Stay woke: how not to get robbed while you're asleep on a plane

Image: 123RF/Hongqi Zhang

The only surprising thing about the shocking revelation that passengers were allegedly robbed of cash and jewellery while they slept on an SAA flight to Hong Kong is that it doesn't happen more often. 

Maybe it's just me, but one of the reasons I don't sleep well on planes is because I'm always keeping half a beady eye on my fellow passengers who might want to rifle through my stuff while I'm slack-jawed and drooling and getting what the airlines laughingly like to call "a rest".

Think about it, though. Your bag is in the overhead bin, unlocked and stuffed in with a bunch of strangers' bags. Everyone's engrossed in their phones, movies or iPads, or hiding under an sleep mask, and the cabin lights are off. If that happened in a bus station in, say, Guadalajara, Mexico, you'd wake up not only totally unencumbered by personal items but also naked.

Image: 123RF/Peter Titmuss

Here are my top tips for not getting robbed at 35,000 feet:

  1. Lock your carry-on bag. You'd lock your check-in baggage, wouldn't you?
  2. If you can't - or won't - lock your carry-on bag, stow it under the seat in front of you, with the zips or fasteners facing your feet (so the passenger seated in front of you doesn't feel obliged to do a little rummaging).
  3. Never keep things like phones and iPods in the sidepockets of your daypack where they are easily reached by light fingers.
  4. Keep your passport, cash and cards in a money belt and keep it close to you. If the money belt is uncomfortable, stash it in your seat pocket (see point 7).
  5. Be aware of your surroundings and your fellow passengers. If you see someone suspiciously rummaging around in the dark in an overhead bin, push that button that summons a cabin crew member. The very act of pushing the button will startle anyone up to no good. Of course, you will then have to explain to the flight attendant why you pushed the button …
  6. Don't carry too much valuable stuff with you when you travel. The less you carry, the less you have to worry about.
  7. When you leave the aircraft, do as the cabin crew ask and check the seat pocket in front of you. For that is when you will find the money belt that you stashed earlier. Going back to try get it later is a fool's errand. Trust me, I know.
  8. Finally remember that you're only allowed to bring one carry-on aboard. Stick to the rules. (See point 6.)

This article was originally published by the Sunday Times

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