You know that wave of relief you get when you finally see your bag on the carousel?
Not so fast. Turns out just because your bag arrived, doesn't mean everything inside it did too. In the video clip above, undercover video shows airline baggage handlers stealing. Caught on secret cameras, hidden in the belly of the plane, at one of the busiest airports in the United States: JKF in New York City.
This baggage handler finds a wallet. He's quite methodical in his search – jackpot: cash. He even takes the time to count it. He checks for more. Hmm … how about some credit cards. He stuffs his pockets, picking the wallet clean.
“They are hardworking, honest people, by and large, but there are some people who are tempted and who will conduct some criminal activity,” said Joe Dunne, the chief of New York's Port Authority Police.
“When they do, we work to find out who they are and to arrest them,” he continued.
But Dunne's team has its work cut out for it. At New York's three airports there were nearly 600 reports of luggage theft in the last two years. And with one of the season's biggest travel weeks upon us, travelers everywhere face the danger of arriving home for the holidays without presents to put under the tree.
The sting at JFK was set up this summer after Israel's El Al Airlines started getting complaints from passengers about items missing from their baggage. Seven workers were charged with ripping off valuables, worth thousands of dollars.
It's not just New York.
In Minneapolis, a baggage handler is caught on surveillance tape searching suitcases, putting valuables in a backpack, then heading to an employee parking lot where his wife would wait. Police eventually searched his apartment, discovering 700 items, from guns to electronics, from purses to jewelry … a collection of stolen goods valued at $84,000.
But it's not just baggage handlers doing the stealing.
In Phoenix, police were recently searching for these men, accused of driving to airports and plucking other people's luggage right off the carousel. That follows a 2009 case where this man and his wife were charged with doing the same thing. Look at the stash, hundreds of bags.
Even TSA workers are getting into the action. Between 2003 and 2012, 381 TSA officers were fired for theft, including one exposed last year by ABC News’ Brian Ross for stealing an iPad.
“When TSA is screening all of this luggage, they can literally look inside and see if there's anything there,” said Charles Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance. “It's not a hit and miss anymore. They know what's happening. They know where to look.”
In the meantime, what can you do to protect yourself? Never pack valuables in your checked luggage.
“Cash, jewelry, electronics, even if it's an expensive bottle of perfume, take it and put it in your personal bag,” advised Dunne.
Make sure your luggage is locked and use well-worn luggage that won't be a beacon for thieves. And if your carry on is going to be checked at the last minute, “take the time to open that bag and to remove your valuables and take them to the seat with you,” said Dunne.
The good news? Dunne and his team are watching.