A Travel Safety Expert Tells Us How To Avoid Carry-On Bag Theft During A Flight

One of the unfortunate risks of traveling is losing your checked bags when flying. This possibility is one reason why many travelers refuse to check a bag at all. According to a 2022 survey conducted by TripIt, 41% of fliers only bring carry-on bags in case there are disruptions during their journey. That way, they never have to question whether their belongings will arrive at their destination. However, even carry-on luggage — and its contents — can get lost in transit, particularly if there's a thief on board your flight. 

Explore spoke exclusively with Global Travel Safety & Security Professional Mr. Chris Fuglestad about carry-on bag theft and how to avoid becoming a victim. The good news is that you're more likely to witness a passenger breaking unspoken airplane etiquette rules than you are to be seated next to someone with sticky fingers. "While the likelihood of having things stolen directly from your carry-on bag in the middle of a flight is not zero, it is extremely unlikely to occur due to airport security pre-boarding, the presence and attentiveness of flight attendants and other crew, and the tendency of flights to be quite crowded with other possible onlookers," Fuglestad revealed. With that said, a few common mistakes could make you an easy target on your next trip.

Use locks and stow items near your seat when possible

Chances are that you wouldn't leave your bags unattended at a coffee shop or grocery store. But on a plane, you might let your items out of your sight while using the lavatory or taking a nap. During these moments, traveling without locks could cost you your cherished personal belongings. "The best tip to avoiding in-flight theft from your carry-on luggage is to invest in and travel with luggage equipped with TSA-approved locks," Chris Fuglestad told Explore. "Even if a thief were to gain access to your luggage, it would be difficult or impossible for them to access valuables."

For purses and other small items that don't have locks, carefully consider their material and design before toting them on your trip. The travel safety expert says to avoid using bags with easily accessible pockets, clear or see-through material, or fancy brand logos that could attract greedy thieves. Remember that it's best not to attract attention when traveling.

Also, be mindful when storing possessions during your flight. "It is advisable to keep any highly valuable items and any item with personally identifiable information, such as passports, credit cards, or electronic devices, on your person whenever possible," Fuglestad shared. As for larger carry-on luggage, follow overhead bin etiquette before your next flight and stick with a compartment over or near your assigned seat. This allows you to keep an eye on your stuff, the security professional noted.

What to do if your personal belongings get stolen on a flight

Even if you're careful, a bag or personal item could go missing on a flight. "Should this occur, you should notify flight attendants immediately if in-flight," advised Chris Fuglestad. "They can help assist in searching the aircraft and making any necessary overhead announcements." Be specific when describing your item, including details about its size, brand, color, and other distinguishing features.

"Other authorities to contact would be airport security, local police to file a report (which is likely necessary for insurance claims), and your airline customer service — though I wouldn't expect a quick solution via any of these mediums," Fuglestad explained. A quicker solution, he says, may be to file an insurance claim through personal property insurance or travel insurance. Alternatively, the security specialist suggested researching reimbursement and other perks offered by your credit card company. He added, "Make sure you read the fine print to know if it is a benefit of your credit card and the limits of your credit card purchase protections."