Luggage theft
Representational image. Image Credit: Dubai Customs

Dubai: On December 20, Dubai Airports created history by welcoming its billionth passenger. Ten days later, as this figure scaled higher with Christmas and New Year traffic peaking, an audacious couple — an Arab man and his girlfriend — thought they would walk away with a few bags at Dubai International Airport and escape notice in the holiday rush.

But soon after some passengers complained of missing bags, Dubai Customs swung into action. Within no time, information on all flights and passengers arriving during the time was collated, making it possible for its nimble-footed inspectors to zero in on the couple. The duo had arrived from an Arab country and were caught red-handed with the stolen suitcases from which they had removed the tags.

Asked how many bags they had tried to steal, Ebrahim Al Kamali, director of passenger operations at Dubai Customs, said the information was “confidential”.

Dh18500

maximum sum insured for baggage loss. One can obtain an annual travel cover which costs Dh850

How they were caught

Speaking to Gulf News, he said, “When we got complaints of the disappearing baggage, our team of officers collected all information on the flights. The data covered 20,000 passengers. Of them, we could narrow down 10 as suspects in record time.”

Ibrahim Al Kamali, director of passenger operations at Dubai Customs
Ibrahim Al Kamali, director of passenger operations at Dubai Customs. Image Credit: Supplied

He said, “Our officers are specially trained to do this kind of work and we are equipped with the latest technology, including Artificial Intelligence to serve different functions.”

He said, “The thief must have thought it was the perfect time to steal suitcases from the busy luggage carousels at the airport and get away with them. But sophisticated technology and excellent coordination by our team of professionals helped thwart the attempt.”

No doubt the bag’s owners would count themselves lucky as the incident happened in Dubai, where nothing is left to chance. But in a scenario where it could have been otherwise, is there any recourse?

Gulf News spoke to an insurance expert to find out. According to Sam Thakker, managing director of Earnest Insurance Brokers, a good travel insurance policy does cover, among other things, loss and damage to baggage.

Passenger negligence

Thakker said baggage theft in airports can also happen because of passengers’ own negligence. “Besides intentional thefts, there are many cases of unintentional bag switching. It is common for tired passengers at the tail end of the journey to get tardy,” he pointed out.

“They pick up similar looking bags from the carousel and don’t always check the tags. Of course, there is due procedure to be followed to report a switched bag or a missing bag. Airlines provide a standard form where you are required to fill in details and assign a value to the contents within.”

But unlike airline compensation which usually pays a fixed amount per kg of the checked-in weight, he said a travel insurance policy allows you to make a claim for the value of the contents, provided you can establish proof of ownership and purchase.

Thakker added: “The amount payable for baggage loss will be the current market value which takes into account a deduction for wear and tear and depreciation. Premiums can start from as low as Dh95 for a five-day travel and can go up to Dh380 for a 90-day travel.

“The policy would cover in addition to baggage loss emergency medical, dental, cancellation, curtailment etc. The sum insured for baggage loss is usually a maximum of Dh18,500. It is also possible to obtain an annual travel cover which costs Dh850.”