The Unexpected Downside to Low-Cost Air Travel

Oh, Europe. There are many things I love about you—because I am a socialist, you see—and prominent among them is your abundance of no-frills, low-cost airlines. Carriers like Ryanair and easyJet offer rock-bottom prices that all but eliminate financial barriers to travel, making it easy for restless souls to jet between cities at will. These airlines have been great for budget travelers. And, apparently, they have also been great for thieves.

The Times of London recently reported that organized gangs of Eastern European criminals are taking advantage of these low fares to expand their criminal activities. They will fly to a strange city, spend the afternoon picking pockets and skimming credit card numbers, and “get back in time for tea,” according to Rob Wainwright of Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency. For criminals, this strategy makes perfect sense. There’s no reason to risk arrest in your home city if it’s just as easy and lucrative to commit crimes elsewhere. (This is the “don’t shit where you eat” theory of prison-avoidance.) But this “crime wave” is a real headache for local police, as you can probably imagine. It’s very hard to make an arrest—or even know whom you should be arresting—if the culprits are complete strangers to your city, and are already gone by the time you realize a crime has occurred.

American authorities, for their part, don’t really have to worry about stateside pickpockets taking to the skies. (Although if I were a racketeer based out of the New York area, I would seriously consider taking advantage of the many inexpensive interstate buses that serve the Eastern seaboard.) That’s one thing you can say for American carriers: They might be expensive, uncomfortable, and crowded, but at least they are inhospitable to thieves.

Update, Oct. 8, 2013: The phrase “easyJet crime wave” has been changed to “crime wave” to reflect that this is an issue affecting low-cost carriers in general, not a particular airline.