Cabin baggage targeted by high-flying criminals

August 20, 2018
cabin baggage theft malaysia
Security was called after a man was caught rifling through another passenger's cabin baggage. Photo; Faiz Mokhtar/Facebook.

Airline passengers have been warned to keep a wary eye on cabin baggage after a man was filmed allegedly stealing from a business class overhead locker on board a Malaysia Airlines flight.

Faiz Mokhtar was on a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Kuala Lumpur with four business partners when one of his colleagues noticed a man brazenly taking Mohtar’s laptop bag out of the overhead locker and taking it to his seat in the fourth row.

Mokhtar, who cataloged the theft on Facebook and was in the second row, caught the man rifling through his bag and about to pocket euros and US dollars.

“I confronted him with the rest of my partners surrounding us,’’ he said. “I did a thorough checking of my bag because my biggest concerns were my traveling documents (passport etc.) and whether he had implanted any illegal items in an attempt to use me as his transporter (read: drug mule syndicate).”

Cabin crew were alerted and quickly took action to call in security and police.

The plane had yet to depart and the man was taken off the flight.

“Apparently, the crew informed us, there is a syndicate that has been conducting this modus operandi on China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam flights,’’ Mohtar said. “That guy was from Hong Kong and he is flying to KL with no return ticket, probably his route depends on his ‘loot’.”

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Authorities have been warning for some time about an increase in cabin baggage theft and that criminal gangs are targeting passengers.

Hong Kong police reported a 25 percent rise in the number of cabin robberies in 2015 to 60 reported incidents, according to an article in The Economist that pointed to a Turkish businessman who lost $US260,000 in cash and goods during a flight to Hong Kong.

The South China Morning Post also reported criminals were working flights coming into Hong Kong and Middle Eastern countries in a first-hand article published earlier this year.

The Post quoted statistics showing 77 reported cases in 2015, although this dropped to 22 in 2016 and six in the first 11 months of 2017.

Mokhtar praised the professionalism of the Malaysia Airlines cabin crew and particularly the head flight attendant, who offered to remain in Vietnam to make a police report on his behalf.

He said this was not necessary because he was able to do it in-flight.

He warned that the syndicate was “quite bold” because there was no inflight CCTV footage and played “the language barrier”.

“So everyone, please be careful of your belongings, and use extra safety tool, i.e. bag lock, and do travel in groups when possible,’’ he said.

In a statement to media, Malaysia Airlines said the crew had lodged a report with Vietnamese authorities and were trained to handle situations such as this.

It reminded passengers to keep tabs on their valuable items and to avoid keeping them separately.