Couple Has Thousands Of Dollars Stolen From Them In Emirates First Class

A lot of people would like to assume that their personal belongings are safe when they store them in the overhead bin of a plane. After all, the reason a lot of people carry-on rather than check bags is to avoid the risk of having things stolen. Unfortunately time and again it’s proven that this isn’t the case.

Last year I shared the story of an onboard theft on an Emirates flight from Dubai to Bangkok, which didn’t surprise me at all. As I explained at the time:

I have some friends who work for Gulf carriers who said this is especially common on routes to/from China. Apparently groups of passengers will book a trip exclusively to try and steal from other peoples’ luggage. One friend explained that to narrow down the suspects they’ll sometimes look at who just had a quick turnaround in the Middle East, because often they’re booking trips to the Middle East and back because the only purpose of the trip is onboard theft.

Now, I do tend to think that flying in a premium cabin makes you less susceptible to theft. That’s not to say you’re completely safe, but:

  • Generally someone flying for the purpose of robbing people is going to be in economy rather than business or first class, given that they have more potential victims, and the ticket is also cheaper
  • Most airlines use curtains between cabins, and it’s a lot more obvious when there’s unusual activity in a more intimate premium cabin, than in a large economy cabin

However, just because you’re in first class doesn’t mean you’re totally safe. The New Zealand Herald has the story of a couple that had thousands of dollars cash stolen from them in Emirates first class. They were returning home from a three week holiday in Europe when this happened:

The pair had splurged on some expensive items in France and had just received their tourist tax refund when they left the country. The airport insisted on paying it in cash, rather than risk something going wrong with the credit card transaction.

So when they boarded their Paris-Dubai Emirates flight on June 30 they had €2674, worth $4168 in their carry-on baggage.

The bag was stashed securely in Hay’s suite and the pair headed to the plane’s bar, where they spent around 45 minutes.

They returned, watched movies, ate and slept. Then Hay was woken – it was his time to shower, one of the perks of the expensive plane ticket.

When he came back, he went into the bag to get his pyjamas. The money was gone – all but €4.

The couple searched their seats, called the crew, and they searched the seats as well, to no avail. When they landed in Dubai they told the police and wanted to file a report, but the police said they had no jurisdiction since they hadn’t entered the country. Eventually the police said that if they cleared immigration they could file a report, but at that point they would have missed their flight, so they decided just to drop it.

The couple contacted Emirates, who responded as follows:

“Emirates does not accept liability for personal items missing onboard the flight. Some of the loss may be covered by your household or travel insurance policy. Therefore, may I suggest that you contact your Insurers who may be able to assist you with your claim.

We appreciate your support as a valued Gold Skywards passenger. I hope this unfortunate incident has not marred your impression of Emirates. We look forward to welcoming you on board Emirates flights in the future.”

The couple isn’t happy with that:

He feels Emirates has treated the couple as if they had lost the money. “We didn’t drop it. It was taken. It was theft.”

“If they came back and said, ‘we’re not liable but we appreciate your business and we look forward to having you again – here’s a couple of grand worth of vouchers or an upgrade next time from business to first class’ – that would have been dandy,” he said.

“We would have said, ‘we really appreciate that and we look forward to seeing you again’. But now we’ve decided we’re not going to go back with them next year on principle.”

I can see both sides here. On one hand I don’t think the airline has any liability, but on the other hand this is a couple that literally spent tens of thousands of dollars on the tickets (the article confirmed they paid cash) — whether it’s airline’s fault or not, these are customers you don’t want to make unhappy. So gesture of goodwill doesn’t seem out of place.

But I really do sympathize with the couple here. You trust that when you leave stuff in your first class suite, it’ll be safe. Are you supposed to take all your valuables with you to the bar at the back of the cabin? Literally no one does that. Now, I suppose they could have taken their cash, though no one would take their laptop, etc.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think this was an inside job. If it were, this would have been done on a flight to an outstation, rather than a flight to the UAE. If a crewmember had been found to be involved they’d not only be fired, but deported immediately. This is one of the reasons there’s very little crime in the UAE.

So, what happened? There’s no way to know for sure, but my guess is that someone involved in one of these theft rings snuck up their stairs from economy to the upper deck, quickly rummaged through the suite, and found the cash. Usually there would be a shower attendant stationed at the top of the stairs, but it’s possible that she was cleaning one of the showers while this happened.

