Would Undercover Agents Prevent Baggage Theft At The Airport?

After yesterday’s report that airport and airline staff are allegedly stealing more than 200 bags each day at JFK International, Senator Chuck Schumer has come up with a possible solution: Put undercover FAA agents in the bellies of those jets.

“I think there should be some undercover agents in the belly of the plane,” Sen. Schumer said. “They’re probably less able to be caught, less able to be seen, but the answer to that would be having undercover agents there who can witness this.”

And though airport employees are fingerprinted and have their backgrounds checked against an FBI database, Schumer says more can be done to filter out potential pilferers.

“Somebody, for instance, who has a drug problem, is very likely to steal luggage or steal from the luggage so I think they ought to change the standard for people,” Schumer said. “Those people should not be baggage handlers. The FAA should figure out how to stop it.”

Exclusive: CBS 2′s Explosive Report On JFK Baggage Thefts Leads To Demands On FAA [CBS NY]

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  1. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    If all the crap that happens related to flying were issues when commerical airlines were first established, I don’t think it would ever have really become popular.

    Raging passengers (and flight crew), pat downs and body scans, stolen property, sleeping flight control operators…it is just all so unpleasant.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Actually, when flying commercially just started, they needed nurses on board. They had to land frequently to refuel and it was still faster to go across country by train. Passengers had to stick cotton in their ears as the planes were horrible noisemakers.

      And we won’t talk about the crashes.

  2. Nyall says:

    How about some basic software to correlate thefts with who was working on that plane and when you suspect someone do a search.

    • etz says:

      Bags get transferred from one plane to the next during the course of their journey, often from one airline to another, usually by third party companis. Often they even need to first go sit in a staging area for who knows how long until the other plane shows up. Did the item disappear at the origin airport right after check-in, or in the plane during loading, or during intermediate stops and transfers, or during unloading at the destination? Did it disappear during TSA screening, or after it was handed over to the baggage services?

      There’s just too many places the bag can be sitting and accessible, and too many people that could have access to it.

      • aja175 says:

        UPS manages to scan every package at every stop, why can’t the baggage handlers?

        • spongebue says:

          I’m an airline employee at a smaller airport. Every bag that goes on or off that plane gets scanned.

        • Gundy says:

          My company does. The bags get scanned when they enter the bagroom, when they go on the plane, when they come off the plane, when they get placed on a plane for transfer and when they go to the claim belt. It’s a pain in the butt, but at least it helps keep lost luggage down to a minimum.

      • SecretAgentWoman says:

        Not if they scan them along the way. When the luggage scanned falls off the radar, viola! Your weak link. It’s not rocket science.

  3. BorkBorkBork says:

    Great, even more costs passed on to travelers. Maybe if TSA stopped hiring people with sticky fingers…

    • catskyfire says:

      then the thefts by baggage handlers would continue. Just as they do now. While TSA staff may do some theft, it’s a lot easier for regular handlers.

  4. az123 says:

    They don’t need undercover agents, the management needs to put work processes in place that make it hard for employees to steal. Most of this is lack of supervision or the ability of an airport worker to leave with bags in tow and not be stopped. I use to do cash count outs for a business handling a lot of money, when we went into work we had to put all our wallets / cash into our lockers and the basic rule was any money in the work area belonged to the company. Make the workers keep personal possessions in a set area and close off points where they could move things out. Then a system of monitoring (checking vehicles entering and leaving secure areas etc….) is they best way… undercover just makes people work a bit harder to get away with it, the very visible and clear attempts make people think twice

    • mikedt says:

      Exactly – nothing in, nothing out. Because if these handlers can walk out with bags and other possessions, that means it’s just as easy to sneak things in. So while I’m getting scanned/felt down to my testicles bad guys could be sneaking onto the runway with who knows what.

    • legolex says:

      This is a great idea!

      I’ve seen a few places that don’t allow women (or guys too I guess) to carry in their own bags, they are provided a clear plastic tote to put their items in when coming in and leaving work.

  5. Admiral_John says:

    Yep, because the answer to every problem that crops up is more government involvement.

