Getting Ripped Off In-flight

Getting Ripped off in flight, what could be worse?
Getting Ripped off in flight, what could be worse?

Brian Peters shows that in-flight theft and other rip-offs are a lot more common than you might think.

By Brian Peters

[Editor’s note: This story is excerpted from Brian Peters’ award-winning blog:]

In a previous post, I talked about a flight from Tokyo to Paris where someone stole over $5000 worth of cash and valuables from other passengers WHILE IN THE AIR. I was incredulous that could happen, so I asked for other stories of in-flight theft. Getting ripped-off during a flight does happen!

My findings in summary: Hide your stuff! Just because you’re in the air doesn’t mean you can drop your guard and leave your cash and valuables lying about.

Don’t depend on a flight attendant to look out for your belongings. Act the same way you would if you were in any other form of public transportation, or a movie theater or at a beach or park. Below are some additional in-flight horror stories, that prove you never can be too careful!

From Paula:

On a not-too-full flight for I had my large Louis Vuitton purse/tote bag on the floor in front of the middle seat, where nobody was seated. There was a 20-something brunette girl in the window seat of my row, I was on the aisle.

I tucked my bag under the seat in front for takeoff, and once we reached cruising altitude I pulled my bag out, leaned down, pulled out the change purse that had my money in it- not a big wallet, more like a small coin purse, that had a roll of bills inside.

Mugged in Barcelona

I counted out a few singles for the drink service, tucked them back inside the coin purse folded up separately and ready to give the flight attendant, with the rest of the bills (some loose 5s, 10s, 20s and a few hundreds folded on the inside of the stack) folded next to the singles.

I closed up my bag, got up to use the toilet…came back, sat down, got a weird vibe because the girl in the window seat seemed a bit uneasy, but she was kinda odd (read: unwashed and crazy-eyed) so I let it pass.

Drink service came around and I reached down to pull out the bills… nothing. Empty coin purse. Just some loose change in the bottom.

I had already ordered my drink, so as the flight attendant put down my cup of wine I stammered that I did have money, but it seemed to have disappeared when I went to the bathroom, all of it, and now I had no cash at all, and I looked at the girl next to me and realized as she shifted uneasily in her seat and looked out her window that while I was certain she had taken it but I couldn’t prove it.

The flight attendant got the gist and gave me the wine for free, and I got to ride the rest of the way knowing somebody was dining on my dollar that evening.

But what can you do? Can’t bring your purse to the toilet with you… ditto Amtrak FYI. It’s so awkward, I always make sure I’m not in the toilet between stations when someone could grab my bags and get off the train.

Lesson Learned: Cash, wallet, the passport should be on your person, not in a bag under your seat.

Especially when someone looks as sketchy as the window seat gal did.

So, I had nothing, no license, no credit cards, and no money…It was a total nightmare!

From Amy:

I was flying Southwest from Albany to Las Vegas nonstop. We had to make an unannounced stop in Chicago, Midway. I got off the plane to grab a snack and reboarded after showing my ID. I dozed off and when I arrived in Vegas, my wallet was gone from my pocketbook. What a nightmare.

I had Southwest check the plane, but nothing was found. So, I had nothing, no license, no credit cards, and no money. I did know a gentleman on the plane who lent me some $ to get a shuttle to my hotel. I had to call my credit card companies for new cards and get cash advances. It was a total nightmare!!

So, I had nothing, no license, no credit cards, and no money. I did know a gentleman on the plane who lent me some $ to get a shuttle to my hotel. I had to call my credit card companies for new cards and get cash advances. It was a total nightmare!!

Lesson Learned: Ladies, your pocketbook should be with you at all times.

If you need to sleep, wedge it in the seat with you, but out of view of the flight attendants who might tell you to put it away.

If it won’t fit then it should be in the magazine holder in the seat in front of you. But don’t forget it there!

