Australian Woman Steals 18 Bags From Airport Luggage Carousel

Filed Under: Travel

The more I think about this, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

When you land on an international flight, the luggage carousels are usually in a secure area, accessible only to other passengers arriving on international flights. You collect your luggage, and then exit the secure area into the arrivals hall, which is full of waiting family and friends.

But for domestic flights, in Australia at least, the luggage carousels are land side, and anyone can just walk into the airport and straight up to the carousel.

Melbourne Airport

Victorian (and Federal) Police have arrested a 51 year old woman who lives in Kings Park, which is a suburb quite close to Melbourne’s main airport in Tullamarine. Over the course of almost a year, this woman would simply regularly go to the airport, walk up to the domestic luggage carousels, and steal at least one passenger’s suitcase.

She would then walk out of the airport, as if she had just landed on a domestic flight, head to her nearby home, open the suitcase to see what was inside, and either keep, or sell the contents.

She ended up stealing 18 different suitcases from Melbourne Airport.

This would have been surprisingly simple and low risk to do.

So many suitcases look the same, and I assume she would have targeted plain black bags. She probably would target carousels that had bags just arriving, to ensure there would be a minimal chance of the owner of the bag she selected seeing her do this. But if someone did stop her to say ‘I think you’ve got my bag,’ she could have simply said ‘oh have I – it looks just like mine.’

Passengers pick up the wrong bag all the time by accident (I’ve done it), because so many bags look so similar.

Sure there would have been Australian Federal Police in the arrivals area but they would be focused on passengers coming on and off flights — I doubt they would have noticed someone coming in off the street and waiting at the luggage carousel.

Those passengers who had their bags taken would have just assumed the airline had lost them over the course of the journey, and would complain to them.

Police were only alerted to this woman’s crimes after happening to review security footage which showed her brazenly strolling into the arrivals area (from outside, not from a plane), taking and bag and walking straight back out.

She has been charged with 19 counts of theft and bailed to appear in a local Magistrates Court in January next year. Police found seven suitcases still in her home.

Bottom line

Given most domestic luggage carousels are not located in secure areas, and no one is checking if the luggage you are leaving with actually belongs to you, I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often.

I guess it doesn’t happen enough to warrant securing domestic luggage carousels, but next time your bag fails to arrive on a domestic carousel, don’t always assume the airline has lost it!

This is one of the many reasons I travel hand luggage only for every flight I can.

Have you ever taken the wrong bag from a luggage carousel?

  1. James,

    I’m using a Gego tracking device which I place in my luggage so I can keep track of my luggage when I arrive. If someone were to walk off with my suitcase I’d know where it’s been taken. The device also allows me to check that when I land at my destination, my luggage arrives too!

  2. Some airports (occasionally JFK and LGA for example) have an attendant that checks the baggage tags with your boating pass to verify you have the correct bags.

    Also, most people arrive at the carousel well before bags start showing up

    In general, carousels are have tons of surveillance so not sure you would get far taking luggage at airports

  3. Also most people don’t have a ton of valuables in checked bag. Used clothes, shampoo, toiletries etc…. Just aren’t worth much. You would need to steal a lot of bags to have a good chance of getting something valuable. Unless you are trying to stock a pawn shop or second hand store it feels like a poor crime. Especially since you will be on camera Everytime you do it and eventually police will look at the footage.

  4. I don’t remember where but I’ve had people checking my bags against the boarding pass before but it’s true that almost never happens.

  5. My 2 favourite cases are hot pink and imperial yellow. No one is going to make off with them by mistake, or easily if the intention is to steal. Maybe would-be thieves would think that someone with such bad taste in cases would have nothing worth stealing anyway.

  6. 30 years ago the luggage label of every bag was checked against your receipt at both Tunis and Caracas airports – at least, those are the two I remember doing it. After the first time it happened I also remember thinking how sensible the checking system was, and how easily luggage could be stolen from the carousel.

    A similar crime was being carried out a few years ago at London’s Paddington and King’s Cross stations: a local man would board a long-distance train as it waited at the platform before departure, and help himself to a suitcase from a luggage rack by the end doors. He apparently managed to lift £11,500 worth over 2 days. London is infested with cctv cameras so it’s a high-risk crime.

  7. The setup is generally the same in all domestic arrivals I have been to in the US. But then again with the average luggage delivery time it is very unlikely for the owner of the bag not to be there before the bags. Reducing the risk a bit. But I always find it an odd construct. I forgot that it is there in Australia as well.

  8. @James – They stop everyone. Bag size or colour has nothing to do with it (that information isn’t recorded so what would they do with it anyway?) – they check the tag on the bag with the tag on your boarding pass.

    It’s happened to me once out of over a hundred flights.

  9. Twice in one year, someone took my bag. A tip- if it’s innovent, the. There will be a bag left on the carousel. Both time airport baggage claims was of no help, so I went back to the carousel, saw a bag similar too mine (not as similar as you might think though). I called the number on the bag and asked “did you just leave xyz airport?” “Er, yes, why”. “I think you took my bag, I have yours” “That can’t be, mine is in the trunk”. Then “how do you think I got your phone number if not off your luggage tag”.

