Avoid Checking Valuables At The Philadelphia International Airport

According to evidence the Philadelphia Inquirer calls “anecdotal,” there seems to be a theft problem going on at the Philadelphia International Airport. Recently, quite a few baggage handlers were fired by US Airways for cooking the overtime logs in an attempt to get paid for work they never did.

Now the Inquirer says that the same group of baggage handlers have sticky fingers, especially when it comes to expensive electronic items like cameras and laptops.

From the Inquirer:

Evidence of the thefts is anecdotal, based on a stream of recent e-mails we’ve received. We’ve found little reliable data to show if incidents that passengers believe are thievery are greater at the airport or US Airways’ Philadelphia operation than they are elsewhere, or if the number of incidents has risen this year.

A message from Geoff Rabinowitz, a Marlton business traveler, is typical. He flies frequently enough to know the unwritten rule: Never put anything of value in a checked bag. But that’s what he did in late June on a US Airways flight from Boston to Philadelphia, checking two bags, one with his laptop computer inside.

Rabinowitz got his second bag back after the flight, but not the one containing the laptop. After he filed a report with US Airways, the bag was delivered to his home the next day – clothing disheveled and the computer gone. He’s gotten nowhere, he said, in trying to get compensation from the airline, which has a written policy that it isn’t responsible for items such as laptops and jewelry.

“I know it was stupid,” he said on the phone last week. “One of my biggest concerns, besides the fact they stole my property, is that, if they can get away with taking something out of bags, what can they put in bags without getting caught? In today’s world, that’s a pretty scary thought.”

Assuming the theft occurred at the airport, the culprits could be in one of three groups with access to bags: US Airways workers, baggage screeners from the Transportation Security Administration, or employees of private companies the airlines hire to deliver misplaced bags to passengers after they’re found.

the Inquirer talked to two US Airways baggage handlers that believe there is widespread theft going on at the Philly airport:

But two US Airways baggage handlers, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to reporters, say that many employees believe there is widespread theft, and that personal bags they carry to and from the job aren’t normally inspected as they leave work.

Being a thief “is pretty easy to do,” one of the ramp workers said. “There are lots of places where you can just pull off, and, sitting in the cart, go through bags.”

At least one alleged thief does have discriminating tastes in alcoholic beverages, according to Jennifer Dein, a college student from Villanova, who reported the loss of two pricey bottles of liquor from a checked bag en route from Philadelphia to Chicago. Left behind were two bottles of cheap champagne.

“It makes you wonder who they’re hiring, who their supervisors are, and what kind of surveillance they’re under,” said her father, Robert Dein, who reported the incident to the airline and recounted it in an e-mail.

US Airways customers who have reported items lost from checked bags say that almost as aggravating as finding that items are missing from luggage is the process of filing claims with the airline for lost or damaged bags. The airline’s performance is uneven, they said, with some reporting efficient and sympathetic handling of the claims and others reporting frustration in getting information.

So while you’re busy avoiding US Airways’ trans-atlantic flights, you should avoid checking anything valuable or alcoholic in any luggage that’s being routed through Philly, because this isn’t the first time we’ve heard of this sort of thing.

Reports of thefts from luggage at PHL [Philadelphia Inquirer]
(Photo:Joe Jones)

Comments

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  1. Mojosan says:

    USAirways out of Philly is every bit as bad as the two posts today would lead you to believe.

    Last year I started UPSing my luggage home so I would not have to wait the 2 or 3 hours it would take for it to arrive after a flight.

  2. HeyThereKiller says:

    When I worked on the Spirit of Philadelphia, one of the busboy’s also worked as a US Airways baggage handler.

    The amount of money he was making by selling people’s luggage was ludicrous.

