Records show cases of baggage theft have increased over the years at Sea-Tac, especially after the post-pandemic passenger rush.
SEATAC, Wash. – There are a lot of problems for airline passengers during the busy holiday season. For the growing number of tourists at Seattle-Tacoma International AirportStolen luggage is one of them.
Records show cases of baggage theft have increased over the years at Sea-Tac Airport, especially after the post-pandemic rush of passengers.
From a 2011 low of 97 reported handbag thefts, the number skyrocketed last year to a record high of 477 incidents. This number is lower this year, 341 cases as of October, but does not include the year-end tourist season.
“This number typically increases with increased traffic,” said Detective Darin Beam of the Seattle Port of Port Police.
Along with record numbers of travelers, passengers checked 30 million bags through Sea-Tac Airport last year.
The port says your chances of having your bag stolen are about 1 in 56,000.
“Unfortunately, when your bag is stolen, it doesn’t matter what the percentage is. That’s your bag,” Detective Beam said.
A theft can cause heavy losses for passengers.
Daniel McMath of Kitsap County lost $10,000 worth of diving equipment stolen from the Delta Airlines baggage hold area near the Sea-Tac baggage claim area. A few days later, a friend showed him a Facebook page where similar devices were sold.
“Oh my gosh, that’s my device,” McMath said as he logged in to check.
When McMath reported the online seller to Port police, detectives investigated but said they had no evidence to make an arrest.
“There is no more desperate feeling than watching strangers sell your stuff on the internet,” McMath said after seeing his gear disappear piece by piece from a seller’s website.
KING 5 investigators reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, photos and airport surveillance videos to find out who is behind the increasing number of bag thefts.
In cases from 2022, with a record number of 477 handbag thefts, there have been a number of repeat offenders.
A 30-year-old Seattle man was breached by Port of Seattle airport police 14 times when he was arrested on February 25, 2022. He was caught on video stealing a couple’s purple rolling bag and was arrested.
In another case file, a man was contacted by Port police four times in the 24 hours before being arrested for bag theft. Early one morning last January, police found him sleeping next to a guitar missing from his travel suitcase. He said it wasn’t his and police ordered him to leave the airport. He was seen twice more in the following hours and was again violated by police.
The guitar’s owner, Michael Dalton of Bremerton, wondered why police didn’t arrest him on the spot.
“I’m surprised that man wasn’t taken to jail,” Dalton told KING 5.
Surveillance video showed the man stealing at least two more bags, one of which had shoes, clothes and gift cards worth more than $1,000 inside, before police stopped the crime. one of his people in baggage claim.
In another case, a man from Florida had just stepped off a flight when he saw what looked like his bright orange bag in the restroom. When confronted by the man carrying it, the stranger said it belonged to him.
“He started rummaging through his pocket to show us and pulled out a knife,” the passenger told police. Police arrested and charged a suspect soon after. He was carrying the folding knife the victim described.
“Unfortunately, a lot of (the suspects) are homeless. There are a large number of them who are mentally ill,” Detective Beam said.
But not all, according to records reviewed by KING 5 investigators. Some cases appear to be internal affairs.
Last November, a tourist from New York City reported the theft of his backpack near ticket checkpoint 4. Immediately after taking the report, police learned that the backpack had been found. , abandoned in a wheelchair upstairs.
When police reviewed the surveillance footage, they were surprised to see a uniformed airport employee walking out with the bag. Video shows him disappearing behind a secure door and then reappearing minutes later and placing the bag on an unattended wheelchair.
The employee, a newly hired mechanic who maintains the Port’s baggage carousel, told KING 5 he was trying to turn the bag over to lost and found when summoned on another call . He said he did not steal the bag but admitted the Port fired him for “dishonesty.”
A driver for the UPS-owned “Roadie” luggage delivery service also escaped prosecution, although he was implicated in two thefts in two years. In 2021, a passenger saw his two paddleboards stolen from the Sea-Tac baggage claim area for sale on eBay. Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies confronted the seller at his home and he admitted to stealing the sign and other items. The case was dropped when the victim refused to press charges.
A year later, this man was tied up in another luggage theft case where the suspect was his girlfriend. Roadie spokesperson Heather Hughes said in a written statement that, although he has not been charged in the incident, “…this driver has been permanently removed from our platform and has not into any deliveries from March 2022.”
In an interview with KING 5, the former delivery driver said he was “on a lot of acid” when he stole the paddle board. He said he had nothing to do with the case of his girlfriend being accused even though they were at the airport at the same time.
Eliminate luggage theft
The port has taken action to suppress luggage theft.
Records reviewed by KING 5 show officials have written 372 trespass notices this year to remove suspicious people from the airport. This is double the number they released in 2019, before the pandemic.
When King County Jail stopped recording many property thefts in 2020, the Port of Seattle began recording luggage theft suspects at the South County Correctional Facility. Additionally, the King County Prosecutor’s Office changed the threshold for prosecuting certain cases, including increasing the dollar amount for felony property crimes to a minimum damage level of $2,000. The Port of Seattle responded by reaching an agreement with the City of SeaTac. Currently, most baggage theft prosecutions are handled by city prosecutors.
According to a report by SITA, specializing in air transport information and communication technology, in addition to stolen luggage, lost or stolen bags will also “skyrocket” in 2022.
SITA research shows a nearly 75% increase in the number of mishandled and lost bags in 2022 compared to the previous year.
Seattle Port Police say the best defense against lost or stolen luggage is to avoid checking it. Carrying hand luggage with you always is the safest option.
Detective Beam also has the following suggestions:
- Pack your most valuable items in a carry-on bag
- Hurry to baggage claim so your luggage is not forgotten
- Use bright or unique luggage that stands out
- Place tracking devices, like Apple Air Tags, in your checked baggage
In the case of Daniel McMath, who lost $10,000 worth of diving equipment, Delta Airlines replaced less than $2,000 worth of equipment.
“I should have been more proactive about packing things in my carry-on luggage and using Air Tags in every checked bag. I should have been more worried,” he said.