from another point in the lounge. I’m less fussy about that in places like the LH First Class Lounge/Terminal, but I shouldn’t be. The issue isn’t just the other passengers. It’s also the lounge staff. They can be just as larcenous as the AF flight attendant who raided customer hand luggage as passengers slept. It’s not just Ryanair cabin crew.

  22. I usually have two bags – one has laptop and anything that might be valuable and one with just clothes and toiletries. The laptop bag I won’t leave unattended, the other one I will

  23. I’m surprised nobody mentioned places that have storage vs those that don’t. Leave mine unattended out in the open? Only for a food/drink run, and never my wallet/phone/passport.

    But if there’s designated storage space, then I’ll leave it that for as long as I want.

  24. The replies have all revolved around theft of items; what about security issues leaving bags unattended?

  25. ….and no, never out of eyesight. I carry about 25k in professional cameras in my carry-owns when traveling for work.

  26. I guess it’s easier for me because I usually travel with a partner. We take turns getting food or drinks and take our luggage with us when we use the showers.

  27. I have been reading this blog for a while and am a total fan boy. My boyfriend sees me a idly reading this blog and sometimes it is a bit embarrassing, as we will probably never travel the skies in such style, but oh well. Anyway, I saw your on board bag, and wanted to know whether this is all you needed to take with you for a holiday, or was there more secretly stowed away. X

  28. Paul, obviously, wins my Best Comment of the Day prize.

    MEOW: More seriously, are mainland Chinese citizens, speaking strictly statistically, more inclined to steal than, say, US citizens? Would that spill over even into the demographic that peoples high-end lounges?

    The reason I ask is that I’m one of those people who, like Ben, will leave my stuff unattended at least for a few minutes.

    (Side note: I’ve experienced China business norms, personally, first hand. And that’s all I have to say about that. But I’ve never visited the country, unfortunately.)

  29. @DANMCI I profile those around me as well, then make a decision. Specifically, if I see anyone I remotely suspect as being a Canadian I leave nothing to chance.

  30. @Tom, Absolutely, I travel every week in mainland china. I have even been victimized by thieves on an overnight CX flight and had money and an Ipad stolen from my carry-on luggage while sleeping in business class on a flight. This is a known problem and is evidenced by a number of threads on Flyertalk such as the following:

    It is well known that a group of mainland Chinese thieves operate on international flights and steal from passengers while they are asleep. I’m not saying that only mainland Chinese steal, but given the fact that most of my travel is around Asia, and my past experiences, I will not leave my luggage unattended if I spot a mainlander nearby.

  31. @meow:
    Actually it’s the other way around: Chinese should be concerned about thieves in the West, as it has been proven that they’re the main targets of locals, i.e. “your own people”, since Chinese are known to carry large amounts of cash. Just read the many articles on fake cops in Amsterdam, or pickpocket gangs in Paris, who target Chinese tourists, because of which staff of the Louvre museum, and the Eiffel Tower just recently, went on strike.
    As such you, meow, should be careful of “your own people” instead of uttering racist accusations that have no basis at all!

  32. For the record, at The Wing they have a fully staffed bag check room just to the left (facing away from the windows) of the Champagne Bar area.

    I used to leave my bag in the storage rooms at many lounges until my gf and father both convinced me it wasn’t smart. I’m not worried as much about theft as I am about someone tampering with it.

  33. @meow
    Does your racial profiling extend to black people too? Why don’t you join an American police force? Some would welcome people like you, given recent events.

  34. Is it permissible to leave baggage unattended anywhere in the airport? Terrorists notwithstanding, it’d also be a good opportunity for a smuggler to plant contraband in your baggage. Not a good idea at all

  35. I usually fly through Cip lounge in Istanbul, they have lockers for your bags, so it’s pretty nice.

  36. What a bunch of paranoids. Ive never in my memory seen anyone dragging a carryon to get food.

  37. Many lounges are so large that when I get food or drink there is no way to surreptitiously check on my bags while getting food or a drink. Of course I don’t travel with Gucci luggage either. PS if thieves really want your stuff they can steal it right from under your nose.

  38. @Pavel: thanks for the intel on the storage room in “The Wing”. Though I am HK-based, I have never asked/noticed it.

  39. What about the security issue? I hear on the speaker in any airport ‘do not leave your bags unattended, they will be removed by police’ all the time. Nobody is afraid of bombs in the lounges? Only in the main area?

