Traveler warns of baggage thefts at Sea-Tac

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by HEATHER GRAF / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherGrafK5

KING5.com

Posted on April 4, 2014 at 9:54 PM

Updated Saturday, Apr 5 at 10:44 AM

A Bellingham woman wants to warn anyone and everyone flying into Sea-Tac Airport, after she says her suitcase was stolen right off the baggage carousel.

Julie Thayer was flying from Fresno to Seattle last month.

After her flight landed, Thayer says she stopped at a bathroom on her way to baggage claim.  When she reached the carousel about ten minutes later, her suitcase was nowhere to be found.

"It was a really small bag," she said.  "And I thought, okay, I just have to wait a few minutes.  So I walked around the carousel a few times, and that's when I asked, has the luggage from Fresno already come through, and they said yes, ten minutes ago."

That's when she knew something was wrong.

Port of Seattle Police told Thayer her bag had likely been stolen, and the chances of finding it were slim.  It was hard to hear, she says, because her entire jewelry collection was in that suitcase.

"And I said, you don't understand, this is all I have left of my grandmother and mother.  Each piece of my jewelry was like a milestone for something that happened in my life.  It was family heirlooms," she said.

A spokesperson for Sea-Tac Airport told KING 5 it is a problem the staff is aware of.

Approximately 25 million bags go through the airport each year.  In 2007, there were 289 bag thefts.  In 2013, there were 131 bag thefts.

Sea-Tac credits the 55% reduction from 2007 to 2013 to a number of new policies that were put in place to combat the problem.

That includes video surveillance, both undercover and uniformed officers in baggage claim, and enhanced patrols during busy travel periods like holidays and summer months.

They say criminals view the busy spring and summer travel period we're now heading into as an opportunity, and travelers need to be proactive.

Sea-Tac offers these tips to protect yourself:

-Don't pack expensive items or valuables in checked luggage

-Bags look alike, make yours identifiable

-Be at the bag claim when your bags arrive after a flight, don't stop for food, drink, or restrooms until after you get your bag

-Take a picture of what's in your bag

-Report any stolen items to police

It's advice Thayer wishes she had known before she traveled, but she also feels that more need to be done to secure the baggage claim area.

"You can't take a bottle of water through security of even a cup of coffee, but yet where your bags come off the carousel, random people off the streets can just walk in and take your bag," she said.  "It makes no sense."

Thayer's suitcase was found a few days later and more than a hundred miles from the airport, ditched on the side of a road in Ellensburg.  It was empty, except for a few pieces of clothing.  The jewelry has not been recovered.

Port of Seattle Police have released still photos, taken from surveillance cameras, that show the woman suspected of taking Thayer's bag.

She is hopeful someone will recognize the woman.

"I'm not giving up," she said.

If you have any information about the woman seen in those photos, call Port of Seattle Police.

Police have made 25 arrests for baggage theft at Sea-Tac in the last three years, including three arrests made in 2014.

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