Former handler admits swopping luggage tags at Changi Airport

Tay Boon Keh, who was employed by a subcontractor of the Changi Airport Group, was unhappy with having to move bags frequently from one belt to another whenever the X-ray machine broke down. He had told his supervisor it was physically demanding work
Tay Boon Keh, who was employed by a subcontractor of the Changi Airport Group, was unhappy with having to move bags frequently from one belt to another whenever the X-ray machine broke down. He had told his supervisor it was physically demanding work, but no additional staff were deployed.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Man, who committed act out of frustration at job, caused passengers' bags to end up at unintended destinations

A disgruntled airport baggage handler swopped the tags of 286 pieces of luggage belonging to Singapore Airlines (SIA) and SilkAir passengers, which led to the bags ending up in places other than their intended destinations.

As a result, the two carriers had to make compensation payouts totalling more than $42,000 to 221 affected passengers as of Oct 1 this year.

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, Tay Boon Keh pleaded guilty to 20 counts of mischief yesterday, which was his 65th birthday. Another 266 similar charges will be considered during sentencing.

Tay committed the offences between Nov 8, 2016, and Feb 6 last year. He was employed at the time by industrial equipment supplier Lian Cheng Contracting, a subcontractor of the Changi Airport Group.

The court heard that he started work on Sept 7, 2016, and was deployed to the Explosives Detection System X-ray machine at Belt 5-7 later that month.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiam Jia Min said the machine had frequent power failures and broke down several times a day. Whenever there was a breakdown, Tay had to move the bags from Belt 5-7 to another X-ray machine at Belt 7-5 about 6m away.

Tay had told his supervisor that it was physically tiring work.

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, Tay Boon Keh pleaded guilty to 20 counts of mischief yesterday, which was his 65th birthday. Another 266 similar charges will be considered during sentencing.

However, as the company's manpower was limited at the time, no additional staff were deployed.

DPP Thiam told District Judge Jasvender Kaur: "Finally, out of frustration and anger at Lian Cheng, the accused came up with a plan to swop the baggage tags attached to the luggage bags that he handled with other baggage tags. The accused was alone when he performed the swopping of the tags, and he did it in an area which was out of CCTV view."

His offences came to light after ground handling company Sats was informed by SIA and SilkAir that some of their passengers' baggage tags had been tampered with. Sats made a police report on Dec 7, 2016.

 

DPP Thiam said Tay stopped swopping the tags in February last year as his actions did not achieve their intended result, which was more help for him.

The case has been adjourned for a pre-trial conference on Nov 1. Tay is being represented by Mr Lok Vi Ming, a senior counsel, and Mr Tang Jin Sheng, who are acting pro bono. For each count of mischief, he can be jailed for up to a year and fined.

A spokesman for the Changi Airport Group said Tay no longer works at the airport, and added: "While this was an isolated case of mischief, we have enhanced access control as well as CCTV coverage in the baggage handling area. Patrols have also been stepped up.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2018, with the headline 'Former handler admits swopping luggage tags at Changi Airport'. Print Edition | Subscribe