Don’t forget to secure carry-on bags overhead

It’s critical to secure carry-on bags overhead. They especially need protecting when you’re not seated or asleep.

Overhead binsLast week, my column was devoted to securing checked luggage during air travel. Unfortunately, it’s not just checked luggage security that passengers must worry about. We see new reports more and more regularly about theft from passengers’ carry-ons and personal items while inflight.

A number of years ago, a New Zealand couple flying Emirates said that $3,000 in cash was stolen from their bag while it sat unattended at their first class seat. I would have been shocked if it wasn’t stolen. This year, police in Singapore arrested a passenger from a Singapore Airlines flight who has been accused of stealing $80,000 from another passenger’s carry-on while inflight

Travelers have had cash, jewelry, cameras, credit cards and even their entire carry-ons stolen inflight.

Two years ago, an American Airlines passenger was arrested for allegedly stealing more than $10,000 and two credit cards from two passengers while their flight from Buenos Aires to Miami was in the air. The suspect, Diego Radio later confessed.

Last year, after a Southwest Airlines flight to Oakland landed, a passenger grabbed another passenger’s carry-on from the overhead bin and quickly rushed out of the plane. The bag hasn’t been reported recovered.

In 2010, the arrest of actress Cybill Shepherd’s son, charged with theft of cash, a camera and other items from two fellow passengers’ carry-ons during their flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia, got my immediate attention. Due to his crime, I began to develop my personal anti-theft plan for all my flights.

Since that time, I’ve made sure that I’ve protected my carry-on and personal bag while inflight, in addition to my checked luggage. That protection is definitely needed. Awhile ago, Absolute Software Corporation, which provides tracking and recovery solutions for laptops and other personal electronic devices, did a study based on thefts reported to them. It showed that 24 percent of travel-related thefts took place inflight.

Protecting carry-ons is likely even more important than protecting checked luggage. We typically stow our valuables solely in our carry-on bags, not checked luggage.

Irritated by hotel resort fees?While protecting our checked luggage, as discussed last week, is important for most air travelers, protecting the belongings we pack in our carry-ons is likely more important. This is where we pack our necessities, valuables, breakables and those items we can’t afford to lose while traveling. Laptops, tablets, cameras and other personal electronic devices go into our carry-ons, as do our prescription medications and everything else we most want to prevent losing by theft or breakage.

Here’s what I do to prevent the theft of my belongings that are packed in my carry-ons. I suggest adopting some or all of these practices yourself.

If you don’t need it while traveling, leave it at home:
Personal items of value, particularly great value, as well as breakables that you don’t need on your journey, should be left at home. It can’t be broken, lost or stolen while you’re traveling if it’s back at home.

Cash, credit cards, identification, passport, valuable jewelry:
I never carry huge sums of cash with me, unlike some of the passengers described above, but while traveling I may have several hundred dollars in US and local currency if traveling internationally. Never pack those items in any of your bags. Carry them on your person. A money belt or neck wallet are best for this. Moreover, never carry lots of cash while traveling. Use an ATM for cash, as needed.

Clear bag identification:
Thieves could swap bags for your own, particularly if your bag isn’t easily identifiable as yours. Not only do I label all my bags with a pair of standard style luggage identifiers, I also secret an identification label in the inside of each bag. I do that to all my luggage in case the thieves remove the exterior identification. They can’t remove what they don’t know is there. Finally, I put colorful personal ribbons on my carry-ons to quickly identify them as mine.

Apple Airtags aren’t only for checked luggage. They’re important for carry-ons, too.

Use Apple Airtags or similar trackers:
Airtags to track your bags aren’t only helpful to track checked luggage, they’re excellent for tracking carry-ons that are stolen or lost by the airline in case your bag is gate checked. They’re also great for tracking if someone takes your bag by mistake or on purpose. I prefer Apple Airtags due to the vast Apple “FindMy” network across the world.

Overhead bin location:
You want to be able to notice if anyone is looking at your bags in the overhead bin, so never put them in the bin behind you. The best bin location for them is directly over your seat or directly across the aisle from your seat. If there’s no room there, a little in front of you works, too. Wherever you stow your bags, make sure it’s directly in your line of sight.

Lock your bags:
From what I’ve seen, most air travelers don’t lock their carry-ons. That’s a major mistake. I always lock my carry-ons, without fail. While it may take a few extra moments to get into my bag during the flight, if needed, it’s worth it to keep the hands of others locked out. This is particularly important when I’m away from my seat or asleep. I use a combination luggage lock so I never have to fumble finding a key.

Never put anything in an unlocked outside pocket of your carry-ons if they have any value.

My camera backpack can’t be locked. Some might think their personal items are safe because they’re stowed under the seat in front of them, but that’s not true. I use a PacSafe eXomesh anti-theft backpack protector for the camera backpack. It’s a mesh bag made from high-tensile stainless steel to fully encase my bag and it has a combination lock to keep it closed and prevent my bag from tampering by other passengers. I use it in hotels, too.

Stow valuables in a bag:
Don’t keep valuables in your jacket or coat that’s put up in the overhead bin. Clean out your pockets and stow their contents in your locked bag to keep them safe. Coat and jacket pockets can be too easily and quickly searched by others on your flight.

In case you go to sleep:
If you’re tired and may fall asleep or plan to sleep, don’t leave any belongings lying around loose, on a tray table or in the seat pocket where they can be quickly snatched while you’re sleeping. Lock them in your bag.

Don’t make yourself a target. Never show how wealthy you are by what you wear or reveal what is in your bags.

Don’t flaunt your wealth:
Dress like an ordinary tourist or business person. Don’t wear or show off expensive jewelry while you travel or expensive clothing or personal bags. Keep your valuables and money out of sight from the time you arrive at the airport until you’ve left it, and certainly not while inflight. Don’t make yourself a target.

Join Us for Cybersecurity BenefitsFollow my commonsense carry-on suggestions and remember that streetsmarts apply to plane cabins as the variety of passengers in them mirrors the every day world.

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