He thought nothing of stealing from a compatriot.
About $118,000 in Singapore and Hong Kong dollars was taken from a bag placed in an overhead compartment on a Singapore-bound flight from Macau.
But when Zhou Haiyou, a Beijing resident, realised he would likely be caught, he tried to reason with his victim.
Zhou, 41, pleaded with Mr Hu Jingang: "Brother, please don't tell the cabin crew, I will give you back the money."
His plan backfired.
Mr Hu, 51, reported the theft to the cabin crew after Zhou had returned the stolen cash. Zhou was later arrested in Singapore.
Yesterday, Zhou was jailed for 18 months for the theft on board Tiger Airways TR2905, which was bound for Singapore from Macau.
Zhou, who was not represented, said he was remorseful and had learnt from his mistake.
He pleaded for leniency to District Judge Christopher Goh.
He asked the judge to give him "a little time" so he could see his father, who has lung cancer.
Mr Goh shot back: "You do this on board an aircraft, this is what will happen."
The judge reminded Zhou that "our going rate is 15 months".
On Oct 24, Zhou boarded the flight at about 3.45pm and sat in front of Mr Hu.
The bag Mr Hu was carrying contained S$360,000 and HK$105,000 (S$17,500).
Mr Hu went to sleep after storing the bag in the overhead compartment. The court was not told why he was carrying such a large sum of money.
At about 8.45pm, Zhou took the bag and returned to his seat.
He took some of the money from the bag and hid it in the seat pocket in front of him. Zhou did not take all the money as he did not want to arouse Mr Hu's suspicions.
He then put the bag back in the overhead compartment.
The theft was discovered at around 9pm when Mr Hu was woken up by the cabin crew and told to secure his seat belt before landing.
He decided to check his bag and noticed the zip was not fully fastened. When he opened the bag, he realised a large amount of cash was missing.
It was during Mr Hu's frantic search that Zhou confessed to him.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Yvonne Poon recommended a sentence with a nine-month "starting point" as Zhou had targeted a sleeping victim and taken a considerable sum of money.
Said Ms Poon: "It was by the sheerest fortune that the victim noticed that his bag was not fully zipped... The accused's theft would otherwise have gone unnoticed."
Statistics show there were 16 reported cases of theft on board aircraft so far this year. Only seven cases resulted in arrests.
Last year, there were 57 reported cases of theft on board aircraft compared to 43 in 2012.
The police advise passengers to keep their cash or valuables with them instead of in bags placed in the overhead luggage compartments.
Also be wary of passengers retrieving baggage from overhead luggage compartments and rummaging through them.
Alert the cabin crew immediately of such suspicious behaviour.
This article was first published on Nov 19, 2014.
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