Do We Inherently Trust Those We’re Flying With More?

Recently,  a passenger went on a crime spree on an airplane, stealing the flight attendant’s carry-on and a passenger’s passport and credit cards.

This story got passed around a lot.  I saw it showing up on my Facebook feed pretty often, with friends warning everyone to keep a better eye on their luggage.

When I saw this, I marveled that it doesn’t happen more, given we shove our belongings under our seat and then take naps, all amid the company of strangers.

Once on a flight with Keri, I woke up from mid-sleep to see a woman standing in front of me.  Keri and I were in a row of two people, so there was no real obvious reason why she’d be in our row.

As she was leaving, I asked her what she was doing.  Turns out she didn’t want to wake up her husband, so she jumped over our seat.

As I checked both Keri and my bag’s for all our valuables, it dawned on me that the crazy explanation was the right explanation.  The woman jumped over my seat and woke me up rather than wake her husband up.  And I realized I pretty much believed her all along, despite her hanging out near our bags.

It just didn’t seem possible to get robbed in flight.

I also tend to leave my things by themselves when I’m in an airport lounge.  I just somehow trust the people in the lounge with me more than the general public.

It’s actually a sociological thing.  Once we establish some sort of “group membership” with people, we begin to trust them.  They have something in common with us and are more known to us than the general person.

So people we take a flight with.  People we share a lounge with.  Heck, if you split random people in the airport into groups of eight, they’ll immediately start trusting their group of eight more than the average people in the airport.

But this is also where we start making mistakes.

avoiding pickpocketsAn old roommate’s friend became friendly with her hostel mates when traveling.  So much so, she stopped being as secretive about where she was storing most her money.

You can guess what happened next.

But thieves explicitly use this group-membership concept to their advantage.

One huge thing pickpockets do in touristy areas is join tour groups.  They are taking advantage of being a known-quantity, so you’ll be less concerned if they are a bit too close to you.

I’m not saying be a completely distrusting person who refuses to talk to anyone.  But I am saying to be aware that people are intentionally taking advantage of this group-membership effect.

They’ll talk to you.  Become your friend.  Join your tour group.  Ask you questions about yourself.

Lucky’s mom found this out the hard way.

As I said in my last article on theft, I’ve only been pickpocketed once in my life.  I’m really careful and as a former New Yorker, I had to avoid pickpocketers pretty frequently growing up.

But I also worry that makes me a bit too overconfident in my abilities to thwart them.

Have you ever been pickpocketed?  What technique do you think they used?

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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One comment

  1. Thanks for the post! My guards are down once I pass security at TSA or in an airline lounge. I need to be more aware!

    I have almost been pick pocketed once in Paris on arrival from airport at the train station. I was aware of pickpockets there, but was to distracted by my luggage. The thief went for my backpack on my back but couldn’t find my valuables. Fortunately I did pack with pickpockets in mid, ALL my valuables were on the bottom. I guess they could have just cut my backpack open from the bottom. Anyway, what scared me is after their unsuccessful attempt, they alerted me that my backpack was WIDE open. So of course the natural first thing anyone would do is to check if valuables are still present. I noticed they watched me the whole entire time as I checking and rescuer my things. I ended up wearing my backpack in the front. These tag teaming pickpockets (3-4young kids no more than 14 years old) followed me through two transfers of train in the Paris area.

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