photo from A3 Tours & Travel’s Facebook page

Philippines-based tour operator, A3 Tours & Travel, recently posted the following story on their Facebook page from a passenger on a Hong Kong flight. The tl;dr of it is that you should not naively believe your carry-on luggage is safe in the overhead bins — the contents might not just have shifted during flight, they might have been lifted.

As many of us routinely fly, and specifically fly the flights likely to be targeted by this particular group of thieves, I suggest giving the following a quick read, and remember to lock your bags and carry your passport/money on you during the flight.

Sharing this story from a passenger who rode an airline going to HK. This can happen on any airline going to any destination. These are very hard times for a lot of people!!!

“I would like to draw your attention to an attempted robbery on a flight into Hong Kong last week. With an hour to go, during the flight, I thought I noticed my bag being replaced in the overhead locker. I wasn’t sure and decided it was probably a fellow passenger, moving it to access their own bag.

I dismissed any thought of any wrong doing, but upon arrival in HK, something told to me to retrieve the bag, just to make sure nothing suspicious had occurred. When I opened the overhead locker (not above me) and saw my leather bag was the only one occupying the space I knew there was a problem. I examined the content, only to find all of my wife’s jewellery, along with some cash had been stolen, during the flight.

I raised the alarm and my wife and I quickly blocked both aisles to stop anyone at the back of the plane disembarking….there were around 120 passengers….

My wife and I both shouted for assistance from the stewards and stewardesses. Eventually a steward told me that security had been called but passengers were becoming very agitated and unwilling to show patience or understanding….they just wanted to get off the plane….my wife and I were the only people controlling the passengers.

I pleaded with the passengers to check their own bags at which point three fellow travellers reported they had also been robbed. It was only at this point, did I see any evidence from the cabin crew that they were willing to provide any meaningful support.

I vaguely remember seeing a passenger wearing black, sporting a white base-ball cap and pleaded with the rest of the passengers to see if they could remember anyone fitting my description.

It turned out to be a passenger standing in front of me, who once identified proceeded to offload money, jewelry, camera equipment and false documents, running into tens of thousand, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stolen goods.

By this time security had boarded the plane, the Captain had been informed and was standing in the rear section watching the events unfold.

Eventually a policeman boarded the plane and I was able to explain the events leading up to my apprehending the thief. I have since been informed this criminal activity is reaching epidemic proportions and the authorities caught three thieves, just last week, (with 30 already on remand since early December) on flights into HK, with all the criminals coming from the same town in China.

It is estimated that only 5% are being caught judging by the reports of passengers contacting the police after they have arrived at their destination.

They sit in the back row of the plane observing where bags are behind or away from the passengers and systematically pull them from the overhead lockers, while passengers rest or watch movies, take them to the back of the plane and steal any valuable contents.

They prey on foreign airlines as the penalties are so lenient, the pay-off makes it worth the risk.

I naively have never thought of robbers operating on planes, but now I have experienced it first hand, there are a few takeaways:

  1. Hand luggage should ALWAYS be locked.
  2. Do not assume luggage under your seat is safe….last week one passenger had her purse stolen by the guy sitting next to her while she slept !!
  3. If in doubt, wear or keep any valuables ON YOU at all times !!
  4. Don’t assume, like me, that everyone on a flight is a law-abiding citizen.
  5. Do not assume business class travel is secure….robbers can be wealthy.


  1. Transportation seems to be the place for thieves in China to work. If you don’t wear backpacks in the front, thieves will work in teams and try to pilfer your belongings when you have your back turned. Sure they have some kind of scheme on airplanes, too. Being a laowai you are a walking bullseye.

  2. Pingback: Luggage in China « About China Travel

  3. Last time I was in Beijing, someone dropped my camera out of the overhead when they were pulling there bag out, and refused to pay for it. Got to worry about thieves and people breaking your stuff.

  4. Why do not accept that the staff was not part of the crime. I have travelled many times in this area, and it has frequently been obvious that the staff knew of the scam,and were themselves perhaps paid off by the thieves.

  5. I was on a Qatar airlines flight from Doha to Manchester on 5th November 2014.I was flying from Dubai (where I work) to attend my seriously ill wife. I was unable to transfer money from my Dubai Islamic bank to my Lloyds account in England so I took out £4 600 and put this money into an envelope inside my rucksack. My rucksack never left my side apart from the flight from Doha when I put it in the overhead compartment (I had an aisle seat) The only other people who went into the locker was a young lady who had boarded the plane very late and her male companion The air hostess also went into the locker. On my arrival back in my house in England I found that the money had been stolen and replaced by an inflight magazine. I have had no assistance from Qatar airlines at all even though the culprit can only be one of 3 people

    • Dear William
      can you please tell me if you got anywhere with Qatar airlines, as this is exactly what has happened to my partner. he has had cash stolen inflight, which was in a envelope too, and only discovered when he got home. this was also on a Qatar airline flight from Dubai via Doha airport and then straight on to Scotland.
      we are in a very distressing situation as it was a large amount of money and Qatar airline no help at all

      • We have similar situation from a flight between Shanghai and Moskva. Aeroflot will not help in any way.
        Have you had any help from insurance company?

  6. A few years ago travelling from KL back to Sydney in business had my passport, house keys and mobile stolen from hand luggage. It was only when I was passing through customs that I realised, too late to do anything about it. Luckily I always sleep with my money on me. Now I always always lock my hand luggage no matter if you fly at the pointy end of the plane, doesn’t seem to make a difference.

  7. I had early flight from Istanbul To Kiev 5.55 am,l had 26C seat my brief case was above compartment , feel a sleep , when l got pasp conrol and customs , l needed to change money l looked my briefcase all 3000 ero has stolen ,
    Went back to customs told them l was in Kiev for gov ernment conference ,
    They were very helpful ,on flight 3 people siting behind me chines looking,and police looked at the security camers l recognise them
    They were iin Transit saloon,
    Police searched one of the 750 ero but could not prove no serial number of the money.
    This is the way they work seat in the rear of the place watch all the pasangers
    Only taken money ,mont blanck pen ,ipad, phone not stolen , be careful when you get the back seat ,

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