VegBagGate: The Aftermath, and how to steal a bag from Stansted airport

This Saturday, upon returning to Stansted airport from Turkey on Pegasus airlines, my bag didn’t turn up on the carousel. Ominously, my girlfriend’s did, having survived the transfer from Antalya at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen airport.  When transfer bags miss connections, they usually do so en masse.

Even more ominously, a bag was left circulating on the carousel which looked very much like mine. I opened it. Inside I found a dozen or so random documents mostly written in Turkish, and lots of vegetables – there was okra, string beans, corgettes, and other unidentifiable greens.

My immediate suspicion was that I had been stung. Someone had made off with my bag, full of expensive electrical items (a laptop, an HD camera, a Flip video, video tapes containing commissioned work for the Guardian etc), and left me with the ingredients for a ratatouille.

Narrowing the search
Before implicating VegMan, I had to make sure my bag had got to Stansted in the first place.  By the end of the day, having spent all evening on the phone to Pegasus airlines’ representatives in Antalya and Istanbul (I wasn’t prepared to wait for the standard bag tracing procedures to creak through their motions), I had worked out that my bag had indeed been on both flights – the exact amount of bags that were supposed to be on the flights had made it on.

VegMan had my bag, I was bloody sure of it. But by the end of Sunday night, there was still no contact from him.

At this stage I put myself in VegMan’s position, assuming that VegMan was a dastardly criminal. I have grabbed a bag that looks a bit like mine from the carousel. Bonanza! It’s full of expensive stuff. Ok, I’m going to get a call fairly soon telling them that an irate man from north London believes that I have his bag, and that mine is at Stansted. “Oops,” I’ll say, “my mistake, I totally forgot to pick my bag up, I was in a terrible rush you see. But I certainly didn’t pick up anyone else’s bag.”

The Stansted police fail
I rang Stansted police, explained what was going on, and asked their advice in the event that VegMan claimed not to have picked up my bag. I was shocked at their response.

First, the police lady explained that there was no way to conclusively prove that my bag had been put on the aircraft, despite the airline having said so, and that therefore it came under the description of “transit theft” which is near impossible to investigate. I’m fairly sure this is rubbish, but anyway. I was told that at best they could give me an incident number.

I argued that if VegMan (when he surfaced) claimed that he didn’t take my bag, surely CCTV cameras could show whether or not he left the airport with a bag. Her response, in as many words, was “Do you know how long that would take? Do you really think we can go through CCTV footage for everyone?”

How to steal a bag from Stansted
Incredible. A giant loophole. Going on what I had learnt, stealing a bag from Stansted was remarkably easy. 1) Buy a standard-looking roller bag, and load it with vegetables. 2) At the arrival airport, grab a bag that looks like yours, and exit swiftly. 3) When the airline, or the baggage tracers call to inform you that they have your bag, and that a remarkably similar bag has gone missing, simply state that you totally forgot to collect yours, but certainly didn’t pick up anyone else’s. 4) The police cannot be bothered to check whether or not you left the airport with a bag, therefore there is no possible case against you.  5) Return to villain cave.

You might think I’m being irresponsible writing this, but I feel it’s something that needs to be exposed. 

What actually happened
VegMan surfaced, thanks to a little prodding.  I had recorded his name from the baggage tag, and, using ingenious skill (a nameless official let it slip, although I’m fairly sure he shouldn’t have) learnt the name of the travel agent VegMan had booked his flights through.  I spoke to said agents, and told a little white lie – that the police were involved.  They weren’t to know that the police wouldn’t have been bothered.

The agents tracked down VegMan first thing Monday morning. VegMan, who still hadn’t deemed it necessary to report the“mistake”, admitted that he had my bag.

Then it got silly. VegMan was given my phone number in order to return my bag. But VegMan doesn’t speak any English, so the correspondence came through his wife. VegWoman called me and said she was en route to Stansted to pick up the VegBag. Great.

But was she returning my bag?  No, it was still in the boot of VegMan’s car. Obviously. She said she would bring it to me “in the next couple of days”. I told her that she was in possetion of my property, and that I wanted it back pronto.   VegWoman became aggressive, saying that she “didn’t have to do anything”, and hung up.

I rang ahead to the Lost Luggage department at Stansted, and Stansted police, to request that the VegBag bew withheld from VegCouple until they had returned my bag.  Leverage.  The police agreed that it could be withheld.