    • ugly says:

      Can you elaborate on how “enforcing the laws in place” is more involvement?

      Isn’t one of the actual roles of the government to hold parties that agree on something to that agreement?

  6. TakingItSeriously is a Technopile says:

    I do not believe this would be cost effective. Theoretically these thieves do not steal in sight of other workers out of fear of being reported so I doubt if undercover agents would be terribly effective at either preventing thefts or doing the job they are ostensibly there to do (baggage handling).

  7. rpm773 says:

    “Somebody, for instance, who has a drug problem, is very likely to steal luggage or steal from the luggage so I think they ought to change the standard for people,” Schumer said. “Those people should not be baggage handlers. The FAA should figure out how to stop it.”

    Yeah! It sounds like Schumer’s on the case, and will get personally see to making sure shit gets done.

    /s

    • fsnuffer says:

      “Somebody, for instance, who has is a douche, is very likely to excessively over-regulate or overly tax the people so I think they ought to change the standard for congress,” Schumer said. “Those people should not be senators. The electorate should figure out how to stop it.”

  8. Starrion says:

    Baggage handlers have extremely physically demanding jobs for which they get miserable pay because the air travel has low profit margins. It is not surprising that people who are being worked hard for low pay are stealing from the bags. Not that is acceptable, it’s just not surprising.

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      Miserable pay for backbreaking work? Doubtful. Those are union jobs in a union state. They make decent pay and work at their own pace, have plenty of paid time off and overtime pay if they want it, and can’t get fired.

      And there are thousands of baggage handlers all over the country who have never stolen anything. All you’re doing is making specious excuses for a group of thieves.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      I think poor pay and working conditions can fester an existing attitude or bad apple but I don’t know if it creates crime. There might be some fence sitters that might not report crime but wether they participate or not is another matter. Alot of these thieves problably haven’t been caught at other criminal activities yet.

      People who are going to work hard and play by the book tend to do that irregardless of the workplace or leadership. Same can be said for those who will goof off and try to game the system and get away with what ever they can-they’ll always be there in the workplace.

      As stressfull as airline work can be they do tend to be slightly higher paying entry level jobs than something like retail or restaurant. As pointed out they tend to union represented as well. I know in Florida they are some of the most coveted jobs because most of the local non tourist economy jobs suck for even mediocre pay.

      I say either open up the luggage inspection process to the public, increase what the public sees period. You don’t have to let the public in the back areas but they can make it more visible. Also they could camera the areas where luggage is handled better. Nothing against undercovers but I think there cheaper solutions for now.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      “air travel has low profit margins”

      Apparently the oil companies also have low profit margins but I don’t think they are doing too bad in the profit department.

  9. FedoraFetish says:

    Darn them fixing the problem of workers being able to easily steal expensive luggage items, I already had my job application to be an airport luggage attendant halfway complete.

  10. demona667 says:

    Cameras everywhere and full body & bag scan & search for all personnel in and out. Meals and breaks included.

    • StarKillerX says:

      Okay, and I’m sure you wouldn’t have an issue if that was done where you work either.

      • gman863 says:

        Forcing an employee to consent to a search of pockets, handbags, etc. when they leave the workplace has been around and legal for decades.

        Many department stores encourage their female associates to carry clear acrylic handbags (similar to the clear backpacks required in some schools) for this reason.

        Every computer parts wholesaler I buy from has this policy in place for its employees. If I were a thief, it would be easy to carry out hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars in CPUs and memory with barely a bulge in my front pockets.

        • StarKillerX says:

          gman863 ,

          I never questioned the legality of it, I’m simply pointing out that people not only tend to be quick to sign away other’s rights, but many of those who would do so would also be the first to complain if they were subjected to the same things.

          For example note that most people on these forums foam at the mouth at the very thought of a body scan and/or search to fly on a commercial airline and yet we have someone suggesting those same searches and scans for someone several times a day (their plan would mean 8 scans a day assuming 1 lunch and 2 breaks a day.)

          • demona667 says:

            It rather depends on what industry I’m working in. If, say, I work at the U.S. Mint in the gold room then I wouldn’t be surprised at all at their employee security measures.

