You’ve just arrived at the destination for your dream vacation. You’ve been waiting patiently at the baggage claim while everyone on your flight has come and gone, and the bags are no longer sliding out onto the conveyor belt. Your bag is nowhere to be found.
Could it be lost, or even worse, stolen? While it’s not common, bags do get stolen from airports and baggage claims. And it’s even more common for valuable items to be stolen out of bags as they travel through airport security and are loaded onto planes.
So how common is it for luggage to be stolen? What can you do to prevent luggage theft? And if you do have items or entire bags stolen, how can insurance help?
Do Things Get Stolen from Checked Luggage?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes, things do get stolen from checked luggage quite frequently. According to a 2015 report from CNN, the Transportation Security Administration saw 30, 621 claims of missing valuables from checked luggage and security checkpoints from 2010 to 2014, equaling a total property loss of $2.5 million.
Many of these missing items were stolen by TSA workers or other airport employees who have access to unlocked bags.
How Often Does Luggage Get Stolen?
Odds are slim your airline will lose your luggage or it will be stolen while it’s in their possession. According to the Air Travel Consumer Report 2020 issued by the US Department of Transportation, you face less than a 1 percent chance that a major airline will misplace or mishandle your bags. In 2020, there were only 4.49 reports of mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers.
Yet baggage-handling mishaps and thefts do happen, which is why it’s important to take precautions and have the proper insurance in place before you depart for your destination.
How to Prevent Luggage from Being Stolen
You can’t entirely prevent luggage theft or valuables from being stolen out of your luggage, but here are some tips to reduce the likelihood of stolen luggage when you travel.
- Keep your valuable objects with you and not in your checked bags. Jewelry, cash, cameras, and other expensive or important items easily show up on security scanners and are easily targeted by thieves.
- Keep a list or a picture of everything you’ve packed in your checked luggage. This helps you confirm that a theft has occurred and makes it easier to report what’s missing.
- Keep your bags close to you at all times. If you might fall asleep at the airport or on the plane, slip the handle of your bag under your foot, use it as a pillow or foot rest, or attach it to you with a strap.
- Lock your bags with TSA-approved luggage locks or locking luggage straps. The TSA has developed locks that can be only opened by you and TSA security officers using universal master keys, so they don't have to cut locks when searching through luggage. If a TSA officer does need to open your bag, a Notice of Baggage Inspection should be placed in your bag following the inspection.
- Always watch your bags, even when they are passing through security scanners. Thefts have been known to occur at security checkpoints before you even board the plane.
- Consider using a colorful bag. A brightly colored or marked bag is easier to identify and therefore less attractive to thieves.
- Get off the plane quickly and go directly to baggage claim. You’ll be there when your bag rolls off the belt, so a thief can’t snatch it before you’re present.
- Carry your bag on instead of checking it whenever possible.
- If you do not see your suitcase on the belt at baggage claim, check the surrounding area, as some airlines may remove some bags from the belt and place them in an area nearby
- Take advantage of plastic wrap machines. Some international airports such have plastic wrap services that wrap your bag with a tamper-resistant plastic film for a small cost.
What Insurance Policy Covers Stolen Luggage?
Fortunately, if you already have a homeowners insurance policy or a renters insurance policy, you’re probably covered if your luggage is lost, stolen, or damaged during travel. Most homeowners (and renters) insurance policies cover any property you own anywhere in the world. While most policies offer protection for your belongings regardless of your location, you may need to purchase additional coverage in the form of a floater or endorsement to your policy if you’re taking valuables, such as jewelry, gifts, or sporting equipment that may have limited coverage under your policy.
The Department of Transportation requires airlines to compensate passengers up to $3,500 for "mishandled" bags on a domestic trip. (The limit varies for international flights based on your destination.) Just remember that “mishandled” usually means “damaged” or “lost,” but not necessarily stolen.
Another important consideration is that most airlines have a list of items they will not cover if lost or stolen, such as money and jewelry. So, if you’re worried about something of high monetary or sentimental value going MIA during a trip, it’s probably best to leave it at home or stow it in your carry-on.
You can also purchase travel insurance that includes a baggage coverage option. It typically would reimburse you for your personal belongings if your luggage were lost, stolen, or damaged.
If you’re unsure about what’s covered by your home or renters policy, your independent insurance agent can determine if you have the right coverage to protect your luggage and provide you with additional coverage options if needed.