Bag tampering, theft at SA airports below global standard - Acsa

Stolen luggage often increases over the festive period because more people are travelling.
Stolen luggage often increases over the festive period because more people are travelling.
Image: Sawubona Blog

The Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) says local airports are well inside the global standard when it comes to stolen luggage or tampering with bags.

Acsa spokesperson Hulisani Rasivhaga said on Friday there were 0.4 to one bags stolen or tampered with per 1,000 bags handled while the global standard was four bags per 1,000 bags.

“It can ruin a business trip or leave a cloud over a holiday journey that should be part of a happy and pleasant break. As with any property crime, baggage pilfering can leave a victim feeling violated,” said Rasivhaga.

“It is also a reality that criminals continually test systems to find opportunities to steal. Sometimes they unfortunately succeed.”

The comments come on the heels of a tweet by anti-crime advocate Yusuf Abramjee, who pleaded with South Africans to demand action from airlines, the police, Acsa and the transport department to put a stop to bag tampering.

Acsa insisted they had “strict security protocols and processes” in place. Incidents often increased over the festive period because more people were travelling.

One problem related to handling luggage was that often less than one in 10 people working at airports were actually airport employees.

“At OR Tambo International Airport, for example, only 1,400 of the 38,000 people working there are employees of Acsa.”

Acsa said baggage handling was the responsibility of airlines who contracted ground handling companies to transport bags to and from aircraft.

Acsa said its responsibilities were to:

  • Ensure ground handling companies adhered to security and civil aviation regulations.
  • Provide the infrastructure to handle bags such as conveyor systems, luggage tag scanners and security scanners.
  • Regulate access to restricted areas, monitor CCTV cameras and checked-in baggage security scanners from a remote position.
  • Vet ground handling staff; and
  • Compile reports from airlines to find possible crime trends or loopholes.

Acsa said security measures at airports included:

  • Not allowing ground handling staff to take cellphones, watches, jewellery or electronic devices beyond passport and customs control to the "air" side.
  • Conducting security scans when employees entered or left work areas; and
  • Conducting physical searches if necessary.

Domestic airline FlySafair said on Thursday that bag tampering and theft at airports was a “huge problem”.

The airline head of sales and distribution Kirby Gordon said: “We as airlines feel that we are terribly under siege.”

Several travellers backed Abramjee’s call and shared their testimonials. Some shared pictures showing how their bags had been cut open so that items could be stolen.

Gordon said more people travelling over the festive period correlated with an increase in the the number of reported incidents.

“At this time of year, we as an airline are moving between 300,000 and 350,000 people,” he said. “That then quickly comes up to about 100 people who are reporting theft or tampering.”

Gordon said one problem was there was no single party responsible for luggage handling.


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