The other day I flew from the USA to London Heathrow on a United Airlines flight.

As a British citizen with an electronic passport I flew through passport control, but I could see from the queue that the Americans on the flight were going to be a while!

When I got to the baggage conveyor, there were already plenty of bags on it. There were bags which had come up through a feeder conveyor, but an automated system was holding them, waiting for gaps on the main conveyor before it would drop them off. My bag had not yet arrived.

After waiting for a bit, I got bored and a little frustrated. Very few bags were being released, as there weren't big enough gaps on the main conveyor. So I proceeded to group the bags on the conveyor closer together, in order to make bigger gaps to allow more bags to be released.

After 5-10 minutes of this a member of Heathrow staff arrived and started actually taking bags off the conveyor belt, standing them up nearby, and freeing up far more space than I was doing. And eventually my bag arrived.

My questions:

  • Are there any reasons I shouldn't have been moving other people's bags on the conveyor?
  • Are there any reasons I couldn't have removed other people's bags from the conveyor and stood them up?

As far as I know within UK law there's nothing against touching someone else's belongings; the relevant wording I can think of is from theft laws which have wording along the lines of "intent to permanently deprive" people of their belongings, which I'm clearly not doing. I'm far more worried that I'd attract the attention of airport staff / security staff and get delayed for questioning or something.

Answers from a UK perspective are probably most applicable, though as this could happen to many people in many different countries, I'd personally welcome international answers (as long as this doesn't make the question too broad).

  • This question is perhaps more suited to law. In my opinion you have no business doing so. This is the case of an unrequited Good Samaritan. If you damage the bag are you going to pay for it? Are you trained for that job? Aug 9, 2018 at 14:53
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    @TheZealot - Not really "Good Samaritan" - I wasn't doing it for anyone else's benefit, I was doing it so that my own bag would come out sooner! Otherwise I'd've been sat waiting until all the foreign nationals finally cleared passport control and freed space on the belt by taking their own bag. I did wonder about law.SE. I'll leave it a bit and see what happens here before I go requesting a migration. Good point on the damage; and that would definitely be a legal aspect.
    – AndyT
    Aug 9, 2018 at 14:59
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    I would personally be most worried about the owner of the bag seeing you doing this, assuming you were trying to steal it, and then reporting you to the airport authorities.
    – MJeffryes
    Aug 9, 2018 at 16:15
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    @MJeffryes I agree that that's probably the worst thing that could happen, but I doubt it would get much farther than "what's all this then?" --"I'm making space so the other bags can get out." --"All right then."
    – phoog
    Aug 9, 2018 at 16:25
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    @MJeffryes people relinquish the right to have immediate personal control of their checked bags when they check them. I would not sit around waiting for people to get through passport control just to avoid the possibility of angering someone. They'll get over it. Life is too short.
    – phoog
    Aug 9, 2018 at 16:32

1 Answer 1


As a legal matter, it's clearly not theft, as you note, but if you want a more detailed analysis of possible offenses related to this situation you might want to ask on Law.

As a practical matter, there's nothing stopping you from doing it until someone complains. If they do, and aren't satisfied with your explanation, you can just stop moving the bags.

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