  40. Its risk vs convenience. If u r taking food n its within sight, i think i will take the slight convenience.

  41. Before September 11th, at the gate they used to be required to ask you if your bags had been in your possession and control ever since they were packed. If you couldn’t say so, you couldn’t board. Then they would ask you if anyone had asked you to carry any unknown objects on the plane.

    Those questions were phased in at the same time they started to ask you for ID to get on a plane. Until roughly 1995, I used to fly everywhere in the USA without carrying any ID at all. In 1994 I arrived at an airport (Buffalo) with a suitcase five minutes before pushback, ran through security only slowing but not stopping, and got to the gate as the door was closing and boarded on my word to the gate agent that my name was on the passenger list.

    You kids today have it tough.

    Anyway, don’t ever leave your bags out of your control. The rest of us would rather not have the plane blow up because you’re enabling the bad guys. Also, you’re just asking for your stuff to get filched. Don’t you know stealing is de facto legal in most international cities? Just try getting a cop to arrest someone (or even care) for stealing your stuff in any big American or European city.

  42. While understandable, people are generally MUCH more paranoid about the risk of theft than reality dictates.

    Not that it’s a bad thing to be overly cautious (as long as you’re happy to carry the bag with you).

  43. I’ll always have my passport and boarding pass with me at all times. I’d leave my carry on bag in the lounge for the most part since I don’t have much valuables in there anyway. Of all the lounges I’ve been to, I prefer Turkish Airlines’s lounge in IST where there are lockers by the restroom. I’ve left my bag there while duty free shopping. 🙂

  44. @ Adam Pope — Hah, thanks for reading! I actually also travel with a 20″ carry-on. That’s my (rather generously sized) “personal item.”

  45. @ Pam — What kind of security issues, in practice, given that this is behind security (not that I trust the TSA, but if someone is trying to “smuggle” something, presumably they’d do it before security and not after).

  46. @ Louis — It’s a weekender bag I bought from a place in LA. Let me see if I can find the info about it.

  47. @Jeffrey.

    You will find that the crimes you mention in Paris and Amsterdam are done by specific ethnic groups. Is it wrong for the police to target, and the public to be wary of, these groups?

  48. Do you actually use the word ‘tinkle’ to use the washroom? I’m just curious as this isn’t the first time I noted its usage.

  49. As a rule, I never leave my passport, phone or wallet unattended. I carry it everywhere. That’s what pockets are for.

    Everywhere else except the US, whether in F or J lounges without bag check, I ensure my regulation “personal item” & carry-on are locked before leaving them unattended for food or any other “business”. Its kinda laughable to be that paranoid to drag your carry-on to get food or into restrooms.

    In the US, well, people carry semi-automatic rifles into airports. So you’ll never know. Best to have all your stuff with you when you die. That’s what i also gathered from all the evacuation videos of US airlines. Plus I’m ethnic Chinese from Singapore. But in the US& only in the US, I still get confused with Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese or even PRC. So hey, if I look just the same in the US, why not I do the same eh? 😉

  50. Recent reports show that TSA is not catching everything in security, but my comment was more a question than comment. Leaving Frankfurt airport last month, I underwent a 15 minute grilling about baggage at checkin – was it in my possession, did I buy anything in my travels and what, did anyone give me a letter or any paper or business cards, did I carry my own bags or did a porter assist….. Some really detailed and crazy questions and way more inclusive that I’ve ever heard before. Then after security, entering the boarding area, we were grilled again concerning carry on bags. If security is this worried it makes me question their reasoning and I like to know I’m answering honestly.

    My ex husband is homeland security and some of the photos I saw of real items confiscated or known as threats were shocking and came close to the stuff spy movies would use as props? So should we be worried about theft as well as what might get slipped into a bag not being watched?

  51. An ounce of prevention is better than a ton of cure – it doesn’t matter what lounge it is, my carry-on bag stays close (either it comes with me, or it’s within eyesight).

    If it’s a visit to the gents, my bag comes with (either slung over shoulder or put on a hook – there’s always a way that doesn’t involve getting it in contact with anything potentially unpleasant, and you can carry your own hand sanitizer for safe hands before you stand up and touch your bag – not to mention your trousers).

