Crime For Members

How to avoid getting robbed or pickpocketed at Spain's airports

The Local Spain
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How to avoid getting robbed or pickpocketed at Spain's airports
fFr the vast majority of travellers in Spain - 243 million passengers used Spanish airports in 2022 - travel is safe and goes ahead without any problems. Photo: Pau BARRENA/AFP.

Thieves and pickpockets sometimes infiltrate Spanish airports in order to steal unsuspecting travellers' luggage, wallets and other belongings. It's not a reason to panic, but here's where you should keep your wits about you at airports in Spain.


With all the police and security around, the metal detectors and bag searches, airports aren't really a place you'd expect to be robbed.

Yet robberies in Spanish airports do happen.

Though there is no official data on thefts specifically committed at airports, in recent years robberies have been reported sporadically at Barcelona’s El Prat, Madrid's Barajas, Valencia, Alicante-Elche, Palma de Mallorca, and Tenerife airports, among others.

There was the case of two thieves at Barcelona's El Prat who stole a suitcase which contained €8 million worth of jewellery, two elderly pickpockets who operated at Alicante's airport dressed as holidaymakers, and a thief who specialised in stealing suitcases on airport buses in Gran Canaria. 

Tourist hotspots are after all the places where most non-violent robberies (hurtos) tend to occur in Spain, and what better place to find a distracted tourist with all their expensive belongings with them than at an airport?

A recent report from Spanish news outlet La Sexta has revealed the sophisticated nature of thieves and pickpockets in Spanish airports. In fact, there are some criminal gangs who buy cheap plane tickets just in order to be able to access the inside of airport terminals.

Francisco Canals, a journalist specialising in fraud, scams and cybercrime, warned La Sexta that organised criminal gangs send scouts and thieves into airports who scope out the terminals looking for potential victims.

Many gangs also specialise in identifying passengers who are likely to have luggage of greater value, looking out for designer brands, expensive jewellery, and high-value destinations.


So how can you avoid falling foul of thieves and pickpockets in Spain's airports? Here are some tips.

- Take a photo of the inside of your suitcase.

- Never lose sight of your luggage during your time at the airport.

- Keep all money and documentation (passports, ID cards, bank cards and so on) in your pocket, not in your luggage.

- Keep and carry an inventory that includes all the contents of your suitcases.

- Using a GPS locator and putting it in the suitcase won't deter thieves from taking it, but it will make tracking it down easier.

READ ALSO: How to avoid being pickpocketed in Spain - tricks and scams to watch out for

Following these basic tips will certainly help, and knowing where exactly in the airport these sorts of specialist pickpockets and thieves operate can also be of use.



Where inside Spanish airports do most robberies take place?

Check-in counters: This is the part of the airport where we are most vulnerable. We still have our big suitcases with us, and often we are concentrating on checking in, fumbling around with our ticket and passport and ID, the tickets, worrying about which gate you need to go to, if you've got time, and so on. Experienced thieves capitalise on the chaos of the check in counter to pickpocket unsuspecting people or swipe the suitcase entirely.

Information points: You've checked in and are heading through the airport. Many of us obsessively keep an eye on the screens throughout the airport, but these can actually be another sport. Often when approaching the information screens, we leave our backpacks or smaller cases behind for a moment, raise our heads, take out our glasses, look up, squint... and before you know it, an observant criminal has watched you wander off and snatched up your belongings.

Security: Another area of the airport where pickpockets are particularly effective is at the security screening areas. As we queue and take out all our liquids and electronics, load them onto the tray, take off our shoes and belt and head through the metal detector, pickpockets can swipe your phone or wallet directly from your tray.


Keep in mind that some thieves will prefer to operate in the busiest and most crowded areas of the airport, which can sometimes be cafés, car rental desks or public transport such as the metro or shuttle buses taking passengers to and from the airport.




How often does theft and pickpocketing happen at Spanish airports?

Though there are no studies on airport specific theft in Spain, it does seem to happen sporadically and is something to be aware of.

Non-violent theft more generally is somewhat of a issue in Spain, particularly in big cities and in popular tourist areas.

‘Property crime’ as it is known in Spanish, accounted for nearly 45 percent of all crime committed in Spain in 2022, with 70 thefts, 10 burglaries and 4 robberies being recorded every hour in Spain, according to figures from Spain's national statistics body (INE).

Compared to 2021, property crime has increased in all categories, although when comparing property crime recorded in 2022 with 2019, crime rates have not recovered pre-pandemic levels.

We must also stress that for the vast majority of travellers in Spain - 243 million passengers used Spanish airports in 2022 - travel is safe and goes ahead without any problems. 

READ ALSO - How Barcelona is once again Spain's pickpocket capital


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