China’s embassy in the Czech Republic has warned its nationals to be vigilant on planes after a dozen passengers had cash stolen while they were on a flight from Beijing to Prague.
The passengers, most of whom were Chinese, said cash they had placed in seat pockets or in luggage stored in overhead lockers was taken during the Hainan Airlines flight on December 29, Xinhua reported on Saturday.
The thefts came to light when one of the passengers discovered her money was missing half an hour before the plane landed, prompting others to check their belongings. They reported cash in different currencies had been stolen, ranging in amounts from US$240 to US$5,000.
But as passengers starting searching their belongings to see if their money was still there, scrunched up banknotes were spotted on the floor under a man’s seat.
A thick wad of US dollars was also found tucked into a pillow on the seat, according to the report. One passenger told Xinhua that it appeared the thief was trying to hide the evidence.
Police arrested a 40-year-old man, who is believed to be Chinese, on suspicion of theft after the plane landed in Prague and he will be sent back to China. Czech media reports alleged the suspect had two accomplices who were believed to have transferred onto flights to Belarus, according to Xinhua.
Hainan Airlines did not respond to requests for comment.
Days after the incident, on January 3, the Chinese embassy in Prague issued a warning to travellers about mid-air theft, advising them against taking large amounts of cash on board planes and to keep an eye on belongings during flights.
The embassy also reminded Chinese passengers to immediately report any theft to flight attendants.
According to a report on an official website for overseas Chinese, Chinaqw.com, theft rings targeting Chinese passengers on flights have become more of a problem in recent years.
The gangs tended to work in groups of two or three people who stowed their hand luggage far away from where they were sitting so that they could easily move around the plane looking for targets, the report said.
Last weekend, Chinese man Wu Song was jailed for eight months in Brunei after he pleaded guilty to stealing US$2,000 cash from a fellow passenger on a flight from Hong Kong to Brunei on December 27.
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST