Seattle Tacoma International Airport is urging travelers to protect their luggage as new numbers show the airport had its highest number of stolen bags last year and is on pace to beat that this year.
Those thefts include one very large golf bag containing an 8-year-old’s championship BMX bike, stolen April 11 after the Fry family touched down at SEA just before midnight.
“I was really worried,” Maci Fry said.
She said competing in BMX races with other girls her age all around the country is “like my life.”
Her sport will take her to Scotland to compete for the USA at the UCI BMX Championships in August.
“I don’t know what I would do without it,” she said.
When the Frys arrived at the airport, they expected the bag with Maci’s custom bike in the oversized item area. But her father Brad Fry said American Airlines couldn’t find it.
“I said, ‘Does anybody ever steal bags off the carousel?... because my bag is not in the airport,’” he said.
Fry knew it was no longer inside the airport because of an Apple AirTag inside one of the bag’s pockets. It showed that the bag was at the light rail station at the airport. And when Fry didn’t see an officer at the Port of Seattle police station area in baggage claim, he decided to follow that bag himself.
“It’s down the train tracks at that point and it’s headed north into Seattle,” he said, “so I’m knowing at this point what has happened. There is no gray area. The dots are connected. Somebody has taken the bag.”
Maci and her mother, Molly, headed home in an Uber.
Brad Fry hopped into a taxi and explained the situation to the taxi driver.
“I said, ‘Hey, I don’t know where this night’s going to take us, but I’m tracking this bag that was just stolen from the airport,’” he said. “Fortunately, this guy said, ‘I got ya.’”
That wild chase took him from one light rail station to another to, finally, a Denny’s in SoDo, where he called Seattle Police. They checked a few dumpsters, then came across an area near the back of the parking lot where a makeshift shed had been built. Seattle Police body camera video, that we obtained, shows several bags in the bed of a truck and next to it. One of them was Maci’s.
“He signaled over to his partner with his flashlight and that indicated that, ‘Come here, we’ve got something,’” Fry said.
In the body camera video, you can see the golf bag holding Maci’s bike and hear the officer rolling it away from the truck as a man suddenly appears and comes after it.
As the officer confronted the man trying to get it back, Fry grabbed the bag.
“I couldn’t even put into words how happy I was to have that bag back,” he said.
Maci said she woke up the next morning, thrilled to find out her father had somehow tracked down the bag and her bike.
“I felt really happy,” she said.
We asked Seattle Tacoma International Airport for the baggage theft numbers last year and so far this year.
In 2022, the airport had 477 reports of stolen bags, with 282 reported stolen this year through the end of June. Airport spokesperson Perry Cooper told us that Port of Seattle Police made 26 arrests for bag theft in 2022 and 12 arrests through June of 2023.
How do Seattle’s baggage theft numbers compare to other West Coast airports?
Police at Los Angeles International Airport said they had 119 stolen bags in 2022 and have had 83 bags stolen so far this year. They told us they made several significant arrests of serial baggage thieves and deployed both high visibility and undercover officers.
San Francisco International Airport estimated it had around 383 bags stolen last year and 125 so far this year.
Portland International Airport said it had 153 in 2022 and 89 reported stolen so far this year.
American Airlines has the highest rate of lost, damaged, delayed, and stolen bags, categorized overall as “mishandled,” according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Fry doesn’t feel like a fix is that difficult.
“As simple as having to scan your boarding pass to actually enter in the area and maybe an employee… put on staff,” he said, “to monitor that system.”
A spokesperson with American Airlines told us that said he didn’t know of any airport where they have staff posted at baggage carousels to make sure people take the right bags.
He said that police are “responsible for surveillance and security within the public areas of the airport—including the baggage claim area.”
American did not respond to follow-up questions about why the bag ended up on the regular carousel instead of in the oversized item area.
“Why can’t airport police close off the area around these baggage carousels?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked Port of Seattle Police Detective Darin Beam.
“Unfortunately, there just isn’t the space with traffic, with the drives, with the garage, where we could actually build walls to prevent people from coming in or out,” Beam said.
And what about police officers?
“We have a good sized police force, but we don’t have a police force the size of NYPD,” he said. “And I think it would take something about that size to be able to cover all of our carousels for all of the flights that come in without that infrastructure.”
Beam said with all the crowds during summer travel, people need to be alert.
“Unfortunately, some people take advantage of that to steal bags,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often. But when it does, you know, the large crowds definitely help them stay concealed.”
Beam said people can protect their bags by using Air Tags or similar technology; using suitcase accessories and wraps that stand out; packing valuables in their carry-on, if possible, or not checking a bag at all; and getting down to baggage claim as soon they can.
That last point is something Brad Fry echoes.
“It’s a race to get down there,” he said.
As for Maci’s racing, she’s back on the bike, full speed ahead. Now, Maci is free to dream about Scotland and the bright future ahead of her.
“I’m going to be world champion,” she said.
Port of Seattle Police have not arrested the man suspected of stealing her bike but said they continue to investigate the case.
They are also warning people against leaving any valuable items in their cars when they are parking them in the airport’s parking garage.
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