Reports of baggage theft very rare, airports say BWI called no exception despite suspect's arrest

September 06, 1996|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The baggage claim operation at Baltimore-Washington International Airport is no better or worse than at any other airport around the country, despite fears raised by the arrest of a Baltimore man who police say was part of a ring of thieves that stole luggage from carousels.

Less than 1 percent of passengers at BWI report bags stolen to airport police each year. In 1995 -- the year officials say the theft ring began operating -- 131 bags were reported stolen from 13.2 million customers, according to Kerry Brandt, Maryland Transportation Authority Police spokesman

This year, 62 bags have been reported stolen from 7.7 million passengers who used BWI through July.

Nationally, only one in every 33,333 bags was reported stolen from airports in 1995, the most recent year for which information is available, according to the Air Transport Association. The group's 24 members carry 95 percent of airline passengers and cargo in the United States, said spokesman David Fuscuf.

"This is not a huge problem, really," he said. "Every day, airlines handle 2 million checked bags and 99.9 percent of them arrive where they're supposed to be."

Norman Alt, 62, of the 1200 block of James St. was arrested Wednesday and charged with 10 counts of felony theft and two counts of conspiracy to commit theft after a six-month investigation. He was released on $7,500 bond.

The arrest came eight weeks after police said they found 40 pieces of luggage filled with jewelry, clothing, books and personal items in a raid at Alt's house. Police suspect several other people were involved, but no one else has been charged and no arrests are imminent, transportation authority police spokeswoman Lori Vidil said.

Police say they believe the thieves mingled with passengers at the baggage claim terminals, picked luggage off the carousels that distribute it luggage to passengers and walked out.

Some airlines have workers to match passengers' luggage with their baggage claim tickets, but airlines at BWI and most other airports do not.

Federal Aviation Administration guidelines dictate that airlines are responsible for luggage from the time a passenger checks a bag to the time it is picked up at the claim area, according to FAA spokesman Mark Hess.

When a plane lands, airline workers gather the luggage from the belly of the plane, place it on carts and take it to the baggage claim area, where the bags are placed on conveyor belts and delivered to customers, Fuscuf said.

Once luggage gets to the baggage claim area, passengers are free to pick up their bags and depart unless an employee is checking claim tickets.

Most airlines rely on off-duty police officers, security cameras and other measures provided by the airports to protect baggage from theft, airline spokesmen said.

But claim checks are "done at relatively few airports, and one of the reasons is that passengers don't like it," said Paul Turk, a spokesman for USAir in Arlington, Va.

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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