Is checked luggage safe? How many precautions can you take? Security belts? TSA-approved locks? Is there an answer? Well, perhaps not and people need to be prepared. Period the end. The longer suitcases are sitting, the more chance there is for things to go awry.

Case in point …

Sixteen luggage handlers at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport have been convicted of stealing €450,000 ($616,000) of worth of goods from more than 500 passengers’ suitcases during 2007 and 2008.

Not only will these men, who worked for Air France’s company Trac-Piste, pay fines ranging between €1,000 ($1,370) and €3,000 ($4,110), prosecutors want them to be sentenced to serve six-months-to-a-year in jail.

Air France lawyers are lobbying for substantially heavier fines of €117,500; plus €300,000 for the damage to the airline’s image and €200,000 for lost business.

These thieves were focused. They targeted flights they considered the richest ones heading to Switzerland and northern Italy. Liberating laptops, iPhones and iPods, video cameras, jewelry, perfume, cash and travelers checks were their M.O. They also stole more than one hundred pairs of designer shoes.

If this can happen in France, it can happen anywhere — and undoubtedly does. So, how and what should place in your checked bags?

There’s a general consensus about what travelers should definitely not check:

Electronic equipment:

– computers
– phones
– cameras
– I-pads

Valuable items:
– jewelry
– silver

Essential documents:
– travel papers including confirmation slips
– prescriptions and medications
– insurance papers
– passports
– sensitive work-related materials
……….and the list goes on.

Between being charged for checking luggage and the fear of having suitcases opened and inspected (mine always are), an increasing number of people are opting to travel exclusively with carry-on luggage. Air travelers are dubious of TSA inspectors and know items that are essentially of little value to them, are very appealing to baggage handlers who make minimum wage.

But this presents another problem. If travelers are going on an extended trip, there’s little to no way they can cram everything into a suitcase that fits in an overhead bin.

Passengers claim to be checking suitcases containing clothes since they can be replaced. This makes me wonder what they do if they show up for a conference and their clothes don’t. Oh well, perhaps this is a case of less is more, depending on the group.

How would you transport items you don’t want to check? Shipping can be an acceptable solution. Be certain you have an inventory, use a service that tracks the package and require a signature when the shipment arrives.

Items that would be on my personal “too precious to check” list would be:

– a wedding dress and all of the accessories
– photo albums, etc. of any and all sentimental value
– CDs of events
– fur coats if you’re ending up in a cold climate and don’t want them going from one airport to another
– documents (that should be scanned if they’re that important); but you’ll need hard copies at your destination
– gift-wrapped presents that tend to disappear
– clothes that can’t be replaced.
– your children’s most precious toys that will cause your offspring to have meltdowns were they to evaporate.

Many people have never had anything stolen. One friend reported her daughter opened her suitcase at a hotel to find three pairs of men’s pants had been ADDED to her luggage. Go figure.

Please add to the list of items you wouldn’t check. If you’ve had things stolen, what were they and did you have success in retrieving them? Plus, how many papers and claim forms were you required to fill out? There must be some interesting stories in the air. Hope they are some of these stories with happy endings.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.