SINGAPORE - The owner of the cash found it was missing after the captain of the SilkAir flight that he was on reminded passengers to check their belongings when the plane from Phnom Penh touched down at Changi Airport last Friday.
The passenger raised the alarm when he could not find the money, in Australian dollars, in his bag.
Another passenger told a cabin crew member he had seen one of the suspects taking the victim's bag from the overhead compartment during the flight.
Just as he was recounting this to the flight attendant, the second suspect walked up to the victim and handed him the missing cash.
Both men were detained and later arrested by the Airport Police.
Deputy Commander of Airport Police Division Bobby Fay commended the pilot for his announcement and the alert witness for helping to prevent a crime that is becoming more rampant.
Just last week, two men were jailed for nine months each for separate incidents of airplane theft.
Such crimes are on the rise, with 30 individuals arrested this year over 37 reported cases, compared with 43 cases reported for the whole of last year.
Police said the culprits usually stole cash from baggage stowed in the overhead luggage compartments of airplanes.
As the number of incidents increases, punishments have also become more severe, with culprits receiving jail sentences of months instead of six to 12 weeks like before.
Last week, Senior District Judge See Kee Oon, noting the rise in these crimes, said there was a need to increase deterrence as he handed out the tough punishment of nine months' jail to the two offenders.
The maximum punishment for theft is a three-year jail term and a $10,000 fine.
Two airlines told The Sunday Times that measures are being taken to prevent theft on board planes.
Tigerair's managing director Ho Yuen Sang said the airline bans known criminals and suspects from their flights.
Tigerair is also training its crew to spot irregular activities on board aircraft, and teaching them how to handle suspects.
Mr Ho said the airline has "established procedures for summoning the police to handle suspects on arrival, and included a reminder in our after take-off announcements for all passengers to keep a close watch over their personal valuables".
A SilkAir spokesman said its crew are "always ready, upon request, to assist any customer who wishes to file a report".
Police advise passengers to keep cash and valuables on themselves while on board a plane rather than in their stowed bags.
They should also be aware of what is happening around them, said a spokesman, adding: "Be wary of passengers who are seen opening overhead compartments and retrieving baggage and rummaging through them during the flight. Alert the cabin crew immediately of such suspicious behaviour."
Police have also reminded airlines about what to look out for and to make announcements reminding passengers to exercise greater care over their belongings.
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