I could have titled this “How unscrupulous people or scam artists could easily make PHP100,000+ by various baggage scams exploiting dopey security loopholes” instead. Remember this fact. If the airline loses your luggage and it is not returned to you after 5 days, you will have to file a claim or loss, and after some time and lots of frustration, you will be reimbursed just PHP40 per kilo weight of your checked in baggage. Yes, PHP40 per kilo. So if you used your maximum allowance of 15 kilos on a budget ticket on PAL, you could conceivably receive (as much as) PHP600 in total compensation. That’s according to Article 18, Section 2 of the Conditions of Carriage of Philippine Airlines, Inc. as published on their website. Yikes. Forget the complete lack of logic that there is no chance in $#@% that the realistic market value of the contents of your luggage is worth anywhere near close to PHP40 a kilo (even mangoes these days cost PHP80 a kilo!), or that PAL’s excess baggage charges are in the neighborhood of PHP150 a kilo, or that your suitcase alone would cost more than that… :(
After my last “episode” with missing baggage, I sat down and listed out exactly what my suitcase contained after a short two day trip to Cebu. I list them out to show you they are not unreasonable items, and with estimated costs, the contents of the suitcase far exceeded what PAL would pay if they lost my bag, or if someone intentionally stole it. An old suitcase purchased at SM, now worth say PHP1,000. A fairly new pair of sebago suede loafers purchased on my last trip to the U.S., on sale, PHP2,500. A belt, PHP850. A pair of Levi’s khakis, on super sale, PHP1,600. A linen shirt, PHP1,500. 2 t-shirts to sleep in, PHP50. A polo shirt, outlet, PHP1,000. A zubuchon uniform shirt PHP400. A cotton shirt, PHP1,000. 2 old J. Crew boxer shorts, purchased at a factory outlet in Jakarta, eons ago, PHP20 :) 3 pairs of very good underwear (like bedsheets, I believe in spending on what is closest to your skin for long periods of time), PHP1,000. 2 books PHP2,400. Miscellaneous, PHP800. Total value: PHP14,120. I keep my toiletries in the office in Cebu, or that would have added a significant sum, considering how much one has to pay for razor blades these days. The suitcase weighed 7 kilos total, so if lost, I would have received PHP280 on PHP14,120, or a recovery of just 2%! That’s absurd. At any rate, the first point is, don’t PUT ANYTHING OF SIGNIFICANT VALUE IN YOUR CHECKED IN DOMESTIC BAGGAGE. And whether you paid PHP1,500 for your budget on-line ticket purchase of PHP6,500 for that business class seat, you would get the same reimbursement.
How can you bring added compensation in case of loss? (1) Insure your bags either with general flight insurance, or at the counter, specifically declare that the value of contents is say PHP20,000, and I believe they may ask you to pay a premium to cover the higher value in case of loss. (2) Check your own credit cards which you used to charge your tickets and see if they have any additional coverage. From now on, whenever practical, I will charge ALL OF MY DOMESTIC TRAVEL on my U.S. American express card, that will cover baggage loss for up to several thousand DOLLARS worth in the event of loss.
How can you reduce the probability of someone taking your luggage? Because most luggage is black, then it may help to distinguish your luggage to prevent someone else from intentionally or unintentionally taking it at the baggage claim. In my case, since my suitcase was old and me annoyed, I decided to buy a cheap PHP100 can of spray paint rather than buying a new suitcase, and I marked my suitcase with spray paint! If someone still pulls this off the belt, then they are not only careless/stupid, in my book, but certifiable. :) Unfortunately, the spray paint I got isn’t great on synthetic fabric, so the designs aren’t so vibrantly white, but it’s bizarre enough to avoid baggage confusion. Alternatively, you can use unusual luggage belts in bizarre colors, odd tags, etc. And NEVER ever write your address on your suitcase tag. Put contact numbers and perhaps your frequent flier number or email address, but NOT your home address as any Tom, Dick and Harry can get your full personal details just by reading your tags. Also, When you get to your destination, always try to get to the baggage carousel quickly, so no one has a chance to take your bag…
But here’s the evil part. I figured I would make a far better crook than most crooks. I started to wonder just how porous and easy security and handling of airline baggage was for domestic passengers, so I have come up with two POSSIBLE ways that folks could easily scam the local airlines and passengers. I am NOT IN ANY WAY SUGGESTING ANYONE DO THESE, AS THEY ARE CLEARLY ILLEGAL AND CRIMINAL, I just want to point out how many loopholes there seem to be… and WARN THE PUBLIC ABOUT THE POTENTIAL DANGERS with respect to the safety of their luggage.
POSSIBLE SCAM #1 : Insure and claim loss. A hypothetical passenger checks in on a flight from Manila to Cebu, and declares his pseudo Louis Vuitton luggage and contents are actually worth PHP80,000 and the check in person asks the passenger to pay a premium for insuring the bag. He gets a luggage claim tag and boards the plane on a PHP1,500 one way ticket. When he gets to Cebu, an accomplice who is also on the same flight, rushes to the baggage carousel and “steals” the bag and rushes out of the baggage area, with no checks done at all. The first passenger claims his luggage is lost, airline personnel can’t find it, and after several weeks, their insurance company has to pay out PHP80,000. Cost to crook, PHP3,000 in tickets + insurance, say PHP500, so net gain, PHP76,500. Of course you can’t do this repeatedly, but you get the picture…
POSSIBLE SCAM #2 : A single passenger checks in with no check in baggage. But he brings along two old check in baggage stickers. He then hangs out near the check in counters and watches other passengers and their luggage for likely “targets”. At the destination, passenger rushes to the baggage carousel, grabs 3-4 random or targeted black bags that are easily interchanged and have no spray paint, then calmly but quickly rushes out, hopefully before anyone else has noticed. If he is approached by another passenger, he can quickly give the person their bags and claim surprise that their bags look so alike… Essentially, this is theft. And if my suitcase is any indication, the contents of say 4 suitcases could EASILY be worth some PHP100,000. Identify tourists or balikbayans and the value of luggage will rise dramatically. Think I am crazy? See this post here where someone was caught with hundreds of stolen bags in their home!
Variation. In this country, many folks can get into the arrival area. In my most recent trip, drivers, body guards, flunkies all managed to get in. And could have easily managed to steal some bags. This is even more true in some foreign airports where almost anyone can enter the baggage claim areas…
So my point is this. The local airlines don’t really seem to care about the safety of your bags, nor will they compensate you reasonably if your luggage is lost. There is little to stop unscrupulous folks, whether passengers or not, from stealing your bags. So BE WARY and think about this the next time you travel on a domestic flight.