            And as far as airport body scans go I think it’s less a problem of invasion of privacy than the fear of being mocked by “security” and possibly having your image splashed around the internet.

            It’s a post 9-11 world. If there has to be a level of transparency for passengers and their personal belongings then there must be the same for employees who have access to them.

        • KyBash says:

          I remember a story from the 1950s — at a Ford plant, someone stole one of those air wrenches which tightens all the lug nuts on a wheel at the same time. They’re about as big around as a tire. They’re so heavy they’re held up by a little crane, and even then you have to be fairly burly to swing the thing around a couple of hundred times a day.

          Security’s response: lunchbox searches.

  11. Black Bellamy says:

    Yeah that’s some great reporting in that original article. The ONLY source they name is “JFK security lawyer Kenneth Mollins”. There is no such thing as a JFK security lawyer. Mollins is an attorney who is suing the airport. He’s just “some guy”, not any expert nor does he have access to any statistics. It’s in his best interest to portray JFK as a hive of wretched scum and villany, and of course the willing lapdog media eats it up

  12. sirwired says:

    Reading that article…

    What kind of blithering idiot checks $160k worth of jewelery? In what universe would that be a good idea?

    • Liam Kinkaid says:

      So it’s the passenger’s fault their belongings were stolen. Got it.

      • StarKillerX says:

        No, it’s the fault of the person that stole the items, but that does not negate the fact that anyone who would put $160k worth of jewelry in a checked bag is by definition an idiot.

        • Sneeje says:

          Just like if you get mugged walking alone at 2am in the morning in a very dangerous part of town. The mugger is still the criminal, but you’re still the idiot.

          People think that having clear laws for what people can and can’t do to you absolves you of personal responsibility. Guess what? it doesn’t. I still look both ways and carefully cross even at intersections with crosswalks. Yes, if someone hits me in a crosswalk, they’re boned–but it is irrelevant if I’m dead.

        • Liam Kinkaid says:

          Yeah, you’re right. And that chick wearing a mini-skirt and getting raped is an idiot, too. Hell, she was practically begging for it.

      • sirwired says:

        There’s a reason that there are NO common carriers will insure that amount of money for packages/baggage. Not the airlines, not the USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc. At all. Even if you want to pay for more coverage, they will not agree to accept responsibility for a $160k suitcase.

        If you completely, utterly, ignore such limits, I don’t see how you can turn around and sue the airline for the full value.

        And yes, it is idiotic to assume that the entire world is pure of heart. That doesn’t make the crime any less wrong, but it does make the victim a naive idiot.

        If you want to move that quantity of jewelry, you have two options: Have you, or somebody you trust, personally accompany it at all times. Or engage a bonded and insured courier service to do it for you. You do not, under any circumstances, simply drop that much easily-fenced merchandise on a luggage conveyor (or mail or ship it, for that matter.)

  13. Tim says:

    Aren’t those compartments extremely cold (since they’re not heated) and not as well pressurized as the cabin?

    Plus, I doubt the thefts are happening in the plane. Maybe monitor the baggage handling areas of the airport or something?

    • bsh0544 says:

      Do you think luggage is stowed in the cargo area by magic? People climb in and move it in/out.

    • sirwired says:

      The main cabin is at an equal pressure to the cargo hold. Otherwise there would need to be massive floor bracing between the main cabin floor and the cargo hold.

      But you are correct that it’s not particularly well climate controlled.

      In any case, they weren’t talking about an agent lurking in the shadows throughout the flight; I think they were referring to making an agent part of the baggage team.

  14. Mknzybsofh says:

    I’ve got an idea, everyone who works in baggage at the airport should be subjected to the same search as the passengers and random vehicle searches of the airport employees as they leave.

  15. sufreak says:

    The solution seems simple. A DMZ between the airport interior and the outside world for employees. Permit NO… (I REPEAT.. NO) personal effects or possessions. Exceptions for a single registered cell phone (model, number, etc), and work ID.

