Thief who targets valuables on airplanes reveals why it's so easy to do

An aircraft cleaner has confessed to stealing from passengers. Photo / iStock
An aircraft cleaner has confessed to stealing from passengers. Photo / iStock

A woman allegedly operating as part of a large-scale robbery ring at a United States airport has revealed how she and her sticky-fingered accomplices have made a living stealing valuables from air travellers - and why it's so easy to do.

The woman, who is under police investigation and has not been named, told CNN her work as an aircraft cleaner allowed her to comb planes after passengers had disembarked and make a living off the loot she found.

Police believe the woman is operating as part of a widescale theft ring involving employees and management at a major US airport. It could be the first police investigation into robberies from overhead compartments and seat pockets, CNN reports.
And flight mechanics and other airline staff are allegedly in on the action, too.

The woman has admitted to stealing "just a tablet" - although police believe she took more than that - said she saw no problem in her actions.

"In my mind, I say OK everybody takes it, why not me? I see these expensive things," the worker told CNN.

"When I find something, they tell me, 'When you want to take it, take it. Don't report it. (If you) want to report it, that's your option'."

She said valuables could easily be found under or beneath seat cushions, and with no one watching, they were too easy to snatch.

"I take it because it looked easy," she said.

"Every day, the customers, the passengers leave ... articles, different things. Sometimes IDs, sometimes money, sometimes electronics, sometimes toys. Mostly iPads, Kindles, electronics every day."

And while electronic devices getting nicked at airports might not seem a big deal, it could be.

US airport police officials say any crime by airport employees could be a threat because they have access to secure areas, as well as aircraft.

Police told CNN the spike in the theft of valuables by plane cleaners and maintenance crew could be due to the fact they earn very low wages.

And it's not just when passengers have departed a plane that thieves strike.

In-flight theft has been on the rise internationally over the past few years, both by airline staff and other passengers.

Australian Federal Police issued a warning to overseas travellers last year in relation to a spike in items reported stolen in flights - mostly from overhead lockers.

Police said the most targeted items were baggage, media devices, jewellery, purses and cash, although they maintained in-flight theft remained rare in Australia.

But mile-high theft is becoming a big problem in Asia, including on flights to Hong Kong and the Philippines. There have also been reports of organised crime gangs operating on Asian routes.

Last year, a flight attendant was arrested for stealing $7124 in donations intended for UNICEF, while in 2013 the FBI got involved when $1.7 million was discovered stolen from a Swiss jet after it landed in New York City.

Tips to avoid in-flight theft include keeping valuables in a small bag under the seat in front of you, taking that bag with you on trips to the bathroom, and turning bags in the overhead compartment upside down or in such a way that potential crooks can't reach zippers and other access points.

- news.com.au

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