Ventanas Mexico - Living in Mexico Part-Time

Books and resources for life in Mexico

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Airline Baggage Theft: Not Just About Expensive Items

airline theft

As a part-time expat, I make the journey to and from Mexico at least twice a year. Whenever I return to Mexico, I try to bring modest gifts for my Mexican friends (who especially seem to like the idea that the item traveled all the way from the U.S. to be with them). 

This time for my gifts, I had chosen a type of jewelry sold in Denver tourist stores - aspen tree leaves dipped in silver or gold. The delicate lacy pendants hang from necklaces or earrings. In two different stores, one on the 16th Street Mall and one one at tourist shop on the drive back from Breckinridge, I had stood and agonized: would Lupita prefer the gold or the coppery one? Would Estella rather have the necklace or earrings? What about earrings for their daughters? What would they most like?

baggage theft.jpg

Finally satisfied with my collection, I elected to keep them in their boxes to wrap once in Mexico. Upon my arrival. I eagerly went to my suitcase to get them to wrap for my first joyous reunion. One necklace was missing from its box, likely pilfered by a baggage handler. Now I had the hard decision of whom would not be getting a necklace. Even though I could explain what happened, she would be likely to wonder why I selected her.

This situation created a good reason to remind you that baggage handlers steal a lot of things, including items worth less than $50. So do , even more alarmingly, TSA employees. We are used to not placing our laptops and electronics in our checked baggage. After all these years, I still make mistakes in not really thinking through what “valuable” means to me when I pack.

The necklaces were not expensive. But I would have happily sacrificed items in my suitcase three times their value for the “irreplaceable” jewelry that was stolen. I didn’t think of risk of theft for such small items, but I guess everyone, including baggage handlers, has a girlfriend, wife, daughter, or mothers.  Maybe one of them had a birthday that night.

Thieves steal thousands of suit cases every year, even from the belly of the plane, as caught on videos uploaded to YouTube in a number of airport stings. Over 31,000 claims were made over a five year period according to the Transportation Security Administration. Whole suitcases frequently disappear. These do not count thefts like mine, too small to make a claim. It’s not hard to imagine petty thefts would be in the hundreds of thousands, at least.

Even with expensive items, undoubtedly, many people do not make claims. It’s easy to see why. Here’s the information American Airlines asks you to provide.

  • Receipt(s) for excess value claimed

  • Baggage claim checks

  • Receipt(s) for excess baggage charges paid

  • Receipt(s) for all items valued over $150.00

  • Airline ticket receipts

  • Original receipts are required for all reimbursement for delay expenses

  • Clear and legible government issued photo identification for each passenger making a claim

Airlines honor only about a third of their claims, and it takes a very long time to get a response. They take the position that the responsibility is with the airport itself, not the airline. Many people don’t realize anything been stolen for much later, when it’s too late to make a claim. Likely, you will not receive anything at all unless the whole suitcase is gone.

Since you will not recover at all for small yet sentimental objects like souvenirs and gifts, it’s worth reviewing the steps you can take to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

  • Foremost, Do not check anything of value, sentimental or otherwise. Either carry it in a purse or travel bag, or in your carry-on suitcase.

  • Make your luggage distinctive to make it easier to spot for you, and more awkward for a thief to simply say he thought it was his. You can tie a brightly colored cloth (or even, as an former boyfriend of mine did: spray paint a bright yellow X on your duffle bag. Even thieves wouldn’t go near that)

  • Keep and eye on luggage even as it goes through the metal detectors. 

  • Make haste to baggage. Do not linger. You want to be there to grab your suitcase as it comes down the chute. 

Part-time life in Mexico does require electronics you might not carry on a vacation. Fortunately, they can all be fit into your carry-ons. Just make sure you look beyond the price tag value in packing how you would feel not to have it, when you decide what else to include in your carry-on or purse.

Related links:

A few ideas of what to bring for an extended stay in Mexico. Not the same as a vacation - Ventanas Mexico.

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About the author:

Kerry Baker is the author of several books. The first, The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online,” curates the best free language learning links for you so that you can create a unique lesson plan every day. It is supported by this website’s Guide book blog, which includes “Website of the Week.”

The second book is “If Only I Had a Place,” giving you the benefits, pitfalls and opportunities of renting long-term in Mexico. The Mexico Solution: How to save your money, sanity and quality of life through part-time life in Mexico, is the cumulation of all I know, love and want to teach you about part-time expat life.