    Factories and distribution centers have a similar issue. All bags are clear, etc.
    While initially a cost to set up, a filtered entrance could prevent illegal objects from coming in, and stolen property from exiting.

    • sufreak says:

      correction – similar setup, due to similar issues

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      Heck, why even allow them a cell phone on the tarmac? Their uniform and ID card is it… This is not an uncommon policy in many warehouses with hi-value equipment. People enter the building, put their personal effects in their locker, clear security officers/metal detector, and then clock in and start work. For breaks and at the end of the day, the process is reversed.

      Unlike most warehouses, baggage handlers and other ground crew should wear coveralls, safety vest, and hearing protection–Those, along with an ID badge/card key, shoes, socks, and undies should be all that goes in or out past the checkpoint.

  16. mckindley says:

    Putting someone undercover in the belly of the plane wouldn’t catch anyone, because there’s usually only one person in the belly of the plane loading bags.

    Most of the time, the only person who has enough time alone with bags to steal from them is the agent in the bagroom (the place where your bags go after security screening where they are placed on carts with all the other bags for the same flight.) Yet again, in all but the biggest airports, the guy in the bagroom is there all alone with no one watching him. There have been police stings set up in bagrooms where they have hidden cameras used to catch thieves.

    It sounds like senator Schumer is just talking without having done much research on how airline ground operations work. The easiest way to catch people stealing would be to set up a hotline where the baggage handlers could call in and turn in the thieves. There’s usually only one or two people who are stealing, and everyone knows who they are. But management is typically ineffective at dealing with the situation, so the thieves seldom get turned in. Because even when they do, management fails to act.

    It would be much simpler, and more cost effective, for the government to set up and advertise a hotline the baggage handlers could call and turn in the thieves. No undercover agents or extra security required.

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      There is a downside to that:

      “Bob wouldn’t work my shift when I had to go to the doctor. So I’m going to make an anonymous report that he’s stealing from checked bags.”

      • mckindley says:

        That kind of abuse is a definite possibility. But if that’s the worst thing that comes of it, I’d say it’s still a much better solution than undercover agents, or putting severe restrictions on what the baggage handlers can carry into and out of the sterile area.

  17. Major Tom Coming Home says:

    This crap is to the point where I don’t even want to pack my good underwear. If my checked bag gets stolen, they will be the most valuable things they are going to get.

  18. ThunderRoad says:

    I say send some bags through with laptops, smart phones, jewels, etc. connected to those exploding dye packs. Pretty easy to quickly spot the perp.

    • BBBB says:

      occasionally put tracking devices in cameras, phones, laptops, jewelry cases, etc. packed into designer luggage. Then arrest the person after they get to their car after work (so they cannot claim that they were going to turn it into the Lost & Found).

      One possibility is two people working together – x-ray machine operator identifying bags for the handler to “misplace.” If the handler knows exactly what to grab, specific items could be taken but the bag continues properly through the tracking system (or move the ID tag to a spare bag.)

  19. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

    only if they didnt get their cut.

  20. demona667 says:

    It’s a post 9-11 world. If there has to be a level of transparency for passengers and their personal belongings then there must be the same for employees who have access to them.

  21. Bor&Mitch says:

    The last two times I locked my luggage the TSA broke them even though they were “TSA compliant”. So a lot of people now are leaving their luggage unlocked.

    So now you have a situation where low-wage workers have access to unlocked luggage in an unsupervised environment. Who didn’t see this coming?

    btw – it’s 200 items stolen every day, not 200 bags.

  22. Jennlee says:

    They just need to add screening for these workers on their way out of the baggage areas. They need to be checked.

  23. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    Short answer? No. The undercover agents would end up stealing the bags.

  24. foodfeed says:

    Why is baggage claim not in a secure area. I’ve never understood why anyone can just stroll up and grab a bag. They bust people all the time for this and probably miss all the ones that aren’t as obvious about it.

  25. fpc says:

    Another airline where the CEO probably hasn’t stepped foot in the place for eons. Probably too busy taking trips to Thailand and screwing little boys to give a **** about perfecting his business. As long as stupid Americans keep paying to take worthless trips just to feel important, it’ll never change.