Is it a crime to take away in-flight articles like life-jackets?

File photo of an air plane
Doesn't it feel great to sneak out a stainless steel spoon or fork (if you're travelling business) or the headphone set the air-hostess has given you to plug into in-flight entertainment? Careful. While the urge to impress friends with airlines 'souvenirs' is irresistable, some of the stuff you take away without letting the crew know could put you on the wrong side of the law.

For years, in fact, cabin crew have had to deal with flyers prone to surreptitiously stuffing airline pillows, blankets, cutlery, in-flight magazines, aircraft safety cards and such like into their baggages.

"As of now we replace the life jackets if we find missing. In case, we notice a passenger taking out one, we counsel them. We also make proactive announcements about tampering not allowed. There is, however, no specific guidelines on this from DGCA," Vistara sources told Business Standard.

Why steal life-jackets?

"We generally see our life-jackets missing on flights bound for beach locations," says Rashmi Soni, V-P of Vistara, the JV airline of Tatas and Singapore Airlines to The Times of India.

Vistara has asked its staff to ensure there's a life jacket under every seat whenever a plane is being prepared for a flight over sea from all destinations.

So, is it a crime to steal in-flight souvenirs?

In the West, yes. And in India too, especially for articles such as life-jackets. In fact, announcements prior to take off categorically state that sneaking them out could invite prosecution. The trouble is, theft is a common affair and has not been taken seriously, and very few cases of prosecution, if any at all, have been officially recorded.

In many foreign countries, on the other hand, passengers have been arrested for stealing life-jackets. For example, in 2014, a California man was charged with larceny for trying to steal two airplane life vests from his flight in Albuquerque.

In another case, a 64-year-old woman from north-west China’s Shaanxi province was fined HK$2,000 on being found guilty of stealing a life jacket from aboard a Cathay Pacific aircraft. 

What you can keep, legally

In-flight magazines are usually for the customer to take back home. According to an article published in BoardingArea, "Headphones are a good example: on one airline in particular, headphones are offered free of charge for all passengers on international flights to keep; while charged at a cost of two dollars to passengers seated in the economy class cabin on domestic flights within the United States".

Reluctance to address the issue 

In an obvious attempt to keep its loyal customers happy, airlines are usually reluctant to speak up about missing items. In India, stealing stuff from the airline is common. However, SpiceJet spokesman Tushar Srivastava told TOI, "Besides good memories, a few passengers who really like Arya Praharaj, our in-flight magazine, choose to carry it with them as a souvenir."

"We have not observed any item missing except the in-flight magazine which is sometimes picked up by passengers. These are replaced every month on the aircraft," said S K Shany, Air India's senior AGM (catering).

 Here are some flyers who think it is completely okay to take flight souvenirs:

when ur client is bragging about his trip to italy and didn't bring u one God damn souvenir. Not even airline peanuts

— debbie deb (@debruv7) June 28, 2016

Weight limits for airline luggage suck because sometimes you want to bring back a souvenir. pic.twitter.com/ydCV1SwxcC

— Clint Falin (@ClintFalin) April 19, 2016

It's not often you get an air sick bag as a souvenir. But this is no ordinary airline! Thanks… https://t.co/k7K71EJqMo

— Tom Bullock (@TomWFAE) February 23, 2016

grazie

"As of now we replace the life jackets if we find missing. In case, we notice a passenger taking out one, we counsel them. We also make proactive announcements about tampering not allowed. There is, however, no specific guidelines on this from DGCA," Vistara sources told Business Standard.

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