Singapore Baggage Handler
Singapore Baggage Handler

Singapore Baggage Handler Jailed for Swapping 286 Luggage Tags

Reported by CNA, a baggage handler at Singapore Changi Airport swapped 286 luggage tags on bags, sending them to different destinations, because he was frustrated at the company and feeling aggrieved and ill-treated.

On Nov 11th 2019, 66-year-old Tay Boon Keh was sentenced to 20 days’ jail for 20 charges of mischief and another 266 similar charges.

Tay had admitted to tampering with the bag tags of passengers from flights on Singapore Airlines and SilkAir, between Nov 8th 2016 and Feb 6th 2017.

a building with a wall covered in plants
Singapore Changi Airport

At the time he was working as a baggage handler at Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 2 for Lian Cheng Contracting, a sub-contractor of Changi Airport Group.

He was assigned to align checked-in luggage bags and ensure they were properly placed on an X-Ray machine, for security screening, before the bags were loaded onto the planes.

At the end of September 2016 Tay was assigned to an X-Ray machine that broke down several times a day, forcing him to carry the bags to a functional machine about 6 meters away for screening.

Said the prosecution, Tay complained to his supervisor that it was physically tiring to do; no additional manpower was deployed to help him, as the company experienced limited manpower.

Feeling aggrieved and ill-treated by the company, Tay came up with a plan to swap the baggage tags among the luggage that he handled.

He did so alone and out of sight of closed-circuit television cameras, knowing that the bags would then be sent to the wrong destinations.

a large display board in an airport
Singapore Changi Airport

Tay admitted that he wanted to bring inconvenience to his employer and make Changi Airport Group aware of the manpower shortage and X-Ray machine breakdown issues, so they could address and rectify the situation.

A representative for the ground-handling agent, managing Singapore Airlines and SilkAir operations at Changi Airport, made a police report on Dec 7th, 2016, saying he had received emails from about 20 passengers having their bags rerouted due to tampering of baggage tags.

The two airlines received an additional 266 complaints after this police report was filed, all from passengers saying their baggage tags had also been tampered with.

They have made compensation payouts of more than SGD $42,000 to 221 affected passengers.

people walking in an airport
Singapore Airlines

The prosecution had asked for 20 days’ jail, saying that baggage handling services are a widely used service engaged by all travellers with check-in bags at the airport.

It was only through “the concerted effort of various police divisions that the accused was identified several days after the accused’s last swap”, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiam Jia Min.

Similar offenders must be deterred from “committing similar acts of mischief just to get back at their employers for perceived work injustices or other related reasons”, she said.

A clear message has to be sent out to potential offenders that such acts have major consequences and that they should always resort to other more appropriate and legal channels to vent their frustrations.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiam Jia Min
luggage on a conveyor belt in a building
Singapore Changi Airport Baggage Claim

Defense lawyer Tang Jin Sheng and Lok Vi Ming asked for the court to grant an order of conditional discharge, with the accused being discharged with the condition of not re-offending within a year or face a fine of SGD $10,000.

They said Tay suffered major depressive disorder, which deprived him of his self-control, adding that he would go to the toilet during breaks and cry in the cubicle. 

District Judge Jasvender Kaur said she accepted the prosecution’s psychiatrist’s opinion that Tay had “a significant amount of control over his actions” even though he was suffering from untreated depression at the time.

The doctor testified that patients who suffer depression in relation to their work would experience impairment in their ability to go to work and do it properly.

“In the case of the accused, he remarkably continued to go to work diligently during the entire period of the offending,” noted the judge.

“The offenses are not trivial,” she added. “The accused had come up with a plan to exact revenge on his employer for perceived unfair working conditions and abused his position 286 times, over close to three-and-a-half months.”

This affected the numerous victims and “resulted in significant monetary and reputational losses” to the affected airlines and Changi Airport.