For Passengers, Arrest of Baggage Handlers Confirms Long-Held Suspicions


JANUARY 06, 2016

Jakarta. Okka Wiranata, 30, was traveling from Jakarta to the resort islands of Derawan in East Kalimantan in 2012, and during his transit in Tarakan airport, North Kalimantan, he noticed that the outer compartment of his suitcase was slightly unzipped.

“My perfume and Swiss army knife were missing. They must have been stolen somewhere between Jakarta and Tarakan,” he told the Jakarta Globe, adding that he wasn't sure exactly where the thieves might be operating because the Sriwijaya plane he took also transited in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan.

A similar incident happened to Winny, 27, who was shocked when she found the contents of her suitcase in disarray and its double padlocks broken after a recent Lion Air flight from Medan, North Sumatra to Batam, Riau Islands. No valuables were stolen, but she suspected the culprit had targeted a make-up pouch in her suitcase.

“A lot of my friends think the [make-up] pouch looks like a jewelry case, but it's not. I knew someone had gone through my luggage because I had packed it myself,” Winny told Globe, adding that she did not lodge a complaint because she only discovered the mess after arriving at her hotel.

Meanwhile, Devi Rameiyanti, 30, said she recently lost her suitcase while en route to Penang, Malaysia, from Medan, North Sumatra, last week.

Devi had first traveled with Lion Air before switching flights in Aceh to Lion's subsidiary Wings Air.

“The [suitcase] contains my make-up, clothes and a DSLR camera charger,” she told the Globe.

For many Indonesians, this week's arrest of four Lion Air employees for allegedly stealing items from checked bags at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (Soetta) came as no surprise and in fact confirmed their long-held suspicions.

The arrests stemmed from a complaint filed on Nov. 16, 2015, with airport police who subsequently joined forces with airport operator Angkasa Pura II to set up CCTV cameras in the baggage handling areas at Soetta. The cameras later recorded a group of baggage handlers opening luggage, rifling through the contents and stealing items.

Police identified the suspects as Saefulloh, 22; Madun, 29; Angga Jaya Pratama, 28 and Andi Hermanto, 29. All worked for Lion Air and were subsequently fired from the company. Saefulloh claimed the airline’s security guards were also in on the racket, adding that the suspects had stolen from passengers' suitcases on at least 13 separate occasions.

Airport Police's criminal unit chief Comr. Aszhari Kurniawan said the arrest might be the tip of the iceberg, with one suspect claiming the practice is rampant and has been going on for so long it is considered “a tradition” passed on from seniors to new recruits.

“There is peer pressure [amongst baggage handlers]; those who refuse to take part [in stealing] are ostracized, which is why so many of them are involved,” Aszhari said as quoted by

“The suspects claimed they had worked under a system with [airport] security officials  who are supposed to be monitoring them. These officials would then transport the stolen goods to a restricted area. The goods are sold and the money divided [amongst those involved].”

Police are still working the investigation and may make more arrests.

Meanwhile, Police in Semarang, Central Java, unraveled a similar case last week, detaining one baggage handler working at the city's Ahmad Yani airport for trying to steal a Garuda Airline passenger's Rolex watch. He was in possession of two cellphones, two more watches and a black handbag during his arrest.

The suspect, identified as 21-year-old Priyo Adi Wicaksono, similarly claimed the practice is so widespread he was compelled to get in on the action.

“I learned [to steal] from my seniors. At first, I was only told to watch [over the stolen goods], over time I began [stealing] myself,” Priyo told the West Semarang subdistrict police office on Tuesday.

He claimed he had also stolen cash while working at the airport.

Investigators are developing the case, West Semarang Police chief Comr. Cahyo Widyatmoko said on Tuesday, adding that Priyo had given them a list of associates known to take part in the practice.

Both arrests have prompted calls for police to launch an investigation in other airports, with aviation experts saying the thefts paint a worrying picture of aviation security and safety.

Okka, who had lost his belongings on the way to Derawan, said news of the arrests left him fearful and anxious as a passenger.

“It shows how lax airport security really is and how bad the airport recruitment system can be,” he said.

Panji Saputra, 25, whose suitcase was ripped while en route to Jakarta from Yogyakarta in 2010, questioned why it took authorities so long time to crack down on such practices.

“It was strange to hear about the Lion Air luggage theft [because] such incidents are rampant and recurring. They are systematic. But it was only recently that authorities could make an arrest,” he told the Globe, adding that luckily he hadn't lost anything during the incident with his luggage as the suitcase mainly contained clothes.

“I have been suspicious of such crimes long before this incident. But [the recent] news won't affect the way I travel. I only have to be vigilant all the time.”

Winny, however, said it is the authorities who must investigate these cases thoroughly and prevent similar incidents instead of relying on the vigilance of passengers.

“I cannot bring all of my luggage into the cabin all the time. I think both air carriers and airport operators need to take this matter seriously,” she said.