    It’d be a mistake to think an airline lounge has plenty of security cam coverage (which ain’t much help anyway, after someone has made off or interfered with you bag) – the excellent cam coverage is around customs and immigration, not elsewhere (and even if the lounge does have some coverage, it’s unlikely to be monitored much).

    At the end of the day, the inconvenience of being tethered to your bag is minuscule to you being caught without it (especially if your are strictly carry on only). Sure, the risk is not great, but the impact of the consequences to me are huge, so I play it safe.

    Even lockers aren’t much of a guarantee, if a light fingered employee (or associate of theirs) happens to have a set of master keys (which lounge staff will have). Worse, in fact, because you are unlikely to suspect any interference at all until well after you’ve left the lounge (and probably the country/county) if the such a theft is done with a modicum of skill (thanks to the potentially false sense of security). After all, someone taking stuff out of a bag at a locker is hardly going to ring alarm bells with anyone.

    None of this completely elimates the risk of theft, but it sure makes it bloody hard to pull it off.

  52. @ Barbican London:
    Of course the police should act against them, and people should be wary. But how can one be wary of thieves who look like oneself: white in Europe, mainland Chinese in Asia? Esp. if you only are in contact with one of them at a time, even when they work in groups. Thus, you should be wary – period.

    My comments directed at meow were based on the fact that in his short 1st comment, without any context, he labels mainland Chinese as thieves: they’re all thieves, and they’re the only thieves in the world.
    And in his short 2nd comment, he talks about “my own people”, again without any context. One concludes he talks about Caucasians being targeted.
    Add up comments 1 and 2, and the take-away is that whites, and only whites, should be wary of mainland Chinese because they are all thieves.

    Only in his 3rd comment he starts to elaborate and clarify his comments. And it’s when reading the FT thread he links to that I read that the thieves are targeting Asian passengers’ wallets! Like in Europe.

  53. @Lucky Re: that photo of your weekender bag. I was expecting ConciergeKey bag tags Ben, not Executive Platinum 😉

    Have you ever used AA’s Five Star Service, out of interest?

  54. @ Kieran — Heh, can’t say I have. I do love the Flagship check-in experience at LAX, but that’s the extent of my “fancy” ground experience with American.

  55. I’m trying to understand this need to drag one’s carry-on all over the lounge.

    We’re talking about F or J lounges right? Where the pax are either paying full fare, or employees whose employers deem important important enough to pay full fare or awards travelers who’ve earned their tickets through other spending. Who in this profile exactly are likely to steal luggage?

    We’re talking about luggage that can be locked right? Or are we assuming another pax will be picking locks right there in front of a crowded lounge? Or are we assuming the employees will pilfer without us kicking up a big fuss? Why would anyone leave valuables out in the open to tempt anyway?

    And we’re talking about airside lounges right? Even if they do run off with luggage, the security cams can trace which flights these pax eventually end up on. So there’s a higher chance of recovery. Yes, there are syndicates that steal from overhead cabins. But they’re very capital focus, they don’t spend on premium fares when the pickings in economy overhead cabins are more lucrative on a total takings/total fare basis.

    Unless of course if you’re traveling with billion dollar bearer bonds. Even then i question why you aren’t using Brinks to deliver it for you anyway.

    So help me out here. Sure, theft happens. But what are the chances in a premium lounge?

  56. Anthony & Meow:

    Thanks for the insight, Meow.

    While I’ll agree that it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter the moral equivalent of the gypsies-at-Notre-Dame thing at a premium lounge, I think it’s wise to at least be aware of local, um, cultural norms. After all, even James Craig, the black Detroit Chief of Police, recently stated publicly that he’d avoid getting gas late at night in the city unless he had to.

    I usually at least try to profile the people around me. Families and intense-looking business types — of whatever color or background — make me feel the safest when it comes to leaving my bags unattended for a few moments.

  57. Whatever your reasons are for leaving your bags out of your sight, they should never include that you are concerned about what other people will think of you (e.g., paranoid or naive). My bags and the contents are valuable to me. When I’m travelling alone, they are never out of my sight.

  58. I’ll leave my bag to get food, but usually take it with me to the restroom (it’s just a backpack).

    The only really valuable item I travel with is my laptop, but it’s password protected, hard drive encrypted and can be remotely traced and data wiped. Should my bag be stolen, I think the only other issue I’d have would be the nuisance of trip disruption in order to buy new clothes.

