The number of in-flight thefts carried out by foreigners on domestic flights in Vietnam has been on the rise in recent months, prompting Vietnamese aviation authorities to highlight the problem and warn passengers to keep an eye on their belongings.
Eleven cases of in-flight crime that all involved foreign suspects were reported in the first four months of the year across the country, a significant jump compared to just the one case recorded last year, based on a report by the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam.
To Tu Hung, deputy head of the agency's Aviation Security Department, said this indicates a shift in crime pattern.
Hung said in previous years, this kind of theft mainly occurred on international flights, but has switched to target domestic flights since the end of 2016.
Cash was the main target, and was usually taken during the early morning or late at night when passengers were sleeping.
In the most recent incident, a flight from HCM City to Hanoi was struck by a light-fingered thief. A flight attendant spotted a Chinese passenger suspiciously swapping seats while holding a handbag that did not appear to belong to him.
After the head steward asked two other passengers sitting nearby to check their luggage, one of them reported some VND100 million ($4,416) in cash missing along with $400, while the other had lost approximately $13,000. The Chinese man was handed over to authorities at Noi Bai International Airport once the plane had landed.
In April, Hanoi People's Court sentenced Gui Xing Lian, a 47-year-old Chinese national, to two years in prison for stealing $4,000 and VND50 million from other passengers on a flight from Da Nang to Hanoi.
Hung said the general impression of airport and airplanes being safe places had left many Vietnamese passengers vulnerable to the risk of theft. The lack of surveillance cameras on planes also makes it difficult to catch thieves in action.
"I'm concerned that many Vietnamese passengers are quite careless with large sums of money and neglect to keep an eye on their belongings," said Hung.
Nguyen Minh Tuan, deputy director of the Southern Airports Authority, warned passengers that thieves may track them during check-in procedures to see who is carrying valuable belongings.
After these passengers are on the plane, the thieves may deliberately put their own luggage nearby and wait for their opportunity.
Tuan said handling in-flight thefts is not easy without catching the thieves red-handed or having enough hard evidence against them.
Many thieves claim they have simply picked up the wrong item or bag when they are confronted.
National carrier Vietnam Airlines has confirmed that the company will tighten security on its flights to prevent similar offenses, and has asked passengers to cooperate with cabin crews in the event of an incident.