Frustrated baggage handler jailed for swapping 286 luggage bag tags at Changi Airport

Frustrated baggage handler jailed for swapping 286 luggage bag tags at Changi Airport

Changi airport: a baggage handler faces  charges of misrouting hundreds of pieces of luggage
Travellers at Singapore's Changi Airport. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman) 

SINGAPORE: Frustrated at his company and feeling aggrieved and ill-treated, a baggage handler at Changi Airport swapped 286 luggage tags on bags, sending them to different destinations.

For 20 charges of mischief, and another 266 similar charges taken into consideration, 66-year-old Tay Boon Keh was sentenced to 20 days' jail on Monday (Nov 11).

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

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

He was responsible for aligning checked-in luggage bags and ensuring they were properly placed on an X-Ray machine for security screening, before the bags were loaded onto the planes.

Towards 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 6m away for screening.

He complained to his supervisor that it was physically tiring to do so, but no additional manpower was deployed to help him as the company experienced limited manpower, said the prosecution. 

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.

Tay admitted that he wanted to bring about inconvenience to his employer and make Changi Airport Group aware of the manpower shortage and X-Ray machine breakdown issues, so it could 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 7, 2016, saying he had received emails about 20 passengers having their bags rerouted due to tampering of baggage tags.

AIRLINES RECEIVED HUNDREDS OF COMPLAINTS, PAID OUT MORE THAN S$42,000

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

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

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."

Defence lawyer Tang Jin Sheng and Lok Vi Ming asked for the court to grant an order of conditional discharge, where the accused is discharged with the condition of not re-offending within a year, or a fine of S$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 offences 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.

For each count of mischief, Tay could have been sentenced to up to a year's jail, a fine, or both.

Source: CNA/ll(mn)

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