5 tips for preventing luggage theft

A few smart moves could help keep your possessions from being pilfered

Published: July 08, 2014 04:25 PM

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The most recent revelation about luggage theft by workers at Los Angeles International Airport isn’t welcome news for airline travelers. So we checked into how to ensure that your luggage makes it to your destination—assuming the airline doesn’t lose it.

Experts say that the best way to prevent luggage theft is to keep your suitcases at hand at all times, and that means carrying on your bags. But that's not always practical or possible.

If you’re checking your bags

1. Leave designer luggage at home. Thieves will target a Louis Vuitton bag before they’ll consider the cheapo suitcases you picked up at a discount store.

Trakdot luggage tracker
Photo: Trakdot

2. Don't take pricey items. You could live without your favorite pair of jeans, but having a family heirloom piece of jewelry or a valuable electronics device stolen would be a significant loss. “The security of checked luggage is dubious at best,” Doug Dyment, founder of the luggage-advice website onebag.com, said. “Some airlines require that checked bags be left unlocked, to facilitate inspection. Others suggest the use of special ‘approved’ luggage locks that can be easily opened by security personnel.” But a lock is no deterrent to a thief, as you can see in this YouTube video.

Some travelers swear by hard-sided luggage, which does not have zippers and is much less vulnerable to being slit open with a blade. If you’re worried about the entire suitcase disappearing, consider investing in a luggage-tracking device from such companies as LugLoc or Trakdot (shown).

Check our luggage buying guide for tips on what to look for before you shop. Before you plan your trip, check our guides to airline travel and hotels, and learn how to save on car rentals.

Keep those double zippers locked.

If you’re carrying on your luggage

3. Keep bags with you at all times. Don’t let them out of your sight when you’re checking in to a flight or window-shopping in the airport stores. If you’re on an overnight flight or even if you tend to nap on board, watch out for pilferers going through the overhead bins. Use a bag that has double zippers at all entry points and which you can secure with a combination lock. (A suitcase with a built-in lock is shown.) Even a split key ring configured to attach the zipper pulls can discourage wandering hands. A good way to discourage thieves is to turn your bag around so that zipper openings face inward inside the overhead bin.

4. Don't ease up at security. When you put your bag through the security X-ray machine, watch it go in and come out. Pick up the luggage right away, and don’t leave it at the end of the conveyor belt while you put on your shoes.

5. Board the plane early. That way you’ll be sure to get space in the overhead compartments. If you are the last to board and the overheads are filled, your bag will be relegated to the dreaded gate check—onto the airplane’s luggage hold right from the jetway. Unless you remember to remove them before the gate check, your valuables will no longer be on board for the duration of the flight.

Bottom line, take precautions. But know that thieves are relentlessly resourceful—basically, your luggage is vulnerable. The only surefire way to prevent your belonging from being stolen is to leave them at home.

—Susan Feinstein

From the Consumer Reports archives: 1957 luggage test

The tester placed a 180-pound weight on the suitcase to see how much it would bend.

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