Stolen, missing ticket stock reaches 7-year low

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WASHINGTON -- The amount of blank ticket stock stolen or missing from travel agencies sank to the lowest level last year since 1991, according to an analysis of Airlines Reporting Corp. figures.

ARC said 135,677 accountable agency documents were stolen or missing, a hefty drop of 44% from 1997.

Stolen tickets hit a record 444,673 documents in 1995 and decreased every year since then, thanks to tighter security rules from ARC and heightened vigilance by agents. Automated ticket and boarding pass (ATB) coupons represented more than 90% of all stolen or missing stock for the past two years.

Stolen tickets were an infinitesimal percentage of the 1.07 billion accountable documents shipped to agents last year, and the percentage is shrinking as electronic ticketing becomes more prevalent and agents need fewer paper tickets on the premises.

Nevertheless, ticket theft can have devastating financial consequences for individual agency owners who failed to comply with ARC security rules and are held liable to pay for tickets that are issued on their stolen stock and honored by airlines at the gate.

The average stolen ATB coupon has a value of $550, according to law enforcement estimates. A record 17,270 tickets were taken in 19 armed robberies of agencies last year.

Nine of the armed robberies occurred in December, mostly in an alarming rash of incidents in Southern California that appeared to dry up after two suspects were apprehended by police.

Although the number of tickets stolen in armed robberies was a record, the number of robberies was well below the crime-ridden years of 1994, 1993 and the early 1980s, when 30 or more robberies a year were common. Unlike in other thefts, ARC never holds agents liable for the loss of tickets in armed robberies.

Nighttime burglaries dropped off dramatically last year. ARC said 46,896 tickets were stolen in nighttime burglaries, the fewest since 1991 and a plunge of 60% below the record 117,994 tickets in 1997.

The loss of tickets from day-time thefts, resulting from shoplifting by criminals posing as customers, was the lowest since ARC began tracking such figures in 1991.

Because travel agents have grown much more wary of shoplifters and have taken precautions, only two known incidents of day-time theft occurred last year, with the loss of only 122 ATB coupons.

Other categories, such as thefts by agency principals after their accreditation was yanked, also showed improvement. On the other hand, the category of tickets simply labled "lost" was up substantially over 1997.

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