SEATTLE — As passengers head to Sea-Tac Airport to travel for the holidays, Port of Seattle police are warning them to be on the lookout for baggage thieves and providing advice on how to avoid becoming a victim.
There have been 170 baggage thefts so far this year; in 2018, there were 204 and in 2017, 197.
Baggage thefts are down about 16 percent, though Port police say the statistics don’t matter if it’s your bag that’s stolen.
KIRO 7 spoke to an experienced airline pilot whose bag was stolen, proving that thieves can target anyone.
"I'm looking for it," Garin Tentschert said, "I'm waiting around, I'm eyeballing everywhere to see if I'm maybe at the wrong carousel... I didn't really even consider it might have been stolen."
Tentschert knows his way around an airport. He’s flown for an airline for 20 years, and flew for the U.S. Air Force for 30 years.
“I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a bag stolen,” he said. “When you're a working pilot or flight attendant, you only carry on, you never check anything.”
But he had to check a bag when returning to SeaTac from back-to-back trips with the airline and Air Force, and as a pilot, he bumped into a lot of people he knew when he got off the plane.
“So it took me a little longer to actually get down to the baggage claim, maybe 10 to 15 minutes longer than it should have,” he said.
When he finally arrived, someone had swiped his checked duffel bag.
“What do those things mean to you?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.
“I mean, serving for the Air Force for 30 years, my leather military jacket was in there, it's kind of not replaceable,” Tentschert said. “They don’t give those to the pilots anymore in the Air Force. [There were also] flight headsets, military uniform, the whole bit.”
The suspect, Michelle Flynn Norris, was charged with second-degree theft. Police said they arrested her after she committed another theft. The total value of the missing items in Tenschert’s case was estimated at $4,300.
“What are specific things you see around the holidays in baggage theft?” Linzi Sheldon asked Port of Seattle police.
“Typically we find a lot of travelers traveling with gifts in their bags, coming here to see their loved ones for the holidays,” Detective Darin Beam said. “They're here to spend time so they've got a lot of property. And we always encourage those folks to try not to travel with valuable items in their checked luggage.”
Beam said they have enhanced patrols around the holidays, with undercover officers in baggage claim.
“What are some of the things people can do to prevent their bag from being stolen?” Sheldon asked.
“I would say, get to bag claim as soon as you can,” Beam said. “You want to be reunited with your bag so that no one
has an opportunity to intercept it.”
Beam took KIRO 7 behind the scenes to see how Port police monitor all the baggage claim carousels and other parts of the airport with their camera system.
They even track baggage thefts by day of the week and time of day. Graphs show thefts have been most common on
Mondays and least common on Fridays. They’ve also happened most frequently around 8 p.m., 10 a.m., and 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Police revealed they've added more than 1,000 cameras in the past year or so. That includes new cameras installed at eye level at baggage carousels so that police can get a much better look at the faces of baggage thieves.
Travelers KIRO 7 spoke with liked the sound of them.
“I think that’s awesome,” Tammera Marengo, who confessed to being an overpacker who ensures she’s at the baggage claim on time.
Garin Tentschert said he appreciates the step as well. He never did get any of his belongings back.
“Do you think that added security step will help?” Linzi Sheldon asked.
“It’s got to, right?” he said. “I think coupled with the way they do their jobs, their due diligence, I think it’s going to make things better.”
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