Like I said, onboard theft is a thing people do professionally — this isn’t some amateur crime. Always keep that in mind in the back of your head when flying.

(Tip of the hat to Geoffrey)

Comments

  1. Paying cash to buy tickets in 2017? Getting cash refunds? Something is rotten in the state of Denmark…

  2. What about one of the other first class passengers? I can’t believe EK is taking this so lightly.

  3. If the airport paid them in euros as the article suggested, they could have easily brought that with them to the bar/shower.

  4. It’s fake; the ‘claim’ was filed in order to squeeze money from the company… and pay the ticket that way.

    United but in First Class…

  5. Thanks for this info. I have done many tax refund transactions and have never asked for the cash or never been told to take the cash. I have them refund the credit card and it has always gone through. This is a sad situation; however I would never want to carry that much cash.

    IMHO – always put the refund on your card. They give you a receipt to ensure it does go back on the card.

  6. “So when they boarded their Paris-Dubai Emirates flight on June 30 they had €2674, worth $4168 in their carry-on baggage”

    Please let me know where I can swap out my 2674 euro for 4168 us dollars. I have some transactions I’d like to do.

  7. Call me skeptical.

    First, €2674 hasn’t been worth $4,168 for a long time.

    Second, VAT in France is about 20%, so a refund of €2674 would mean purchases of over €13,000 euros and more likely around €23,000 as many merchants use a service that takes a third of the refund. Do people spend this much? Every day.

    Does an airport “insist on using cash rather than risk something going wrong with the credit card transaction”? It’s not ‘the airport’ who gives a detaxe refund, it’s a commercial service within the airport. And if a service did ‘insist’ on forcing customers to take that kind of refund in cash, I would start the questions there and check the manifest for late booking passengers.

    Last, I lock my carry-on luggage before leaving my seat.

  8. Could they not just look at footage from the camera at the back of the first class cabin that live streams to the pursers office?

  9. I hate it when European airports FORCE me to take thousands of euros in cash.

    There are receipts, right?

  10. @rjb: I was about to write the same thing. I am next in line to exchange euros at that exchange rate.
    As for the money stolen, people think because they are in an “upscale” environment nothing will happen. That is where things usually go wrong. I never leave anything unlocked on the overhead bin.

  11. Does the camera in the First cabin record footage or just live stream? If the former it would have been reasonable to expect Emirates to review it.

  12. @ Sam — Not disagreeing on any of the other points, but keep in mind the dollar amount was NZD and not USD.

  13. ALWAYS lock your carryon bag regardless of what class you fly in. Full stop. If it doesn’t lock, put it under your seat.

    Reminds me of an episode in Singapore where some Chinese nationals stole some cash on a Tiger Air flight, and the police actually tracked them down and arrested them. They made the case into an episode of “Crimewatch” on Singapore TV. The whole case and reenactments are riveting and the deductive logic of the police impressive:

    Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rmcDzie9bI
    Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClLQRP927NY

  14. No one deserves or expects thieves to be roaming furst class cabins, but you’ve also got to use common sense. My wallet, passport and other small valuables aren’t flung up in the overhead bin. And I’m certainly not keeping them in my pocket for 4 or 8 or 12 hours. Every luxury seat has small hideaways and closed compartments to store items. It’s a lot more difficult to pull off a theft if the thief has to actually get into your seat and start rummaging around.

  15. This is why I always keep valuables with me. Even if it means going to the toilet with my laptop.

  16. It doesn’t sound very believable. The fact that they magically took the refund in cash and somehow when they got up, it was stolen, except for 4 Euros. Okay……..

    Seems like the crooked doctor who squeezed money from United has opened the door to people targeting airlines now.

  17. Really stinks about the cash, but a lesson learned (credit to account, valuables on hand, locked luggage). As a side note, I actually like when people travel with conspicuous expensive luggage as it gives me the perception that I’m potentially in a safer position – “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you.”

  18. Locking most cabin bags is as good as useless to secure belongings from professional thieves.

    Bags with locked zippers are generally very easily opened even without unlocking/breaking the locks. An ordinary pen or letter opener is usually more than sufficient to get into a locked bag with a zipper.