VegWoman threw a fit at Stansted.   A very brave woman called Norma at Standsted Lost Luggage stood her ground.  If they wanted their okra, they’d have to take it from Norma’s cold, dead hands.  Then VegCouple disappeared. Norma couldn’t see them any more.  I must have called VegCouple a dozen times thereafter, without answer, or to be hung up on.

At this stage, I spoke to Pegasus again, explaining the standoff.   Bizarrely, it transpired that they actually knew VegMan – he was a journalist who had dealt with their UK PR team.  They were very embarassed and promised they would make the switch for me, avoiding the horrific possiblity of some kind of clandestine handover.

They sent a courier to the VegCar to collect my bag, which arrived back with me last night at 6pm, with all contents enclosed.  Rapturous scenes.  The switch wasn’t Pegasus’ prerogative, it was VegMan’s, and for this I must thank them.  Meanwhile, VegCouple were reunited with their vegetables, by now surely a little flaccid.  That’ll teach them.

Eventually, nothing lost, but a worrying insight gained. VegBagGate has been a cautionary tale. It turned out that VegCouple were more idiots than criminal masterminds, but as described above, if they’d been the latter, they could have got away with it. I hope that my experience highlights this.  Because I’ve lost track of anything else that it highlights.

In conclusion, it is highly possible for a bag swapper to have their vegetables, and eat them. And it really shouldn’t be.

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9 responses to “VegBagGate: The Aftermath, and how to steal a bag from Stansted airport

  1. Very glad that it got sorted in the end Ben. What a complete and utter arse from beginning to almost end.

  2. Note that stealing bags is easy at any airport – checking in a vegbag is not necessary at all… just get off the plane, grab any good-looking bag from the belt and depart. The only risk for the thief is you spotting him in the act, or customs arresting and executing him for the kilo of heroin hidden in your underwear.

    In China the airports actively check all passengers leaving the baggage hall (well, back in 2004 anyway) – you have to prove that all bags are yours by comparing the luggage label to the luggage sticker you got at check-in. Brilliant system, but probably too much work for any European airport.

    I’ve only seen this in China but it seems more logical and beneficial for passengers to do this, than the whole nonsensical security circus on departure.

    I actually did the same thing a few years ago. In a hectic arrival by bus, my dad in law got my bag for me and only the next morning (on Christmas) we discovered it was a very similar-looking bag full of dirty underwear and computer parts instead of containing my stuff. Thankfully there was a PC invoice inside with the name of the owner, and we called and then drove to his house to make the swap. Since then I take care to make my bag stand out from the other blueish ones with a ribbon, sticker or special label something.

  3. Miss Expatria

    Now that you’ve your things back in one piece, let me just say that this story is HILARIOUS. I loved following it as it unraveled. And, for what it’s worth, you should have chopped up their veggies and presented them with a delightful summer salad for your troubles.

  4. yeah, I was Vegman once…ages ago. My cab was stopped as I left the airport (in Greece I think it was) by another passenger who had been chasing after me. I had taken his, identical, bag from the carousel without realising it. Ever since I have made sure my bag has some unique mark or sticky label on it.

  5. Cheers for comments. Alastair and Jeroen, you’ve made me realise that VegMan could well have been a total innocent! Still, though, he didn’t even have any eggplant in his bag, easily Turkey’s best vegetable. Now that really is criminal.

    Interesting to learn about Chinese system… I wonder if the cost of implementing it would outweight the money saved on Lost Luggage complaints of this manner. Probably would, therefore probably won’t happen. Anyway, here’s hoping.

  6. I have always felt it would be remarkably easy steal bags on the transfer coach, where you can see people heave bags into the belly of the bus and then get on.

    This idea came to me when I arrived at the second AF coach stop in Paris only to find a space where my bag should be.

    It was returned.

    A woman had told her taxi driver to, “load those bags for me” – and pointed vaguely in the right direction.

    Upon arrival at her hotel she remarked, “that one’s not mine” and it was returned to Air France lost property. Where I retrieved it a day later, after a day of client meetings in jeans and slightly soiled tee shirt.

    BTW, I do hope criminals don’t read this blog!

  7. >Interesting to learn about Chinese system… I wonder if the cost of implementing it would outweight the money saved on Lost Luggage complaints of this manner.

    Anyone know if the Chinese still do this? It’s just a question of having one guy at the exit checking stickers. I saw plenty of staff at Stansted last month hanging around who could do just this.
    The Chinese were quite serious about it at the time – I had ripped off and disposed the tags immediately, but they made me go back and fish them out of the bin. Hurray for the Chinese.

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