  3. bonzombiekitty says:

    I could kinda understand the airline not being responsible if a valuable item like a laptop is damaged when it’s checked. They’re not really a shipping company, and it’s not worth it for them to invest in procedures to make sure items like that are not accidentally damaged, so it’s up to the passenger to properly pack the item. Shipping companies can barely get most packages to their destination in good shape, why would one expect a passenger airline to be able to do a better job? BUT if the thing is missing altogether, then they should be responsible for it.

    I think the procedure could be very simple. If you have an expensive item in a bag, then you claim it at check in and an employee verifies the item is present. A signed receipt is given to the passenger. When picking up the checked bag, the passenger MUST check the bag and report any missing items before leaving the baggage area. This will help to avoid people falsely claiming missing items. Granted, if an entire bag is missing, some other procedure would have to be enacted to prevent false claims.

  4. aviationwiz says:

    Rephrase: Avoid checking valuables, period.

  5. Pelagius says:

    @bonzombiekitty: Actually, much of the room in a passenger get’s luggage compartment is given over to air cargo.

  6. bonzombiekitty says:

    @Pelagius: I know. But I’m talking about total handling of items, from receiving to delivering.

  7. Jozef says:

    Two words: Philly airport. It’s pretty well known (by anyone who flew through there plus anyone who’s willing to listen) that this is by far the worst airport in terms of delays and lost luggage in the United States. I’m surprised people don’t avoid it altogether – by changing their travel plans if they are out of town or by driving to/from Newark if Philly is at one end of their trip.

  8. ChristopherDavis says:

    Besides “don’t check valuables”, which is a good rule no matter who you’re flying or what airports you’re going through, there are some things that may help.

    I don’t assume that the TSA-friendly locks are worth much, but they’re better than no lock at all (or at least no worse) as long as you don’t get a false sense of security. I’ve even seen some with a little indicator window that’s supposed to show when a TSA key has been used to open them.

    Another option is a TSA-approved lock combined with a plastic zip-tie, preferably in some bizarre color rather than white. (These can usually be cut with nail clippers, so you don’t have the problem of “oops, I just sealed the scissors in the bag that I can’t open without scissors”.) This gives you a modicum of tamper-detection. I’ve seen little plastic “padlock” tags that work similarly (and can be twisted off by hand), but a good-sized bag of neon-colored zip ties is cheaper.

    (These measures are pretty much “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you” deterrents; they won’t keep out a determined thief, but a thief-of-opportunity will probably just rummage through someone else’s bag instead.)

  9. Jmarsh04 says:

    About a month ago, my girlfriend’s brother flew from Philadelphia to Dallas (where he lives). When he picked up his baggage, one of his suitcases was wet. He opened it up and, apparently, someone in Philly urinated all over his clothes because he had a Dallas Cowboys t-shirt on top.

    True story.

  10. bbbici says:

    People in trust positions (baggage handlers, coat checks, police, mechanics, etc) should face the death penalty for violating that trust. it’s the only way.

  11. aparsons says:

    But according to [this picture], Philadelphia ranks #2 in customer satisfaction.

    *sarcasm*

    I think hell is probably #1 in customer satisfaction if Philadelphia is #2.

  12. Snakeophelia says:

    Ah, the lovely Philly airport, which I have used many many times (it’s 10 minutes from my house). Lately, the delays have been interminable (even if I’m not on USAir) but the wait for luggage seems to be bad only when I am flying USAir in one of the main terminals. Flying the express flights through F terminal usually means virtually no delay.

    I also can’t say I’ve ever lost anything from my suitcase, although I’ve never packed duty-free liquor/perfumes, computers, cell phones, PDAs, or anything like that, and my clothing is not exactly designer. All of the valuables go in my carry on.

    As for the idea of declaring valuables when you check it, it’s eminently sensible, but will never be implemented as long as there are people who don’t work for the airline who are allowed to move your luggage.

  13. rg says:

    Smart travelers don’t check valuables! I can’t imagine putting my valuables in the hands of any airlines/airports baggage handlers. Even if you take theft out of the equation, there’s loss, mis-handling, etc. I’ve learned to travel with two carry-ons, and that includes my laptop bag.