  19. Why not provide a safe for first class passengers? When I have cash at a hotel and there’s no safe in the room, I ask for it to be kept in the hotel safe. The hotel will usually seal the cash in an envelope and get me to sign over the seal, before storing it in the safe.

  20. Ben-

    Your post did not say NZD.

    So the story is that a detaxe shop in France insisted that this couple take 2,678 NZD, which the shop at a French airport just happened to have in stock?

    I guess the tooth fairy was off that night and didn’t need the cash to put under pillows.

  21. This has come out as fake. The (gay) couple has been busted as attempting to perpetrate a scam.
    I guess this explains a bit more about why they didn’t want to file a claim with the police in the UAE. Wonder what the penalty is for theft…especially whilst gay.

  22. Sorry. Emirates is not responsible. Nor should Emirates or any airline just take the story at face value and give the customer some money. It is not like some little kid lost their money and the parents make it up to them.

    I fail to see the logic in holding the airline responsible. It sucks. It is wrong. But sometimes life is like that.

  23. @ Sam — The story says they were given EUR:
    “So when they boarded their Paris-Dubai Emirates flight on June 30 they had €2674, worth $4168 in their carry-on baggage.”

  24. My 11-year-old son’s iPod was stolen while he slept with it on top of him (with headphones on & attached) in business/first on Aer Lingus Boston to Dublin. I was told later by a flight attendant while flying Cathay Pacific business ORD-HKG class that this is pretty common.

  25. I do find it hard to believe that a random passenger randomly searched the stowed away bag and got lucky to find this jackpot.

    Maybe another passenger who also did a VAT refund noticed the big payout and saw where the couple put it.

    Maybe it was already stolen in the terminal and the couple only noticed it later.

    Maybe it was an inside job. Maybe the couple “complained” to the crew at some point, that they were surprised that french VAT refunds can not be processed cash-less etc. Then the crew saw them proceed to the bar. 3k euros is probably 2 months’ wages for the Emirates flight attandants. That is not small money. If they collude, nothing can be done about it.

  26. I always wear a money belt when I’m abroad. It’s impossible to have my passport/cards/cash stolen by stealth, unless the thief wants to shove their hand down the front of my pants. Better to be slightly uncomfortable than have my trip ruined because someone went through my bag.

  27. i am really in favor of installing security cameras all over the airplane. this will cut down on theft and monitor crew/airport officers along with abusive customers.

  28. I normally prefer VAT cash refunds as opposed to credit card because I’ve been burned on credit card refunds in the past. That said, I keep the cash on my person at all times.
    A friend who is a FA for AA with 43 years experience working now mostly international routes says that laptops, cameras and passports are occasionally stolen on these flights in both Y and J cabins. I travel solo with an expensive camera set up and the camera gear (inside my backpack) goes with me into the lavatory. I get some strange looks but better safe than sorry.

  29. Not an expert on the NZ insurance market, but my household insurance covers theft of personal belongings including cash while travelling (not sure of the exact amount, but much higher than what I would ever carry in cash). EK also usually makes an announcement that one should watch out for the valuables. Leaving that amount of money out of sight for so long is just negligent.

  30. $10 lock is cheap insurance. You can skip the cheap TSA approved locks and purchase a quality lock for your carry on for your valuables.

  31. I have traveled pretty extensively and I have only lost denim blue jeans in Africa to theft. Blaming an airline for stuns me! I think the couple should be fined an additional $5000.00 nzd for being so careless! I am with @Donna. My expensive gear never leaves my line of site!

  32. I have carried a few thousand $$$ on me while traveling and it surely was not out of my sight. And my carry on is in the bin above me in economy. If in were traveling first and went to tje bar for 5 minutes my values would be with me. Actually I think economy is safer for valuable in the overhead, no one knows who is traveling with who and would have to be pretty dam brave to pilfer through stuff. I guess my problem of being a light sleeper and having difficulty sleeping on planes with so many strangers is actually a good thing.