    That convinced them. (Although one asked if tomorrow was ok, and I said no, and had to insist).

    And I’ve had my bag completely stolen. (Lost but known to be offloaded at my destination airport)

  10. Given the enhanced tracking, carriers like AA are scanning the bag an every touch/move point. The data is easily accessible on their mobile app so upon landing you know if your bag is with you or where it was last scanned. Other carriers, like SWA are not doing so.

    I’m very curious as to the reduction in fraudulent bag (missing) claims, or any reduction in total number of incidents where bags were never located and passenger lost out.

    Incidentally, this raises the issue that in the US, carrier liability on domestic flights is good, but absolutely worthless if one or more segments is International.

  11. This is why I stand close to where the bags exit onto the belt. As someone noted above, luggage rarely arrives before you get to the belts – even for economy passengers.

    It’s a worry she got away with it for so long! Perhaps there needs to be gates where you swipe your boarding pass to exit with your luggage at domestic terminals. In addition to adding security to baggage carousel area, it might also reduce congestion around belts (where friends and family currently come in to meet arrivals – surprisingly many, given the exhorbitant parking fees charged by Australian airports).

  12. One time I was at JFK at 4:30 am picking up a friend and we were waiting for her checked bag to come out. We saw this man grab one of her bags and start walking towards the exit. I chased after him to retrieve the bag and when I caught up with him, he just mumbled something in a foreign language pretending to be confused. When I took the bag from him, he didn’t return back to the carousel to get the correct bag, so I could only assume it wasn’t an accident.

  13. This is why in China, they check every luggage with the tagged receipt. I never knew why they did it every time. After reading this article, it makes perfect sense for safety and security. Also, it makes more sense for the arriving luggage to be in she secured area of the airport for domestic and international flights.

  14. Tumi bags come with a monogrammable patch so that each bag is different…… for assurance they have some thing which the Tumi guys can use to identify who uses the bag or so I have been told…..

  15. Just keep the non-passenger public out of the baggage claim area and the problem is largely solved except for the few low functioning passengers who are not capable of identifying their tagged bags.

    I rarely check a bag these days but over the years, a few never made it to destination and I’m convinced they were probably stolen off carousels. One thing I never do after exiting a flight in which I’ve checked a bag is to stop off at the restroom, lounge or anywhere else before retrieving my bag as one never can predict with certainty the speed of the bags appearing for pickup.

  16. @Anthony: “with your boating pass to verify you have the correct bags.”

    LOLs. I hope you don’t arrive by boat 🙂

    @Donna: That’s not quiet as easy as you put it. Smaller domestic airports in Australia combine departures and arrivals, meaning that baggage claim is right next to the check-in desks. You even have to return your rental car keys to the desk near the baggage claim belts.

    FWIW a number of US airports have similar setups.

  17. On a recent 10000 mile road trip across Western Australia, I was struck by the trust system used at all gas stations. We never had to pay for gas in advance. This tells me a lot about the general trustworthiness of Australians at large. But as I remarked about this to a gas station clerk, he told me about a gas thief earlier the same day.

    This made me wonder about the rise of pre-pay systems in other countries. If a town has three gas stations and one of them has too many thefts and installs a pre-pay system, the bad guys would then turn to the other two stations. Maybe they would then get fed up and before you know it, all three stations are pre-paid. Hmm.

    But in any case, I’d guess the luggage theft is uncommon in Australia, a wonderful place with wonderful people.

  18. Public access to arrivals carousels is also a reasonable security risk, if you coordinate with someone airside you can get anything into the secure area of an airport!

  19. I went through LGA a few weeks ago and as I was leaving there were security people asking to look at my baggage receipt as I exited. I was very happy they were doing it. Should be more of t I think, especially in the USA.

  20. A month or so ago I saw a man with his suitcase sitting and waiting at an airport. The whole side of his suitcase was covered with one large picture of him on the suitcase. Looked kind of creepy but might make someone think twice before taking it.

  21. Many years ago checking bag tags was much more common in the US. When I lived in ATL and flew from there regularly (weekly) my bag tag was always checked against claim check. Some of my destination airports did that as well. While I rarely check now I can’t remember the last time someone checked to make sure I had my own bag.

  22. A few years ago, we bought a set of the brightest red suitcases with the thought that they would stand out. Unfortunately red was the color of the season. the next flight we watched red bag after red bag come out of the carousel.

  23. At JFK, LAX and EWR the wait to get through immigration is always at least 2 hours (for non US residents). Every time my bag has been left in a pile near the luggage carousels (though once it was still doing the rounds). I consider myself lucky nothing has been stolen yet, but perhaps the protection of needing to get through customs with the bag helps …

  24. Yes, I took the wrong bag once. I was in ATL, already aboard MARTA on my way to visit my daughter and son-in-law. I happened to look down at the rollaboard, looked closely at the luggage tag and realized it was not my bag. I was able to get off the train right before it pulled out (thank goodness) and found my rightful bag, still on the carousel. I did not see the owner of the bag I took by mistake, but I was ready to humbly apologize. Can happen to anyone.

