Airports

Baggage theft at airports is on the rise

This year, Delta Air Lines Inc. DAL -0.50% baggage handlers were caught rifling through suitcases in the belly of airplanes in Hartford, Conn., pocketing laptops, cameras, iPods, GPS units, jewelry, watches and earrings, according to Lt. J. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police.

Authorities also broke up a ring of airline thieves in St. Louis who, according to Lambert Airport Police Chief Paul Mason, were targeting soldier's bags that were shipping off to war. Baggage handlers pulled soldiers' duffels off a conveyor belt in a tunnel, stashed loot and then picked it up later, taking it home under their coats or in backpacks. Among the stolen items recovered: laptops, electronic game systems, cameras, cigarettes, battery chargers, sunglasses and firearms.

Baggage-theft arrests have been made this year in cities around the world, from Dublin, Ireland, to Adelaide, Australia. In Phoenix, a couple was found with 1,000 pieces of stolen luggage and belongings piled floor-to-ceiling in their home. The pair had been lifting bags off carousels at the airport.

In Portland, Ore., Northwest Airlines baggage handlers were caught stealing items and posting them for sale on eBay right from a supervisor's airline-owned computer. Baggage theft reports are up nearly 50% this year, according to airport spokesman Steve Johnson. Portland airport police have received 195 reports of baggage theft this year through October, compared with 132 reports in the same period of 2008. At least 43 of the reports this year relate to the ring at Northwest, Mr. Johnson said.

In New York, police caught baggage handlers stealing items from bags and then switching destination tags so that the luggage would be lost. If the bag was reunited with owners, the circle of possible suspects who handled it had been expanded, covering the tracks of the thief.

A Phoenix couple allegedly stole luggage off carousels at the airport. Police found more than 1,000 items at their home.

Airlines say baggage theft is rare among the millions of passengers who fly each year, but law-enforcement officials say it has been growing significantly. "There's been a tremendous increase in the last five years. It's pretty bad—a lot is getting stolen every day," said a prosecutor in the Queens County district attorney's office, which handles airport theft cases in New York.

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