  14. aparsons says:

    If you fly through Philly enough, they will manage to even lose your carry on luggage. True Story.

  15. Marce says:

    My brother lost an entire batch of Christmas presents to light-fingered baggage handlers one year and had to replace everything himself. I didn’t worry half as much when I could still put a small lock on my suitcase!

  16. mac-phisto says:

    necessity is the mother of invention. as bonzombiekitty eluded to, it seems that there’s definitely a need for insured deliverance. it’s great to say “do not check anything valuable”, but that’s not always an option. try carrying on the $1000 worth of ski/snowboarding equipment you’re taking to aspen or the dueling pistols you’re selling at a gun show in houston & see how far you get.

    it would seem that an airline could create a “special handling” schedule that would allow items to be checked, insured, & carefully handled to final destination for a nominal fee.

  17. mac-phisto says:

    @mac-phisto: ^^that’s not to say that ALL belongings are technically valuable (b/c they are), but some carry a replacement value that far exceeds the airline’s responsibility to replace them under normal circumstances.

  18. acambras says:

    @aparsons:

    Great marketing slogan:

    PHILADELPHIA — We’re #2!

  19. thepounder says:

    @ChristopherDavis: Good call on the Zip Ties. I’ve used this technique often, especially the few times I’ve flown out of Kuwait back to the States. Call me paranoid or whatever, but the guys who handle the bags at the airport in Kuwait City really do stand right in front of you and hold their hands out even if they’ve only touched your bag for long enough to take it off your trolley and toss it on the x-ray machine.
    Never had an issue with the Zip Ties being busted off… yet.

  20. aparsons says:

    @acambras: I guess when you (and everyone else) knows that you are the world’s shittiest airport, you’ll take what you can get.

  21. Phuturephunk says:

    I’m so glad, being in New York, that I can drive to this town directly rather than have to get on a plane.

  22. TechnoDestructo says:

    I think the solution to this is to avoid Philadelphia in its entirety.

    Dirtiest city I’ve ever seen. Smelliest, too, and I’ve lived near a pig farm.

  23. timmus says:

    I don’t know what’s going on with Philadelphia but it seems lately I’ve been hearing lots and lots of stories about crime there. It’s starting to sound like the Compton or Detroit of the 2000s.

  24. FLConsumer says:

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. I hear the same thing about Philadelphia’s stagehands as well — very sticky fingers. To the point that some shows will RENT everything they can just for Philly shows and send their own gear to the next destination. True story.

    I’m with the others — let’s get the airport police to bust these assholes. After all, it’s supposed to be a “secure” area. If people can smuggle items out, they most likely can smuggle items in, leaving a huge security hole that needs to be addressed. Any of the TV networks willing to do a story on this? C’mon Dateline, now that your advertisers are too chicken-shit to advertise on your To Catch A Predator shows, how ’bout some good ‘ol fashion busting of thieves?

  25. kimmie says:

    Cripes, don’t check anything you don’t want to lose at any airport… my parents flew PIT->SJC on Delta earlier this month. When my mom arrived and got her luggage, her medicines were missing. Luggage theft has gotten way out of hand.

  26. TechnoDestructo says:

    @timmus:

    And no one there seems to give a shit about the filth, and no one thinks there’s anything abnormal about the idea that THIS block and THIS block and THIS block are off limits after dark. They cower in their apartments at night, or hide away in the suburbs.

    South philly might not have the crime, but even that’s filthier than most places I’ve been to. Including some landfills.

    I was caught completely by surprise with regard to how far a city can decay.

  27. ajn007 says:

    This might be a little off topic, but should be filed under “nefarious goings on at the airport.” My sister and her husband recently came home from a trip to Europe and when they opened their luggage they were surprised to find a camcorder in there. So they called the airline, who referred them to TSA, who told them it wasn’t their responsibility. They’ve posted information about the camcorder to a variety of sites, including craigslist in the various cities they went through on their way home. No luck so far.

