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Coming & Going: How to protect your valuables in midair

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

In-flight crime

Airline passengers learned an unsettling truth this month: Your property can be stolen, even at cruising altitude. In one incident, the son of actress Cybill Shepherd allegedly pilfered valuables from carry-on bags while flying cross-country from San Francisco; the 22-year-old was arrested at the Philadelphia airport. In another case, five travelers flying business class from Tokyo to Paris reported missing more than $5,700. The thefts occurred while they were sleeping.

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But don't start sewing your cash into your underwear just yet. These occurrences are rare, says Kevin Coffey, a police detective who investigates crimes against travelers and runs Corporate Safety Travel, which helps visitors defend against common risks. "It's really about awareness," he says.

To protect your bags in the sky, Coffey offered the following tips:

-- Board the plane as soon as possible, so that you can claim overhead space near your seat. If your bags are out of view, passengers can rifle through them or deplane with them without your noticing.

-- Stash your bag in the compartment across from your seat, not above it, so you have better sightlines. Also, place the zippers and openings toward the back, so it's more difficult to get inside the bag.

-- Bring your valuables with you when using the lavatory or stretching your legs.

-- If you carry important items in your pants or coat pockets, keep them in a buttoned or zippered pouch to deter curious fingers.

-- In some planes, passengers can grab items placed beneath their seats by those sitting behind them. Turn your bag upside down to cover up the zipper. Or wrap the bag's strap around your foot.

-- Invest in luggage with anti-theft features, such as locks or cables that attach to fixed points. The PacSafe DaySafe 200 backpack, for example, comes with a steel-mesh-lined compartment secured by a steel cable and a padlock.

-- Before leaving the plane, account for all your belongings. If an item is missing, contact the head flight attendant and ask for assistance from airport police.

-- If any items are stolen, report the crime to both the airline and the police, and be sure to fill out a police report.

Travel ticker

US Airways, United, Delta, American and Continental have all upped charges for checked baggage. Passengers who check in at the airport will now pay $25 for the first bag and $35 for the second. Travelers who check in online save a few bucks, though those rates have increased as well. The new fees take effect on tickets booked on or after a specific date, so check with your airline. For example, passengers on US Airways must pay the higher rates on flights booked on or after Jan. 18 for travel starting Feb. 1. . . . BoltBus will start offering service to New York from a second Washington departure point, Union Station, Monday for a six-month trial period. The company will offer $1 fares on the day of the launch, offering additional promotions through Jan. 31. Info: 877-BOLT-BUS, http://www.boltbus.com. Washington Deluxe is also starting service from Union Station to New York that day. The company also has changed its reservation policy, now requiring a credit card to book. Info: 866-287-6932, http://www.washny.com. . . . To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Virginia Tourism Corp. has launched the Go Green on the Blue Ridge Parkway Sweepstakes. Sign up by Nov. 1 to win a seven-day vacation for four, including airfare, hybrid rental car and accommodations at Virginia Green properties such as the Wintergreen Resort and Shadow Mountain Escape. Info: http://www.virginia.org.

Reporting: Andrea Sachs. Help feed CoGo. Send travel news to: cogo@washpost.com. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071


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