Recently some friends of mine had travelled to Turkey and on their way back to Kenya they decided to make a stopover in Dubai to do some bit of shopping and sightseeing.

On their return to Kenya, via Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), one of the passengers, after long disembarking from this flight, realised he had forgotten his laptop in the aircraft. That is when drama began to unfold.

He, of course, reported the issue at the nearest left luggage desk and was told to sit and relax while someone ‘looked into the matter’. A few minutes later, there was no word about the laptop.

That is when my good friend, Sarah (not her real name), smelt a rat, as we say, in the whole ‘looking into the matter’ business.

In her usual sharp-witted mannerism, Sarah decided to run all the way back to the aircraft, by-passing every security check along the way. Right there at the exit door of the plane, just about to come down the stairs, was this guy in uniform, obviously a staff, holding the very laptop bag in question.

Sarah thought quickly and immediately approached the guy, with both her arms extended forward, in readiness to receive the lost merchandise in deep gratitude. She grabbed the bag from the thoroughly confused man and all this time continuously mumbling a sequence of thank yous as she ran back the same way she had come.

Sarah insists the look on the guy’s face was not one of excitement and pride at having made a customer happy but rather a gloomy expression settled across his face as he watched in disappointment as a golden pilfering opportunity faded away before his eyes as fast as it had appeared.

Meanwhile the guy at the left-luggage section had gotten wind of the mishap on the other side and was now frantically looking for Sarah all over, I guess to see if he could ‘salvage’ the situation.

At that very instance, the pick-up taxi that was to collect Sarah’s team at the airport arrived. The taxi driver was a seasoned guy in these matters and highly discouraged Sarah from handing over the bag to the airport guy.

They both now decided to look for the owner who by now was throwing tantrums all over the airport, crying his head out and throwing all manner of dignity to the wind. When he saw his dear beloved laptop bag, he calmed down as he excitedly received his lost but found treasure.

I am not saying there was intent to commit a crime by the airport staff, but I cannot also help but feel that the whole incident smelled a bit fishy. The orchestrated dilly-dallying, the long faces where there should have been faces of pride and joy all led to one conclusion – good was not intended.

This made me recall a similar incident where my seat mate forgot his iPhone in a flight we had come in. He never saw his phone again despite ‘frantic’ searches everywhere. Had it not been for the fast reaction by Sarah, I have a strong feeling the laptop could probably have ended the same way the iPhone did.

How often does this kind of thing happen in our airports? We may never get a definite answer to this question. One thing we can do though is ensure we safeguard ourselves against such and I just have thought through a few tips one can use to keep their luggage safe.

Try As Much As Possible To Fly Non-stop

I know budgetary constraints and, of course, the love of adventure will make it hard to keep away from taking flights with multiple connections but for your luggage safety, you may need to reconsider this and begin to fly non-stop, or at least direct. The more airports your luggage passes through, the greater the risk of pilferage.

Minimise Flight Switching

If you check in for a flight at the airport and then get on a later one instead, because, maybe, you missed a connection, your bag may remain on the original flight and arrive at baggage claim hours before you do. This causes what I like to call the ‘revolving-bag-no-owner-syndrome’ where unclaimed bags keep circling airport carousels for hours on end.

Use Airport Luggage-wrapping Service

Have you seen that wrapping machine that weaves layers of a spidery web of nylon around your bag? You should begin to think of doing this more often before check-in your bags. It costs about USD 40.00 and you save hundreds of dollars in return.

Avoid Trendy and Expensive Luggage

We all know by now what message trendy luggage sends to those around us. But on the other hand if your bag looks like all the others, a thief would find it pretty easy to swipe it from the carousel without your taking note of it.

So what is the middle ground? Consider buying luggage with unique (even screaming) colours and an odd shape or add some tag that makes it stand out such as neon tape!

Keep Your Valuables in Your Hand Luggage

Pack irreplaceable items in your hand luggage. If you must check luggage, divide your belongings among the bags of any fellow travellers so that if there’s any trouble, no one person will lose everything.

Of course this would make sense where you are travelling as a group. It becomes difficult if you are a solo traveller. So items such as electronics, cameras, jewellery, laptops or eyeglasses should not end up in your checked bags. Did you know airlines do not insure those types of items, which are a prime target for thieves?

Get Documentary Evidence

When packing, snap a photo of the items that you’re putting inside. It will help support your claim of stolen items later in case you are unlucky and get robbed.

Do Not Take Long to go to the Baggage Claim Area

We all fall for the temptation to roam around the duty-free shops trying to get ourselves or our loved ones that one last gift. Well, as you do so, remember your baggage may already be at the baggage claim area doing the ‘revolving-bag-no-owner-syndrome’ circle and you do not want that happening. At least not for too long or someone with the wrong intention will notice and take advantage!

File Claims In Time

Finally, remember that airlines generally set time limits for filing reports of missing bags. If you miss the deadline, you may miss the chance to get compensated. The time limit for our national carrier, Kenya Airways, is 3 months after which they destroy the bags in their custody.

So when you next lose a valuable item while travelling through our airspace you may consider trying your luck with the Sarah routine or just follow some of these simple luggage safety tips to safeguard your property.