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How ‘magic’ at Naia baggage lines works

/ 02:10 AM August 24, 2016
INQUIRER PHOTO / RICHARD A. REYES

INQUIRER PHOTO / RICHARD A. REYES

WITH a sleight of hand and skills that would put mahjong hustlers to shame, unscrupulous handlers of check-in baggage can make valuables disappear in an instant.

An airline security expert, who requested anonymity, revealed some of the tricks that a number of baggage loaders working for different airlines at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), used to pilfer valuables from check-in luggage.

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Most of the “magic” happens at the Naia baggage buildup and breakdown areas, where pieces of luggage are kept and sorted before being loaded on or unloaded from the aircraft, the source said.

“When we frisk baggage handlers, we make sure they do not have any pointed object on them, particularly ball pens,” he said, explaining that a pen could be inserted between the teeth of a baggage zipper to create a gap big enough for a hand to squeeze in. The zipper can easily be fixed later.

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“They can also make it appear that the bag’s zipper was damaged so they’d have a reason to set it aside, most likely for later pilferage,” he added.

X-ray hands

There are also baggage handlers who have what airline security personnel call “X-ray hands,” he said. “People who know that a piece of luggage contains valuables just by touching them.”  These valuables are mostly gadgets, wallets or pouches.

“Maybe it’s through years of experience that they’ve (mastered this skill), but it’s still a mystery to us how they do it,”  the source told the Inquirer, adding that the baggage handlers could be experts in playing mahjong.

Sometimes, the source said, pilferers did not even wait for unloaded baggage to reach the buildup area. “They can identify baggage with valuables as it comes down the plane and pilfer while it descends.”

There is also what is called “moonlighting,” which happens at night and involves cargo loaders of one airline crossing over to a neighboring airline at the Naia baggage breakdown or buildup area and volunteering their help so they can pilfer without being identified.

There are also those who use old-style distraction. “One baggage loader might call our attention to a damaged luggage while his cohort uses quick hands to steal from another luggage they had set aside.”

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Wearing jumpsuits without pockets has not prevented pilferage either, the source said.

The pilferers would just slip the stolen item inside their suits or set it down where a cohort, possibly security guards at the baggage buildup and breakdown area, could pick it up and conceal it.

“As airline security personnel, we have to be alert and wary of these tricks and of new modus operandi that loaders who pilfer from check-in luggage can come up with,” he said.

His primary advice to passengers: Never put valuables inside your check-in baggage.

Just this month, airline safety and security firm Aviation Operations and Management Specialists Inc. (Avomsi) initiated procedures to stop baggage pilferage at Naia, including the use by its specialists of mobile phones to document the trip of damaged luggage from an aircraft, as well as the issuance of security passes to accredited airline cargo loaders to avoid “moonlighting.”

Using mobile phones to take pictures of damaged luggage, aside from preventing pilferage, can also discourage false passenger claims, the source said.

Avomsi handles safety and security operations for eight airlines, a number of them international firms, at Naia.

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TAGS: check-in baggage, Nation, news, Ninoy Aquino International Airport
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