Police were called to meet a flight landing at Hong Kong airport after a number of passengers complained of having valuables stolen while in the air.
Two passengers on the 13-hour flight from Johannesburg complained to cabin crew that they had “lost their valuables”, according to a spokesperson for South African Airways, who said the incident took place on Flight SA286 last week.
“One of the complainants was able to point out a few passengers who had behaved in a suspicious manner in the cabin and who were seen opening some overhead compartments while other passengers were sleeping,” the spokesperson, Tlali Tlali, said.
He said that police boarded the aircraft after landing and that nothing was found on the suspects so they were released.
“The rest of the passengers disembarked and the suspects identified were ordered to remain in the aircraft and were searched by the police in Hong Kong,” Tlali told TravelMole, adding that items alleged to have been taken were later found by cleaning staff and returned to their owners.
In-air thefts in and out of Hong Kong have been a problem for years, though earlier this year police said incidents had fallen some 90 per cent after a warning was issued to travellers to keep closer tabs on belongings.
In 2016, Hong Kong authorities told travellers that a crime syndicate was targeting passengers on flights from South Africa, and had stolen goods worth £335,000 in nine months.
In the five years previous, reports of criminal activity at 36,000 feet had more than doubled.
Passengers reported having cash, cameras and jewellery as well as credit cards stolen on long flights to the territory, with many departing South Africa.
Flights between the Middle East and China are also known to be popular for mile-high thefts.
One victim in 2016 had US $250,000 (£191,600) stolen on a flight from Dubai to Hong Kong, as well as two luxury watches.
Authorities have previously said how the thieves “scout” their prey before boarding and then place their own bags in the same overhead bins as their targets before rifling through them when the owner is asleep or in the toilet.
These gangs are believed to target flights as they think airlines struggle to deal with thieves properly.