As we prepare for our departure to Guatemala and secure the various latches on our gear, I'm reminded of being robbed by airport security employees in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport last year. Fortunately, miraculously – and somewhat shadily – I was reimbursed.
A recent comment from a woman who had money stolen at airport security in Toronto, Canada served as a reality check that this sort of thing can happen anywhere.
In the midst of the initial ordeal, my original story was posted on Thai Visa, an online travel bulletin board. In response, one of the members, lomatopo, followed up with some helpful suggestions to avoid being a victim of theft at an airport security checkpoint.
We thought some of the tips are worth sharing:
- Do everything possible to avoid a secondary screening; this means do not set off the metal detector. Short of removing metal plates/pacemaker surgically implanted in your body, remove everything metal (glasses, watch, wallet, pen, rings, jewelry, coins, phone, belt, shoes, earrings, piercings well before the security area and stow in a zippered carry-on bag, shoes go in a plastic carrier to go through the X-ray machine.
- Store valuables in a zippered, carry-on bag.
- Put the most valuable item on the conveyor belt last and make sure it is going through the machine. I usually go: Shoes, roll-a-board, zippered carry-on, PC.
- Step through the metal detector quickly and confidently; in the U.S.A. you need to show your boarding card when going through the metal detector so have it in your hands. I hold it with both hands, chest-high.
- Keep a close eye on the items coming out of the X-ray machine, make eye contact with anyone standing near the X-ray machine, excluding the operator.
- Even if you are asked for secondary (wand), regardless of whether you triggered the metal detector, gather up your zippered carry-on first, then get the wand.
- Step aside, re-assemble everything, double-check valuables.
We would also add the following airport safety advice:
- Provided you aren’t running late to the gate, take a few minutes to prepare your bags before you approach security. People who appear lost or disorganized make ideal targets for thieves. This is the time when you can stuff wallets and valuables in the inside pockets of your bags.
- Before you enter security, get your bearings, and make a quick note of your surroundings – including who is behind you and in front of you. This sort of body language might communicate “try someone else” to would-be thieves.
- After going through security and double-checking your belongings, perform another quick scan of your surroundings.
If you feel that you’ve been a victim of a crime, report it immediately and don’t allow employees and security guards to intimidate you or dismiss you lightly. Airport CCTV cameras cover almost every inch of space, so it’s likely that a theft will have been recorded on tape.
Ask to see the tapes, don’t give into your doubts too easily, and – most importantly – don’t give up.
Note: After attempting to contact Airports of Thailand (AOT), the Thai tourism bureau, and The Bangkok Post – all to no avail – you won't be surprised that I shelved the idea of attempting to expose the Bangkok Airport security scam even further.