  25. I’ve been wondering about this for years. It takes no effort to walk off with someone’s bag. Anyone can stroll into baggage claim. Every time I walk through baggage claim I always see luggage going round and round with barely anyone standing by. And there certainly are times when bags for out of the wrong carousel. Even if I usually don’t check my bags they’re are times when a gate agent decides today is the day they are going to be annoying and make you check your bags. Even though by practice I never pack valuables in my carry on my carry on is not cheap. For every 10 airports I’ve been through 1 has agents who check your tags. The other 9 you’re lucky if there is even a mall caliber security guard in the area. Nothing will happen until there is a high profile case or enough dumb criminals finally realize they can steal bags from the airport.

  26. My wife doesn’t like it but I have either a yellow wire tie or yellow electrical tape around the handle(s) of every “black 22” or other luggage I check. So far no one else does exactly that on any flights where I’ve waited at the carousel. Make your “black 22” different. And by making it different around the handle it is harder for someone to make a mistake with it.

    “black 22” is the color and location on the “where’s my luggage form” you get to fill out when missing that ubiquitous black with extensible handle roller bag.

    One of the major airlines has a collection of stories that circulate around the people who handle missing luggage calls. One case was about an elderly couple. When both had died their children found 2 suitcases in the back of a closet that were full of someones’ stuff. Based on what they discovered they appeared to have been there for 10 years or so. The children came to the conclusion their parents were too embarrassed to contact the airline and tell them they had picked up the wrong bags.

  27. Many years ago as a boarding school kid traveling alone (I guess I was around 12 or 13) I picked up the wrong suitcase arriving home into Hong Kong (this was at the old Kai Tak Airport) .
    I recall it being quite a distinctive grey suitcase with a rubber treading strip around it. When I got home we realised it wasn’t mine on opening even though it was the exact same suitcase type! We trekked all the way back to the airport and sure enough my bag was in left luggage and the other poor pax had notified his lost luggage

    Ever since then I’ve been super careful

  28. About 25 years ago domestic Russian flights would check luggage tags with the copy on tickets- two large gents with sidearms would then let you leave the luggage area. No idea if it’s same now. In jfk about three months ago Eva air had a cordoned off area with luggage checked against tickets Stubs before you could pick up.

  29. I have used the LAS airport as my primary one for 35 years. Up until maybe 10 – 15 years ago, a security person would check my baggage tag against my baggage receipt, since all the carousels are beyond secure areas. That was great.
    Since then, no one has ever checked for a baggage receipt… ever. We pay a lot of airport fees in our airfare, and the airport authority certainly takes in a fortune from airport parking, so I don’t know why security personnel stopped checking receipts at the exit… it can’t be for lack of funds for payroll.
    One small point of irritation: I use the Centurion Lounge in LAS upon arrival for an excellent meal before driving home, but I won’t do so if I have checked baggage, which would risk being stolen if I take time for a lounge meal. I just don’t trust the public in the carousel area. I recall a couple was arrested in nearby Phoenix for stealing about 50 bags from carousels a few years ago.

  30. I do the same thing as @AussieBen and make my way promptly to the carousel at Australian domestic airports to collect my luggage. And not just the carousel itself, but the very start of the carousel so there’s no chance it will be picked up by someone else. Funny how the timing of this report came out… these past two years, as I stand at Brisbane domestic airport carousel (my home port) I have been thinking increasingly of how very easy it would be for a thief. And now it’s happened. My only surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often. Maybe it does, but this is the only report of brazen luggage theft at the carousel I’ve seen in the local news.

  31. @Robert F: Pumping petrol before paying is a thing in pretty much any developed country (except for sketchy neighbourhoods). FWIW, theft in the Australian outback is pretty darn stupid since there’s nowhere to go.

  32. I have flown into Lusaka airport several times. There is always someone at the door checking baggage tags and baggage claim stickers. Kind of annoying when you just want to get home, but I can see why they do it…

  33. I mean, the workaround (at least in Aus) feels fairly simple: head in through departures. Go through security (no boarding pass needed). Walk around a bit. Head back out to arrivals. Grab a bag and go. (To quote one of my favorite financial columnists: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE.)

    When I first traveled domestically in Aus I was SHOCKED at how lax the security was. I moved between terminals just because I could! And they let me keep a full water bottle in my bag and my shoes on my feet! I flew from Hobart to Syd with a full bottle of wine in my handbag! Felt civilized again. Damn I miss living in Sydney.

  34. I have the standard black Tumi roll-aboard that Asian airlines make me check so I have put yellow reflective tape on the sides…It’s tacky but very effective…I see it right away,,,

  35. @Debit: We speak Japanese – after we were invaded in WW2.

    You probably would have a chuckle at the number of ‘muricans that believe me when I answer that question

  36. The two domestic airports I fly into most, Las Vegas and New Orleans, both would be super easy to do this. They once had people checking tags, but not for a very long while.

    I did have someone ask to see my luggage check, I think it was in Morocco, bc it had taken me so long to get through immigration that my bag was no longer on the carousel. I couldn’t find it right offhand, but he was happy enough with my passport. I love that our names are now right on the luggage tags.

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