Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Watch Your Watch When Going Through Airport Security

This recent headline caught my eye:

TSA Worker Swiped $7,500 Watch From Passenger at JFK, Prosecutors Charge

DNAInfo writes: “The passenger put the watch in a plastic bin to go through an x-ray machine, according to a criminal complaint. When he left the screening area without the watch, [the TSA screener] nabbed the accessory and took it into a bathroom, according to prosecutors. She then returned to the security checkpoint and saw other agents looking for the watch, got nervous and went back into the bathroom and destroyed the watch.”

A watch is easily pocketable. If you want your
Blancpain to remain your Blancpain,
wear it through airport security. Photo from
While the chance of any single passenger having something stolen while passing through airport security is miniscule, it does happen, and you could be that miniscule statistic. RT News reports: “A TSA agent convicted of stealing more than $800,000 worth of goods from travelers said this type of theft is ‘commonplace’ among airport security. Almost 400 TSA officers have been fired for stealing from passengers since 2003.”

It’s not just TSA agents who (again very rarely, but sometimes) steal from passengers. Professional thieves also know that valuable objects—computers, cash, watches, jewelry—are separated from passengers while they’re in the airport security abyss. The thieves’ method is insidious. The travel blog Flying with Fish describes their system: “They find the lowest fare for travel from a high traffic airport and check in early online. By checking in online these thieves can have their boarding pass for a 9:00 pm flight 24 hours before boarding the plane, and get through security when the security checkpoint opens at 5:00 am. The thieves spend their day people watching...The ‘professional airport thief’ has a subtle way of getting in line behind their target.”

Passengers sometimes just steal other passengers’ stuff on a whim, according to USA Today. Quoting Florida Broward County Sheriff Captain Roy Lidicott, the newspaper reports: "Most of them didn't come here with the intention to steal but they see that laptop, they see that $5,000 watch. They're overwhelmed with greed, I suppose, and they just grab it."

The airport security threshold is a risky place.

What can you do to prevent your $30,000 Blancpain from being lifted while your stuff is in the netherland of airport security, meters away, with many hands in between it and you?

The answer starts with don’t take off your watch. If you’re in the habit of taking off your watch every time you go through airport security, you will be surprised to discover that most watches, most of the time, don’t trigger the metal detector’s alarm. Even Rolexes, not known for their metallic svelteness, rarely set off airport security metal detectors.

If your watch does make things go bing bong, you’re still in good shape because at least two TSA employees have now noticed your watch, making it hard for anyone to surreptitiously steal.

But if for some reason you feel more comfortable  going through the metal detector with your watch off, park your watch in your carry-on bag. Your carry-on bag won’t be opened without you being there. Putting your watch on the tray that passes through the x-ray machine (and who knows where else it goes?) is the riskiest place of all for a watch to be.

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