How does Quora filter dirty questions

Is it true that people “can just take all their baggage off the airport conveyor belt and take it away”?

It's actually not that scary. To be in the arrivals hall you usually have to be a traveler or find a way to bypass airport security. The bag's rightful owner is likely there, as are many others and law enforcement personnel. And then you often have to go through customs, where you can be stopped or interrogated without knowing whether something needs to be declared in your pocket. Even without someone actively monitoring, showing up and not looking at the part regularly could increase the risk of getting caught.

Of course, there are some places (e.g. U.S. domestic terminals) that some of this is invalid, and a fellow traveler could grab a bag anywhere as well. But even if you have a tendency to steal a bag, you need to be lucky and have local contacts to dump anything that's worth it. And as others have mentioned, some airports occasionally check the baggage tags at the exit. All in all, not the most welcoming environment for a criminal.

The thing is also, before ending up on the conveyor belt, your bags have been spending hours in airport facilities that hundreds of people have access to. Even if you expected some level of screening and surveillance, the sheer volume of baggage and the number of airports in the world mean that security is often not very good. For example, employees can and do steal bags, and at some airports theft can become a serious problem (at least temporarily until authorities take action). In comparison, the conveyor belt is not that much of a problem.

Finally, there are countries (OK, Switzerland) where newspapers or vegetables are simply left on a table or similar device in the street and people are expected to leave money behind if they take one. It won't work everywhere or in any context, but in general, to a greater extent than we may believe, we rely on social norms and ancient honesty rather than solely on incentives and technical enforcement.

Nate Eldredge

Not everything applies to domestic flights in the United States, for example. Baggage claim is outside the security area and you can get there directly from the street (in fact, it's located right on the airport entrance / exit doors for simplicity). As a resident there are no customs.

Relaxed

@NateEldredge Thanks! I have to admit that I don't really know about the situation in the US. I've been there but not often and the statistics and stories I remember are mostly about Europe. I've added a couple of adverbs to make that clearer. I think the general theme still holds true, even if the details are obviously very different around the world.

Relaxed

@ORMapper Anything is possible, but my home airport (Schiphol) is indeed very large and yet I usually have to wait for my luggage and am never alone. Some airports may have less efficient passport controls or better baggage handling, but that's never safe. Even if some people are not there yet and you could potentially watch a particular bag make multiple rounds, you cannot rest assured that the owner is not there.

Reirab

Also note that it doesn't have to be a fellow traveler at all. As OR Mapper points out, baggage claim areas in domestic terminals are usually right next to the doors. Several airports in the US have had problems with homeless people walking in and stealing bags from conveyor belts, especially at airports that have direct train access to the terminal.

Relaxed

@reirab I think it's Nate who mentioned this. This is mostly true of the US (and Australia, according to another answer), not necessarily everywhere.