  28. Imaginary_Friend says:

    A consumer advocate on our local news show once advised wrapping your luggage with several rounds of clear postal tape (the same kind you wrap packages with). That way, if the tape was cut or disturbed, you’d have proof someone was in your bag.

  29. mac-phisto says:

    @Imaginary_Friend: who needs tape? TSA left me a nice little note that they inspected my bag when i came home from the DR.

    luckily, they left the cubans in there too. ;)

  30. celyn says:

    Ahem.

    When I tried to file a police report for our lost luggage, the Philly police refused to take it, arguing that there was no proof our luggage had ever reached Philly. Works out pretty well for the thieves at PHL.

  31. Snakeophelia says:

    Yeah, the Philly crime rate is getting out of hand. I agree completely with the Philadelphia columnist who said the situation wouldn’t be taken seriously until a tourist is shot and killed in Rittenhouse Square. Until then, the city leaders seem bizarrely content to keep the mayhem contained in North and West Philly (through which I commute every day).

    Perhaps it’s the same here – the situation on the ground at Philly airport won’t get fixed until someone famous/wealthy/with substiantial pull loses something from their luggage and gets the brushoff. Only problem is that no one who’s rich and in their right mind would fly through Philly commericially and check their valuables.

    Or maybe when the first person dies because their medication was stolen…

  32. Snakeophelia says:

    And for the record, when I left Philly for my destination wedding, I Fed Exed everything except my underwear and wallet. It cost $200 to ship seven large boxes, but there was no way in hell I was going to put my wedding gown onto a conveyor belt in Philly.

  33. FLConsumer says:

    @Snakeophelia: Next time you FedEx something for a vacation, try to find someone with a business FedEx acct. You’ll get some substantial (30%+) discounts over what the Pack & Send places get and at least 15% better than the FedEx/Kinkos stores will give you. If you’re shipping within the USA, look up the FedEx Ground map for your area. I was surprised to see how many places I can get overnight delivery at ground rates. At this point, FedEx Ground is a good 20% cheaper than anything else I have access to (UPS/USPS/DHL), but that’s with a business acct.

  34. FLConsumer says:

    @celyn: That’s pretty disheartening. They should at least be willing to take the police report even if they plan on throwing it in the circular filing cabinet underneath their desks as soon as you leave the precinct.

  35. Jean Naimard says:

    Whatever happenned to the old trick of putting a starter pistol in your checked baggage, and declaring it as a firearm so it has special security to ensure it’s not “lost”????

    [blog.jonudell.net]

  36. joyceanmachine says:

    Theft at the Philly airport is out of control. Forget alcohol or laptops. The thieves are so desperate that the last time we flew trans-Atlantic out of it, we had a cell phone charger stolen from our checked luggage. Yes, a cell phone charger. No, there wasn’t a cell phone attached to it. Yes, the kind sold on eBay for $4.

    Moral of the story: check nothing but dirty laundry.

  37. FLConsumer says:

    @JeanNaimard: It’s Philly — they’d lose a full-size elephant if you managed to figure out how to shove it into the cargo hold.

  38. HaxRomana says:

    So this one time I flew out to Wisconsin with a connecting flight in Philadelphia. On the way out to see my goddaughter, they lost one of my pieces of luggage, a duffel bag full of presents for her birthday. It was delivered at two in the morning, even though they promised us they wouldn’t deliver it after ten PM.

    On the way back home, they lost my other bag.

    I hate Philadelphia.

  39. starrion says:

    Don’t check valuables when travelling through PHL

    Don’t pour caustics on your genitals.

    Don’t hit your hand with a hammer

    Don’t use payday loans

    I thought everybody knew these things….

  40. Marci Landsmann says:

    My camera was just stolen from my luggage on Air France in Philly. Can’t they just have someone pat down every employee who works for the airport? No coats allowed? It seems they can pat us down, but not their own employees? Quick fix, no?