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“Bag Handlers Are Running Amok. We Are Under Siege.”

“Bag Handlers Are Running Amok. We Are Under Siege.”
Jeff Edwards

After being called out by a consumer advocate, officials at South Africa-based low cost carrier FlySafair admitted on social media that bag theft is a “huge problem,” but the airline says that it is powerless to solve the issue on its own and offered a reward for anyone who could propose a solution to the growing issue of bag tampering.

Theft of passengers’ valuables is such a serious problem on flights to and from South Africa that Hong Kong police have taken the rare step of issuing a travel advisory to air travelers headed to the region. Authorities say that the crime wave targeting air travelers is part of a sophisticated criminal enterprise.

“The thieves change modus operandi all the time,” Chief Inspector Kelvin Ip Chun-wing told reporters as early as 2015. “Stewardesses play an important role. Many of the cases were caught by attentive stewardesses before the mile-high criminals succeeded.”

Now, at least one airline has indicated that baggage handlers at some of the busiest airports in South Africa are a part of the illicit activity. Faced with complaints by a well-known consumer advocate, officials at budget carrier FlySafair admitted that baggage theft is a serious problem, but the airline said that there is little it can do to solve the issue without help.

“It’s a huge problem,” FlySafair spokesperson Kirby Gordon told the Sunday Times on Thursday. “We as airlines feel that we are terribly under siege … The problem in this process is that no one party has full control over the baggage as it progresses through the entire system. It is a big problem and we can’t face it alone.”

The airline says that it has hired security consultants and even offered rewards to help curb the rampant thefts. The carrier placed much of the blame on frequent delays at airports such as O. R. Tambo International Airport (JNB), which give thieves ample time to rifle through passenger belongings. Gordon said that resistance from government regulators has made it nearly impossible to police baggage handlers.

“It’s widespread!” anti-crime crusader Yusuf Abramjee said in a Twitter post that led to FlySafair’s stunning admission this week. “Bag handlers are running amok.”

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (10)


  1. davem4

    January 2, 2019 at 3:51 am

    Boycott travel to the airport until it is fixed. Easy.

  2. Boggie Dog

    January 2, 2019 at 11:30 am

    Make the penalty of stealing from bags so extreme that only fools would continue stealing.

  3. SKAA

    January 4, 2019 at 9:59 am

    Its South Africa, can’t they just have on site corporal punishment?

  4. Danwriter

    January 4, 2019 at 10:42 am


  5. Loren Pechtel

    January 4, 2019 at 10:59 am

    100% coverage with security cameras.

  6. HawaiianGuy

    January 4, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Why would anyone willingly travel to SA? From everything I’ve read about it, crime is out of control there. Why expose yourself unnecessarily? When tourism drops off, maybe they’ll get the message that they should have addressed the problem more vigorously.

  7. pmrowczynski

    January 4, 2019 at 2:22 pm

    It’s not just SA, but travel to foreign airports that aren’t “westernized” can be problematic.

    Traveling through Cuba (SVO – HAV – MEX – SJD) had a bag “lost” and then found days later. Of course goods were stolen (including clothing) and it didn’t get to Cabo until 3-4 days later.

    People traveling to SGN will also “wrap” their luggage to help dissuade the thieves. At most it does slow them down, but ideally shifts the problem to someone else.

    Harbor Freight sells those wraps for about $8, so feel free to save yourself a few bucks. However, when traveling internationally, TSA can cut through the wrap if they see things like vitamins or gifts that they don’t recognize.

  8. vetrade

    January 4, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    It’s not just an organised group of baggage handlers in South Africa; the problem is insurmountable because it involves corruption to the highest levels of government there. Even the chairwoman of SAA (a relative of the former SA president, Jacob Zuma) had to resign a couple of years ago for illegal transactions out of the airline involving milions of $$$. The magnitude of Zuma’s and his cronies’ corruption is universally known

    SAA is, in reality, bankrupt because of corruption even though its sales are good and its fares profitable. It relies on periodic handouts from the government to keep it in the air. For every baggage handler pilfering from luggage there is a government employee getting their cut as well. There is zero likelihood that anyone can fix the problem because every level of airline operations in SA is compromised by graft.

    We have even had legal documents sent by DHL certified express delivery which were tracked to JNB but then just vanished off their tracking system.

    As a regular traveller to JNB I know the best passengers can do is to make their bag a less attractive target than the next person’s. We use hard cases with latch locks instead of zips and follow up with TSA luggage straps both lengthways and around the middle on each case. Never take anything you value on a flight to SA.

  9. MitchR

    January 6, 2019 at 7:45 am

    When I travel internationally I zip tie my zippers on all of my bags. If one is broken, I inform Customs and ask that they go through the bag with me. I am more worried about something being inserted than I am about things being taken. I believe that handlers know that I am going to know immediately that the bag has been opened and report any theft to authorities. I have only had one incident in over 200 international flights. All of the zip ties were broken. Nothing was taken but the Customs Officer assured me that if they found any contraband they wouldn’t attribute it to me.

  10. chrisboote

    January 8, 2019 at 11:34 pm

    HawaiianGuy what you read is just pure rubbish

    I have travelled to ZA over thirty times in the last twenty five years and never seen any crime at all

    Only bad news makes the news

    Thefts from Atlanta are still the highest in the world, why should anyone voluntarily go there?

    As for how to stop this … get a zipless hardshell suitcase, gum up the ‘TSA’ lock with superglue (yes, TSA thefts are a real issue)
    Never had a suitcase theft since I did those two things

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