Photo by TheeErin, http://www.flickr.com/photos/theeerin/

It’s a sad story, played out over and over again at airports across the globe.

In Phoenix, police uncovered 1,000 pieces of stolen luggage at a suburban Phoenix home which had been plucked off Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s baggage carousels.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, police stationed at the airport admitted to a business traveler whose luggage was stolen off the baggage carousel there that luggage theft at “Hartsfield” is an “epidemic” and “out of control.”

Late last year, Orlando International Airport decided to spend $5M to upgrade existing baggage claim areas, in large part to increase security and reduce thefts at baggage claim.

With so many reports of luggage thefts at baggage claim, it might seem as though we’re powerless to prevent the thefts of our luggage and their valuable contents, but there is actually much we can do.

Only use carry-on bags — Pack “light” if you can. Using only carry-on keeps you away from baggage claim and its luggage theft problems. It will also speed your departure from the airport and possibly save you the cost of checked luggage fees.

Keep your valuables in your carry-on luggage — As discussed in my column last week, What you shouldn’t pack in your checked luggage when flying, never pack valuables, breakables, electronics, travel documents, cash or credit cards and prescription medications in checked luggage. Keeping them safe in your carry-on is essential, especially considering the airlines won’t compensate you for their loss.

Make your luggage easily identifiable — Thieves don’t want to draw attention to themselves and their actions. It’s easier to walk away unnoticed with your bag if it’s one of those common, nondescript black roller bags. Sometimes, passengers goof and pull bags from the carousel which aren’t theirs if they haven’t done anything to make their bag not look like other passengers’ luggage.

In order to make my luggage stand out on the carousel: it’s not black; I use two, large, brightly colored identification tags attached to each handle; have a brightly colored cloth tied on to a handle and use bright red, numbered luggage seals on each zipper.

Put your baggage claim receipts in a safe place — If your bags are lost, stolen, damaged or delayed, without your baggage claim receipt you’ll likely be denied putting in a luggage claim to the airline and your insurance company. I put the receipts in a zippered pocket in my jacket. As a backup, while waiting to board my flight, I scan them into my smartphone using Genius Scan+.

Know where baggage claim is at your destination airport — You want to try to arrive at baggage claim before your luggage does to prevent it from being stolen. In some airports, baggage claim is a long way from your gate and may require a long walk, turns and stairways and sometimes a ride on a people mover. Signage directing you to baggage claim can be confusing.

Do some research in advance of your flight. Airport websites are often helpful, but I’ve found smartphone apps rarely show baggage claim locations. In-flight magazines sometimes have good terminal maps for many airports.

Listen to your flight attendants — Larger airports can have many baggage claim carousels in more than one room in each terminal. You might want to hold off for a few moments, upon landing, before you retrieve phone messages and make calls, as flight attendants often announce the carousel ID for your flight.

Don’t dally, shop or “window shop” on your way to baggage claim — Along the way to baggage claim, airports have plenty of shops and stands to entice you to dally and spend your money. Don’t. Your mission is to ensure you leave the airport with all your belongings. Go straight to baggage claim. If there are moving walkways to speed you to baggage claim, use them.

Skip the restroom and restaurant on your way to baggage claim, if you can — You want to arrive at baggage claim before your bag. There’s usually a restroom at baggage claim and, seriously, how good is airport food anyway?

You don’t have to stand directly at the luggage chute; be in sight of it — The end of the chute area, where the luggage goes on to the carousel, is usually crowded with passengers having difficulty pushing their way through with retrieved luggage, so ideally move down the carousel a few yards/meters where you can still see the bags coming off the chute. Watch that no one takes your luggage.

Keep your carry-ons and retrieved bags close to you, and use the “buddy system” if traveling with others — Once the bags are coming on to the carousel rapidly, there’s a lot of confusion and activity around it. That’s a perfect time for thieves to quietly snatch unattended bags nearby. Keep your bags close and together. If you’re traveling with someone, “buddy-up!” While you’re retrieving the luggage, have your “buddy” guard your carry-ons and already retrieved luggage.