    I know most credit cards offer trip insurance that covers things like baggage loss, but that’s typically from checked bags that get misplaced. Does anyone know if this covers bags stolen in the airport? Anyone had experience getting a credit card to cover this?

  59. @Jeffrey, I took the “my own people” comment to mean that Meow is Chinese himself, but not mainland Chinese. His comments might be bigoted, but if you talk to citizens of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and elsewhere in the Chinese diaspora, you will hear many of the same sentiments regarding mainlanders.

    @Anthony, some premium lounges are more premium than others. In the Lufthansa FCT or FCL, I have no problem leaving my rollaboard by my seat while I grab something to eat or visit the restroom.I wouldn’t do that in the often overcrowded Delta and United lounges.

  60. As many of the posters — I never leave my passport/wallet unattended.
    Leave my stuff there if I’m just getting drinks/food/bathroom
    Always take my stuff when I’m exiting the lounge to look around or shop or something outside the doors.
    When I use the showers in FRA or MUC at the LH lounges I usually take them inside with me mainly so I can figure out which clothes to change into — also because I’ll be gone for longer than a few.

  61. @Anthony It’d be nice if it worked out that way, but it’s a bit too simplified.

    Firstly, with guesting, cheap reward redemptions, and people using tricks like refundable tickets that are cancelled without flying to access lounges, it’d be very unwise to think your fellow lounge inhabitants are all wealthy upper middle class people that’d never do such a thing (and class really has nothing to do with sticky fingers habits – in fact the most successful thieves mimic their target market and dress quite nice, and even those who are well off can sometimes have a habit of acquiring what isn’t theirs).

    Secondly, lounge employees (and their friends) aren’t paid mega bucks, and there isn’t a rigorous vetting process like you infer. These people are working hospitality jobs (which pay poorly) and outside of the Lufthansa Premium Terminal (and it’s ilk) there isn’t going to be high bars for employment selection. This, of course, doesn’t mean lounge staff are prone to helping themselves, just that there really isn’t much of a barrier to avoid accidentally having a rotten apple get in amongst the staff.

    Thirdly, you assume any theft involves someone taking your bag (that happens to be monitored by some security camera) and that someone taking it all the way out of the airport in a completely obvious fashion. Very unlikely to happen, expect for a very stupid theft. More likely your bag (or only some of it’s contents, given unless it’s a super expensive bag, a theft won’t be interested in it) is taken to a discreet place first (a toilet is ideal) from it’s more than likely unwatched by any security camera location, the contents are then removed and transferred to a new bag or dumped as uninteresting, then the loot is transferred off to a helper who then takes it out of the airport. Almost impossible to track or identify as you suggest.

    If you only travel with carry-on, for your bag or it’s contents to go walkies, is a major problem whether you carry bearer bonds or spare underwear. Unless you have a super long layover, unlikely you and your possessions will be reunited before you have to leave (and repurchasing items takes time, which your schedule might not allow). And, of course, if it’s your passport and/or wallet (or car keys) that go walkies, it’s a super major problem.

    The risk, as stated previously, however is not large but the consequences can throw a major spanner in the works. At the end of the day it’s up to individuals to decide what’s acceptable to them (and people will differ here).

    But thinking that, in the event that such a thing does happen, that you’ll be reunited quickly with your possessions is quite a flawed assumption. Hence, prevention is far superior here to any cure you *might* get.

  62. Inside my larger carry on, I have a smaller bag containing the passport, BPs, currency, etc. I always carry this bag and my phone around with me. I leave the bigger carry on sitting in the lounge; typically it only has clothes, toiletries, medicines, possibly some reading material, charger n cables etc. So far no one has been tempted by my polos, tooth brush or socks. 🙂

  63. @Lucky

    When you are in a first/business class lounge and you are eating the lounge food, do you eat (certain) foods with your hands (for example, some lounges offer chicken wings or poultry legs for food) or do you try to eat them with a fork and knife? I haven’t been inside of a first/business class lounge (only a domestic Admirals Club at ORD), so I don’t know what to expect when I visit the lounge before my first Premium international flight award. Thanks!

  64. @ Jack — Nothing wrong with eating with your hands if you’d otherwise do so at other establishments. I’m a bit of a germaphobe and hate getting dirty, so eat just about everything with a fork & knife (even pizza, etc.). So I don’t, but that’s not because I’m trying to be “proper,” but rather just because it’s my preference.

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