  33. I experienced theft by an economy passenger on Alitalia while I sat in business. The economy passenger went up and down both aisles in biz looking into every seat. I pointed it out to the crew who said she is looking for coffee. I discovered my goods were missing from my shopping bag in front of my seat she must have accessed through the empty seat in front. Airline did nothing. Never flying them again

  34. It should be pretty easy for the airlines to put recording cameras on planes. Strange that they don’t!

  35. At the end of the day, I don’t actually expect Emirates to pay out anything. Would it have been a great PR move if they comped it all? Yes. But then you might have situations where passengers are claiming the money is stolen and expect the airline to pay out. What I would’ve expected from them is a more determined response, and I also would’ve expected dubai police to be able to arrest anyone transiting. I mean, it’s still their country.

  36. I always sleep with my passport and phone in my pockets, even if thats uncomfortable, and I always have a lock in my backpacks main zipper. Its the little things, always good to be careful.

  37. Something shady about this story:
    1.) Leave so much cash in your carry-on laying there? please…
    2.) What made them mid flight reach for their bags and check if the cash was still there?
    3.) Went into the bag to get his pijamas? Seriously? Emirates provides one with pijamas, there was no need to open their bag and coincidentally notice the cash was missing.
    IMHO, the real thieves in this situation are the couple.

  38. @Sam “Ben- Your post did not say NZD.”

    You’re right. He just quotes from a source called the New Zealand Herald. Why would you think that source would convert EUR to USD?

  39. seriously…watch your stuff! It doesn’t really matter WHICH class of service you are in but here’s a newsflash for the genius who said it doesn’t usually happen to upper class service…Why would you want to rob lower class if you are thief? They are looking at the well dressed folks who have enough money to presumably spend $8000 or $10000 for a few hours in a better seat on a plane! That’s what I’d look for because there is a very strong likelihood that they also spent a lot more on their luggage, jewels, electronics and probably have cash and high credit limit cards to boot! Be on the lookout for people trying to distract you by asking questions when you are CLEARLY trying to load/unload and complete a task, a buddy turns your attention away and they walk off with your things. Maybe I read too many novels where some poor slob is scammed but I don’t trust ANYONE anymore when I am in an unfamiliar environment. If I have valuables in the overhead, I watch them like a hawk and hubby and I take turns using the lav, walking around plane, etc so things are never unattended.

  40. “When they landed in Dubai they told the police and wanted to file a report, but the police said they had no jurisdiction since they hadn’t entered the country. Eventually the police said that if they cleared immigration they could file a report, but at that point they would have missed their flight, so they decided just to drop it.”

    I might have wished Emirates could have helped them to get on a later flight, so they could fill out that police report. If Emirates did that, then the couple could not complain and Emirates would have come out as good samaritans.
    A win-win situation for both parties.

  41. 2 possibilities:
    1) Fake News
    2) or the couple are total morons.

    Anyone who has read this blog for years knows that Lucky had his PANTS stolen from the overhead during a FC flight. Possibly to sell on Ebay to some over the top OMAAT fan. 😉

    When traveling I always use a concealed passport wallet inside my clothes, carrying my passport, ccs, priority pass card, global entry card, cash, and any other valuables. When sleeping in FC, I still wear it inside my pajamas; not to mention when going to the bar for 45 minutes. I put that on before I get in the UBER to the airport, and don’t take it off until I’m safely home with the door locked. That despite the fact that I use an ATM card that charges no fees at all, so that I only withdraw as much cash as I expect to use that same day.

    Best guess, the couple hoped that Emirates would give them the money they claimed to have had stolen, or at least comp them that amount for future flights, just to avoid the bad publicity that this story obviously caused. But Emirates is not that stupid. Once you establish that precedent more and more scam artists will make similar claims.

    Besides, who believes that the VAT refund site would insist on giving out tens of thousands of Euros in cash every day, rather than simply refunding to a cc? The risk of robbery, fraud, and mistakes that cannot be reversed once the scam artist walks off with the cash is clearly nothing a business would want to take on. I call BS on the entire story.

  42. All they have to do is file a NZ police/their version of FBI report and watch how soon EK
    sends them a “gesture of goodwill”

  43. Weird story as I got tax refund several times. France pays back 10% (not the 20% you paid) when you use the credit cars and only 8% if you want to have cash. So € 2674 in cash means they left already € 668 behind. These people don’t care about money at all. By the way they had to spend a value of € 33,425 to get back this amount. Sounds fake to me.