From Marjorie:

Greetings! My then-boyfriend (now ex-BF) visited me when I lived in Japan in the mid-1990s. During the long, Dallas-Tokyo flight, about $2,000 in cash was stolen from his duffel bag. It was definitely stolen in flight, probably when he went to the lavatory because he had checked it shortly after boarding but it had disappeared by the time of disembarkation. He suspects that a fellow passenger in his row had taken the money.

That was all the cash he had, by the way, except for $100 on his person, so during his entire stay in Japan, I paid for most of his expenses, save for the rare occasion when we found a local business that accepted American Express, the only credit card he had. Despite everything, a good time was had by all.

Lesson Learned: Ideally that $2000 should have been in his wallet or in an envelope in his pocket. If you’re by yourself, ask someone to keep an eye on your things. It does not guarantee anything, but it is better than have no pair of eyes on your things.

Unless the person who is looking after your stuff is the thief…

From TJ:

I can’t believe it’s still a sore subject, but several years ago, when returning to Michigan on a red-eye from Las Vegas, I was forced to take the last available seat in the middle of the aircraft because I was on standby in an effort to get home early. BTW-giving up my customary first-class upgrade was tough enough!

Pickpockets on planes? YIKES! photo from Doctorow

Pickpockets...on planes! YIKES!

Anyway, since I was one of the last on the aircraft, I was very lucky to be able to store my small carry-on and neatly folded Sports coat. As a frequent flyer, I usually stand a good part of the flight because I find the seats rather uncomfortable. I’m the guy who always wanders around on the flight.

Once on the ground, when our row stood to deplane, we opened the overhead and the coat was gone. Nobody noticed and nobody cared. The NW gate agents were focused on turning the plane around and the lost baggage folks couldn’t have cared less.

Lesson learned: Never take your eyes off your valuables…especially at night.

From Kat:

Over the holidays, our family traveled on a red eye from the West Coast to the East Coast. My 7-year-old son was on the aisle seat and during the night someone stole his travel neck pillow! It likely slipped out from under him and fell to the floor during the night and someone scooped it up and took it!

In the morning we searched the floor and seats and asked all the passengers in front of and behind us as well as the flight attendants and no one had it. Who steals a pillow from a kid?!?! Very disappointing.

Lesson Learned: Keep your travel neck pillow close at hand. They are like gold for travelers…

From Paul:

Where you in business or coach?

I was sitting in coach class. Coach class with an aisle seat – two seats in the row.

When do you think your items were taken? While you were sleeping? In the bathroom?
I was a single guy at the time and when I traveled long distances I would go and talk to the flight attendants and walk around. I had taken my wallet out of my back pocket and put it in my travel backpack which I stored under the seat in front of me. I was up and down the entire flight from LA to London.

What was taken? How much did you lose?

I had my wallet taken – with credit cards, driver’s license, traveler’s checks ($2,000+), cash, pictures, etc., – from my backpack.

Do you have any idea who did it? Someone in your row? Flight attendant?

I am certain it was the passenger (guy) seated next to me. He slept [supposedly] the entire way.

When did you discover the items missing?

I discovered my wallet was missing while in line to pass through customs. I’m sure you can imagine the panic I had. UNBELIEVABLE! All the questions that go through your mind. It’s a terrible feeling.

Did you report it at all?

I did report it to airport authorities and to airline officials with little response. I filled out some paperwork and notified the airlines who asked the cleanup crew to search the area where I was sitting but to no avail.

Did you get your money and items back?

Nothing was recovered. Fortunately, my friend in LA wired money to me and I was able to complete my journey.

What could you have done differently to prevent the theft from happening?

I learned a valuable lesson – ALWAYS keep your personal belongings on you and NEVER let your bags out of sight. I would also carry less cash & traveler’s checks and use my credit cards and the ATM more often.

Brian Peters.

Brian Peters is a well-known travel blogger. His blog,, was recently named one of the “Best Round-the-World Travel Blogs” by BootsNAll. Brian’s goal is to inform travelers about the least expensive ways to travel around the world. He is the author of the e-book,

No Debt World Travel: The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Around the World – Even in an Economic Downturn. With audio and video files available for instant download, it is the definitive resource for travelers with inspirational stories and travelers’ reflections.

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