Packing Is A Wrap Airport Service Secures Luggage With Plastic

Posted: October 10, 2000

Traveling abroad? You might consider a new service at Philadelphia International Airport that for $5 or $10 can have your luggage wrapped in plastic to protect it from theft or damage by overseas baggage handlers.

Luggage theft is relatively rare for flights within the United States, according to data collected by the U.S. government.

In 1999, just one passenger in every 200 reported any sort of baggage problem - anything from a damaged suitcase to luggage that disappeared altogether.

But international travelers are far more likely to run into baggage theft - especially if traveling through Africa, South America, Eastern Europe or other struggling economies, travel experts say.

Worldwide Wrap, the new baggage-wrapping business operating at Terminal A at Philadelphia International Airport, is set up to provide some shrink-wrapped protection from that reality.

"It's like heavy-duty Saran Wrap," said one of the two foreign-born doctors who own the Washington, D.C.-based company. "Nobody gets into the bag without cutting it or tearing the plastic open."

Brou Kouassi, a native of the Ivory Coast, said he and his partner had seen the plastic-wrap business first as tourists, traveling through the Miami airport, a gateway to Central and South America.

"Miami has all the criteria to make this work," Kouassi said. "People come up to the United States with empty suitcases because they like to shop. And when they return to South America, people like to rob their bags."

Similar plastic-wrap services have been operating for years at airports with lots of international travel, including Miami, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

But they're new to Philadelphia, reflecting the city's increasing international air traffic.

Worldwide Wrap opened its first plastic-packaging center at the Baltimore-Washington Airport in January.

The Philadelphia outpost opened in August, serving six foreign flights a day. Kouassi said the company is seeking to expand to the new international Terminal E, as well.

In both Philadelphia and Baltimore, the business pays 18 percent of total revenues to the airport, as a licensing fee.

Besides discouraging baggage handlers from picking luggage locks and rooting through the contents, the company says the plastic helps protect suitcases from rainy weather, dirty conveyor belts and scratches.

The company also carries empty boxes and nylon bags to help travelers whose baggage is overweight. Depending on airlines' policies, the wrappers say, a passenger facing a heavy fine for an overweight suitcase might pay less by shifting some of the cargo to a second bag or carry-on.

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