  44. Given the choice of taking cash or put it on my credit card I always put it on my card as putting on the card gets me more back. They take an extra fee for paying you in cash.

  45. I had 1500 USD stolen on a flight from Delhi to Hong Kong 2 years ago. I thought that the money was stolen at the hotel , however after doing some research I narrowed it down to the flight . The strange thing was I had various other currencies, euros sterling , however only the dollars were taken . There is really not much anyone can do at that point , especially if u find out later. Ever since then , I always lock my cabin bag , and I place it in the overhead rack on the seat opposite to me, so I can it clearly.

  46. refunds are given back on credit cards. Its ridiculous to say that the people at the airport insisted they take cash. It smells and makes no sense.

    that said………if there was a REAL theft it would not surprise me that it was on EK. As impressed as people are with their “bling” i find their service un-professional and superficial. There is a huge diff between a young crew in F on EK versus a seasoned crew in F on LX or LH … Sure, its a matter of choice and preference. But between the poorer catering and inexperience cabin staff on EK ………….I will take an seasoned crew any day. Any good Asian carrier (CX, SQ) or a top rate European one (LH, LX)…

    The response from EK does not surprise me. They do NOT have any liability in this case – I do agree with that. But they also have a haughty approach to who they are that I find disconcerting. Hey EK……………the gig is up. You need to start making money and earn your wings . Lets see how well you do

  47. What does everyone else do with valuables during an overnight flight. I usually don’t sleep too well but will keep phone and wallet in my pants pocket as I sleep or if I change to pjs then put them in a carry on. My slr camera is in carry on in overhead bin. My wife keeps her purse next to her. Not sure if those are the best way to keep secure.

  48. Oh I totally think the airline has some obligation when it comes to the security of the belongings of passengers once people are boarded. Maybe not legally liable but their response was totally unacceptable. If some other passenger is going through bags that do not belong to them id expect staff to be alert for that especially since this is very common in that area of the world and has been so for years. This is not a new thing that just started happening I remember dealing with these concerns in china two years ago.

  49. TSA locks or any other locks, if your valuables are locked up in a bag/compartment that is opened with a zipper, then your items are easily stolen if you’re not watching your bags. Zippers on locked bags are easily opened without even unlocking the locks. If you want to secure your belongings, a zipper with a lock is generally as good as useless for security.

  50. @windswd: Good luck with that if you have several refunds in several credit cards. I am still waiting for VAT refunds on credit cards from purchases made over 10 years ago. When you try to complain the credit card company blames the refund company and vice versa. As my finance professor at university used to say:”Cash is king”. I get my cash and I know I received what I was supposed to receive.

  51. I can tell you that First Class and occossionally Business pax often try this scam. This is a known tactic.

    One time, this same episode happened on my flight DXB-BKK – a First Class pax claimed that the CSA had stolen $10k in cash from his jacket whilst in the shower.

    He asked for the police to file a report in the terminal – we thought it was bs – but we didn’t want a police incident hanging over us on the multi sector trip. So we had crew and their bags searched.

    Of course, nothing was found. And the man in question, walked off without a care in the world. Almost as if he hadn’t just lost $10k…

    If this couple had money stolen they’d be fuming, not suggesting they get a free upgrade on their next flight. Rolled my eyes pretty hard at that.

    You’d be surprised to hear the other ways that premium pax try to wangle free stuff.

  52. WAIT! Hold up! Doesn’t Emirates have a camera on the back wall of the first class cabin?

  53. What they could do, in F/J long-haul, is have a electronically locked small storage pocket/unit in the seat than can only be opened with close contact with an RFID chip emitting the correct key.

    At the beginning of the flight, the lock is inactive, but while pre-departure beverages are being served, the FAs can hand out small wristbands containing the RFID chip — such that only the seat owner can open the storage pocket when the lock is activated. The lock is activated after all the wristbands are handed out. The FA can deactivate the locks after the wristbands are collected before landing. This allows pax to stow some objects when they arrive at their seat immediately instead of waiting for the wristbands to be handed out.

    Unless said pax don’t leave their wristbands lying around, this should be fine. Of course, this poses the risk of a tech-savvy thief looting everything, but if the airline takes cybersecurity seriously, this will drastically reduce the chance of getting your valuables stolen. At least in F/J.

