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Rising airport luggage theft and how to protect yourself

Travelers endure long lines in Terminal 3 at United Airlines’ security checkpoints San Francisco Airport on July 1, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

As air travel bounces back from the pandemic, luggage theft is on the rise in America.

According to a recent report from the Department of Transportation, the number of delayed or lost bags rose to six out of 1,000 bags in February, up from five out of 1,000 the same time last year, showing that as more people travel, baggage theft is rising.

Data provided from San Francisco Police Department’s airport bureau shows total baggage theft reports have nearly doubled at SFO, with 119 thefts reported this year as of publication, compared with only 67 in the entire year prior. 

Meanwhile, the theft rate per 100,000 passengers has remained steady. An SFPD spokesperson said on an average of every 100,000 passengers, roughly 0.30 filed a theft report so far this year, up from 0.28 last year. 

Related: Data provided from SFPD’s airport bureau shows total baggage theft reports have nearly doubled at SFO

How To Protect Yourself

A traveler sorts through unclaimed luggage at United Airline's baggage claim area in San Francisco International Airport on Dec. 16, 2022. | Kevin V. Nguyen/The Standard

SFPD’s Airport Bureau said it has “a special team that focuses on baggage theft cases.” 

They recommend the following tips for passengers to reduce the likelihood of theft:

Go directly to baggage claim after landing. Don’t stop to get coffee or food until after claiming your baggage. Unclaimed bags that remain on the carousel make an attractive target for thieves. For bags arriving at a later time or date, try to meet them at baggage claim instead of waiting for them to be shipped. 

Consider placing a smart tracker in your baggage. SFPD said its baggage theft team has “had success recovering several stolen bags that utilized those devices.” 

Make your bag distinctive-looking, either by buying a bright-colored bag or placing unique markings such as bows or stickers on it. Baggage thieves often focus on bags that blend in, like ones that are plain black or gray. 

Don’t put valuables in checked baggage. Moreover, if you must check in a bag at the gate, the department recommends you move those valuables into a personal item that you’re still allowed to carry onto the plane. 

Kevin V. Nguyen can be reached at