By Arab News
By Ibrahim Nafee
Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) recently thwarted schemes by international gangs to carry out thefts onboard
The schemes involved rummaging passengers’ bags and stealing their money and belongings while they were asleep or in toilets.
Mansour Al-Bader, media and public relations director at Saudia, confirmed that Saudi Arabian Airlines crew successfully thwarted three robbery attempts during the month of October, which were attempted at different points during the trip by a group of Chinese nationals. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had previously informed airlines around the world, including Saudi Arabian Airlines, about efforts of internationally organized gangs to carry out thefts during flights.
He said that individuals from gangs who board flights in groups of three or four, wear shirts of the same color, sit separately and keep their baggage in the overhead compartment. This gives them an excuse to open overhead lockers without arousing suspicion.
Saudia had passed the information received by IATA to its crew to look out for suspicious movements of passengers of different nationalities during flights.
Recently, after passengers boarded Flight 567 from Dubai to Jeddah, a Chinese passenger aroused suspicion when he moved around the cabin and went to the toilet repeatedly. He later changed his seat.
As the plane prepared for landing, a flight attended noticed the Chinese passenger trying to pull the bag of another passenger in front of him from under her seat. The attendant immediately warned the passenger to keep an eye on her bag and sat down next to her. The pilot was informed of the incident, and he notified the tower to ensure that security was available on the plane’s arrival at the gate. Police took him into custody at the airport.
A similar incident took place on Flight 576 from Jeddah to Abu Dhabi, where a thief was caught stealing $2,000 from a young Sudanese passenger last month.
The incident took place on Oct. 16, when a Chinese passenger boarded the flight alone dressed in a black T-shirt. The passenger had arrived from Istanbul and was on his way to Abu Dhabi via Jeddah, and appeared to be a member of the international gang. He began to move around frequently and head to the bathroom, and on his way “would take a quick look at passengers in their seats.”
In row 41, a young Sudanese man had just finished his meal and reclined his seat back to rest, eventually falling asleep with his bag under the seat in front of him.
Noticing the passenger had fallen asleep, and without being aware of being monitored by the cabin crew, the Chinese passenger pretended to fall asleep too. Five minutes later, a flight attendant noticed he had moved to another vacant seat. At this point the crew realized informed the flight supervisor and captain of the incident, who approached the Sudanese passenger and discreetly asked him to check if something was missing from his bag. The passenger checked and discovered he was missing $2,000. While the plane was descending for landing at Abu Dhabi, the captain informed the airport tower of the theft.
When the crew took extra time to open the aircraft door, the Chinese passenger went to the toilet. Upon searching the toilet after he left, the crew found an envelope with $2,000 in the toilet trashcan.
Police arrested the thief. The Sudanese passenger offered a cash bonus to the flight attendant for her help in identifying the thief, but she declined.