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Looted Luggage

November 19, 2012, 10:08 PM by Don Jorgensen

Looted Luggage

If you're planning to fly for the holidays, keep close tabs on your luggage.  It's one thing to have the airline lose your bags, but it's another to find out they were stolen. 

It's happening all over the country and as we found out, it could be due to the lack of security at luggage claim.

Photos show bags stolen from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, and found a couple of miles away in a field.  Surprised? We were and so was Val Westhoff of Salem.

"I opened it and I said, 'Bob, somebody has been in my luggage,'" Westhoff said.

Westhoff's luggage was one of the stolen bags.

She and her husband, Bob, were on their way to St. Martins to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, but her luggage never made it, at least not until a few days later after someone found it in a field and reported it to the airline.

"I didn't think anything about it; I thought I don't know where it's been.  My luggage was a little bit scuffed up, but I thought, 'I'm just glad to have it,'" Westhoff said.

Westhoff says she never lost anything of any value, but was still concerned that someone had stolen her luggage.  She became even more concerned when she returned to Sioux Falls and picked up her suitcase.  She noticed two items on the carousel that were unclaimed and one was a gun case.

"You know anybody could have come in and taken those.  The gun or take any of the luggage and who would know," Westhoff said. 

Westhoff says airlines make you show your identification when you check your bags in and maybe they should ask when you pick them up.

"I never saw anybody in all the airports we were at checking anybody's bags," Westhoff said.

We decided to take a hidden camera to the Sioux Falls Regional Airport to see if anyone there is watching over luggage.

We immediately saw four bags that had been left unclaimed, still sitting on the carousel.

I waited to see if anyone would claim them or at least secure them.

Don Jorgensen: I've been here 15 minutes and no one has claimed the bags yet and no security around. 

I waited some more.  The only airport security I saw were two guards who were walking into their office and another in the airport café. 

A whole hour passed and two of the four bags were still sitting there for the taking.

"The airlines are responsible for any unattended bags," Sioux Falls Airport manager Dan Letellier said.

We took our findings and passengers concerns to Letellier.  He says in Sioux Falls, the airlines are quick to secure any items left on the carousel. 

"Usually five to 10 minutes after the bags are unloaded, the airlines will come back, they'll pick up any bags left behind and take them to the ticket counter and secure those," Letellier said.

Jorgensen: Would it surprise you if I told you that we saw two bags sitting here for at least an hour the other day?  Letellier: Depending on the airline and how busy they were, it's possible.

Westhoff thinks that's an open invitation for potential thieves.

"Where is every carousel? It's right by a door because you get your luggage and you get out of there.  It's a concern," Westhoff said.

But not big enough of a concern for airlines to change their security checks.

"You have to look at the millions of bags that are transported every year and the number of bags that actually are a victim of theft.  It's such a tiny, tiny, tiny number.  It's hard to justify any additional security measures to provide that," Letellier said. 

That's why Westhoff says she's learned a valuable lesson when it comes to flying.

"After having my bag stolen, I never would have thought of this ever before, but I will be different how I take things to the airport anymore," Westhoff said.

As part of its massive renovations, the Sioux Falls Airport has built a ticket counter in the baggage claim area, which Letellier says will help monitor and secure unclaimed items a lot quicker.

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