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Is your luggage secure?

Find out how to protect your bags from tampering and theft.
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Heather Cleland, August 28, 2013 11:12:28 AM

Two Australians recently found themselves in a scary situation when they realized their luggage had been tampered with before they boarded a flight in Thailand. Someone had put a bag of marijuana in their suitcase. Fortunately they found the drugs and got rid of them, as advised by the Australian embassy, and avoided a potential nightmare.

It’s an uncommon situation but it’s not unheard of. That’s why airport personnel will often ask you if your baggage has been left unattended or if you were the person who packed it. However, it’s more likely that if you’re going to have luggage security issues, it’ll be a theft situation. Here are a few ways to protect yourself from luggage theft and tampering.

1. Store your luggage securely. The Australians in Thailand aren’t certain how the drugs were planted in their luggage but they did leave their bag in their hotel’s luggage storage room. This is not an uncommon option, but find out what security measures are in place to protect your luggage while its in the hotel’s care. You might also choose to pay to use a locker to store your bag if you don’t want to carry it around with you between checking out and getting on your flight. Many airports, train stations and bus stations have pay-per-use lockers available for the public. These personal use lockers could be a safer option since only you have the key.

2. Lock your luggage. While a lock may not provide absolute protection against opening your luggage, it could act as a deterrent for someone looking to quickly gain access. If you have a cloth backpack or suitcase that could be sliced with a knife, consider a wire net lock that wraps around your luggage and makes it difficult to slash open. You could also purchase anti-theft luggage, which has puncture-resistant zippers and built-in splashguards or a strap or zipper tag that will let you know if your bag has been tampered with.

Keep in mind that airport security is allowed to cut your luggage lock if they need to get inside your suitcase upon inspection. CATSA will try to find you to have you unlock the lock, while TSA will go ahead and cut the lock unless you use a TSA-approved lock, which they have a master key for. They’ll also leave a card inside letting you know your luggage has been inspected. You can also wrap your luggage in plastic at the airport (often for a fee), so it will be obvious if someone’s attempted to get inside it. Airport security will rewrap any plastic-wrapped luggage they inspect.

3. Keep an eye on your luggage. Especially in busy areas, never leave your luggage unattended or allow yourself to get distracted. Get to the baggage carousel quickly upon arrival at an airport so it doesn’t spend unnecessary time unattended in public. Inspect your luggage once you pick it up and if you notice anything suspicious, take a closer look before you head through customs.

If you experience theft or tampering
But what happens if your luggage has been tampered with and something has been stolen or, worse, someone has placed something into your bag?

Inspect your luggage after a flight, train or bus ride or after you’ve stored it. If you notice signs of tampering (broken lock, broken zipper, a slash, an opened pocket, for example), inspect further. If you find something inside that isn’t yours, notify the authorities immediately, before you go through customs (who will hold you accountable for the contents of your luggage). If you’re outside Canada, you should notify the nearest Canadian embassy or consulate right away and they’ll help you out with the local authorities.

If you notice something has been taken from your luggage while it was checked, notify your airline as well as the authorities. While the local air transport authority is responsible for security, your airline is responsible for baggage handling (getting it on and off the plane).

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Heather Cleland

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