  54. GU Wonder-

    An unlocked carry-on can be opened in a motion consistent with normal behavior. A carry-on locked, even with a cheap lock, can be opened only with atypical actions, such as tearing into the zipper. Unless it’s a victim chosen in advance, the smart thief knows this and goes on to the next unlocked bag.

    Those You Tube videos show what can be done, not the circumstances where they are likely to be done.

  55. Did a tax refund in Paris last month and they ask you whether you prefer a cash or card return; like the majority of other airports in Europe – plus they would have filed a full tax refund report which shows the exact amount – probably a better way to approach Emirates if they had lost cash. Also, the reaction of ‘feeling better’ upon receiving a business or first ticket because of the incident alone shows that they wanted nothing but a free trip – emirates should be happy they will not return – although i m sure he will especially if he wants to continue earning status…

  56. Actually I just lost my secondary wallet containing various currencies and most importantly my wedding ring, somewhere in-between check in, F lounge and end of flight on AA PVG-LAX J class two weeks ago. While I can’t be 100% sure that it was stolen, judging by the fact that my passport, usually inside the purse was the only thing left, i’m pretty certain it was stolen. AA, even the twitter team was totally unhelpful even towards me as OWE. I now learnt my lesson and will never leave any valuable out of my sight, even for a short toilet trip.

  57. The story and responses bring two things to mind. I think it would be great if the overhead bins in the premium cabin were to have programmable locks. Also, I agree that it makes zero sense that the passengers would stow that much money in their bag. I have travelled with a fair amount of cash and I kept it on my person at all times.

  58. Wow, I empty my pockets and put everything in my backpack – wallet, keys, even my passport. Nice to have empty pockets when flying. Then I stick it in the overhead bin and forget about it. Maybe I’ll act differently next time.

  59. Would you go to a bar and leave that amount of cash in a bag on the back of your chair? No. If the airline gives any gesture of goodwill, it opens the floodgates for fraudulent claims. This is the sorry state of society.

  60. If I may share a funny story (well not so funny at the time). My partner and I were flying back from Phoenix to LHR on BA first. Only seats we could get were 2A and 2K. I make my way to 2K and he, by mistake sits in 3A and makes himself comfortable. I hadn’t yet noticed but the flight attendant came over to tell him he was in the wrong seat so picked up his things and moved to 2A. Turns out that 3A passenger had already arrived beforehand but was in the toilet while this all happened. When my partner moved he picked up the BA first complimentary washbag that was in 3A. Fast forward 3 hours and everyone is relaxing after dinner or asleep. Turns out the man in 3A had stashed £1,500 cash in the washbag and reports it missing to flight attendant. Flight attendant remembers that my partner had sat in that seat, wakes him up, asks to check his washbag and of course finds the cash still hidden in there all unbeknownst to my partner. So you’d think it’s a happy ending. No. Man in 3A is convinced my partner tried to steal his cash and demands to speak to the pilot. The crew try to explain to 3A that it is all an honest mistake and that my partner picked up the washbag by mistake and never knew what was in it. 3A insists that crew advise police at LHR which apparently they have to do if requested. We land and three policeman board the flight, interview both of us, the crew and the man in 3A. One hour later we are finally allowed to leave, without charge.

  61. If this is accurate, I agree that the airline could’ve just given them a few upgrades etc. The couple didn’t come off as blaming them and these upgrades are surely budgeted for some discretionary usage. My husband and I had a bag of duty-free shopping stolen from business class on Delta and we received a beautiful handwritten note from the CEO. You’d be surprised at how much good that did.

  62. I’ve was robbed – not much – only around HKD1200 (GBP120) on an Emirates flight Hong Kong to Dubai in May 2017. Flight attendants told me to make a report once I reached Dubai International Airport. Got to the small police office – they said they couldn’t do anything as I didn’t have any proof. One officer said I could have simply spent the money and forgot – as though I was a gullible 8-year-old. After about 10 minutes saying that the flight attendants told me I needed to make a report – another officer just ended the conversation with “It was nice to meet you”… As in… Go away now fella.

  63. Couldn’t the airline have had police board the plane and have everyone have their bags searched on the way out?

  64. Why do you keep sharing old news? This is the second such story that not only is months old but has already been shared by you. Nothing new to share?

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