When it comes to security, the “biggest threat” currently faced by Qatar Airways is passengers stealing from other passengers during flights, according to the airline’s chief executive.
In an interview this week, CEO Akbar Al Baker described this type of theft as a “new phenomenon” for the national carrier, saying it was a problem that began about a year ago and was becoming a “growing security issue.”
The official made the comments yesterday during a wide-ranging interview with CNBC journalist Hadley Gamble while at the ongoing Dubai Airshow.
In a transcript of the interview, posted online by the news organization, Al Baker is reported to have responded to questions about regional security by saying:
“Our biggest threat to day for us is pilferage inside airplanes. This is a new phenomenon which at Qatar Airways we discovered around a year ago and now we are providing our fellow colleagues in the region and our airline partners (with assistance) about this growing security issue where passengers are travelling from point a to point b and then going through passengers baggage in the bins and pilferaging (sic) valuable items and money.”
He said theft of passengers’ belongings while they were on board has been found to be a particular problem on flights “from a certain country,” but didn’t specify where.
He added that the airline has “been able to apprehend large number of individuals,” without elaborating on the routes most affected or the number of people who have been arrested.
The chief said that crew have been trained to be extra vigilant, particularly on night flights when the cabin lights are dimmed.
However, the precautions do not include installing additional security cameras or other surveillance measures, he added.
Meanwhile, passengers onboard Qatar Airways are being reminded to take care of their belongings while flying.
In a statement issued to Doha News, Qatar Airways declined to comment on the routes affected by pilfering, saying:
“With regard to any reported thefts, Qatar Airways works fully with the relevant authorities and assists as required in any legal proceedings.”
In a separate interview yesterday with the Associated Press on the sidelines of the airshow, Al Baker reportedly expressed confidence in Egyptian security procedures, despite last week’s crash of a Russian Metrojet A321 aircraft over the Sinai peninsula that killed all 224 people onboard.
“We have complete confidence that the Egyptian authorities are quite capable of making sure that the airspace is safe,” the news wire reported Al Baker as saying.
Following the incident, Qatar Airways said it was temporarily suspending all its flights across the peninsula, pending the outcome of investigations into the cause of the accident.
Last night, Britain’s foreign secretary Philip Hammond said the crash of the airliner heading from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was “more likely than not” caused by an explosive device smuggled onto the plane by “operatives” either inspired or related to the Islamic State extremist group.
He added that Britain was working with Egyptian authorities and airlines to put in place “robust” security arrangements, ABC News reported.
Security measures in Egypt and more widely throughout the region have been under intense scrutiny following the incident.
Officials in US homeland security are reportedly looking at ways to tighten up what is described as an “insider security threat” potentially from aviation workers at its 450 airports, CNN reports.
Meanwhile, US authorities said last week that it was adding extra security measures on some flights from the Middle East.
Al Baker has not publicly commented on whether this will affect existing security procedures at its Doha hub of Hamad International Airport.
The airline’s admission of the scale of the problem surrounding thefts mid-air follows an apparent increase in reports from travelers who have been victims while flying.
The problem is not faced by Qatar Airways alone. In July this year, Hong Kong Free Press reported that a 42-year-old business class passenger from mainland China was arrested when the Dragonair flight he was traveling on touched down at Hong Kong airport.
He was suspected of stealing thousands of dollars in cash, a mobile phone and a laptop from passengers.
Meanwhile, 2014 figures released by Singapore’s Attorney General’s chambers showed that 47 people – 41 of whom were from Henan in China – were arrested that year for stealing on flights operated by Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Tigerair.
Earlier this summer, a passenger’s recounting of an attempted theft of his possessions while onboard a flight to Hong Kong went viral on Facebook.
The man, who did not specify his airline or the flight’s origin, said that when he arrived, he checked his cabin luggage and discovered that his wife’s jewelry and some cash had been stolen during the flight.
Other passengers on the flight also discovered they had had items stolen.
“It turned out to be a passenger standing in front of me who, once identified, proceeded to offload money, jewelry, camera equipment and false documents, running into tens of thousand, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stolen goods,” the man said.
Police were reportedly called on to the flight and the thief was arrested.
Expert tips for minimizing mid-air thefts include keeping passports, a credit card and any medication on your person when flying, not traveling with expensive or sentimental jewelry and locking all cabin baggage if possible.
Have you ever had items stolen on a flight? Thoughts?