SAA Flight Attendants Arrested For Trying To Smuggle $3m Of Drugs

Two South African Airways flight attendants have been arrested in Hong Kong last week after attempting to smuggle drugs through the airport. A 39-year-old woman and a 35-year-old man were picked up by police. Between them, they had 18 kilograms of cocaine in their possession – an amount not to be sniffed at.

Two SAA flight attendants were arrested for drug smuggling in Hong Kong last week. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons.

The identities of the two flight attendants have not been made public but South African Airways has confirmed the arrests, telling The South African that;

“We confirm that two of our employees have been arrested in Hong Kong on suspicion of being in possession of drugs, the two employees were operating on two separate flights that were originating from Johannesburg to Hong Kong and were arrested one on arrival the other one following an investigation by customs officials in Hong Kong. Their matters have been before the courts and they remain in custody at the moment.”

What happened?

SABC News is reporting that the arrests were made a week ago. The flight attendants fell foul of an operation at Hong Kong Airport targeting drug trafficking. The female flight attendant was arrested at a Tsim Sha Tsui hotel on Monday, September 23, 2019. She had arrived in Hong Kong the day prior. The male flight attendant was arrested at Hong Kong Airport after landing the following day, Tuesday, September 24, 2019.

The two plastic bags and their contents from the female flight attendant. Photo: Hong Kong Government.

The female flight attendant allegedly had 12 kilograms of cocaine across two plastic bags in her luggage. The male flight attendant allegedly had a single plastic bag with 6 kilograms of cocaine in his luggage. According to media reports, the combined haul has a street value of just under USD$3 million. It is the largest drug haul in a decade at Hong Kong Airport involving airline employees. Both remain in custody.

Photo: Hong Kong Government.

As the matter is before the courts in Hong Kong, South African Airways is being measured in its statements on the matter. It has said;

“SAA would equally like to emphasize that the airline remains intolerant of any criminality by anyone of its employees. The course of action the company may pursue will be informed by the company policy and the outcomes of the cases currently in court.”

Not the first time and won’t be the last

Rogue members of airline crews have a long and storied history of attempting to smuggle drugs while working flights. There have been numerous arrests this year alone. 

In January this year, eight people were arrested in Melbourne, Australia, for using Malindo Air cabin crew to bring meth and cocaine into the country strapped to their bodies. One Malindo flight attendant arrested told police it was his 20th trip to Australia.

Two Sunwing ground staff were arrested in July 2019 for offloading drugs from aircraft coming up from Jamaica. The ongoing operation was a part of a larger drug smuggling ring. The pair weren’t temp staff or opportunistic casuals either. Sunwing said the two employees arrested were permanent, long term and trusted employees.

In Fiji, a Fiji Airways male employee fronted court earlier this year charged with attempting to bring in over 2 kilograms of cocaine and other “illicit drugs”.

A dangerous game to play

The perils and pitfalls of being busted smuggling drugs are well enough known. Cabin crews especially would be well-schooled in the dangers. But a traditionally lax security and screening protocol in many airports when it came to cabin crew has helped encourage smuggling. But that is fast coming to a stop as jurisdictions everywhere realize being trusted and screened doesn’t make you any less likely to smuggle illicit products than anyone else.

Taking drugs through airports is a dangerous game. Photo: Mk 2010 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Hong Kong Government states;

“Customs has all along striven to combat cross-boundary drug trafficking activities and will continue to eliminate dangerous drug inflow through passenger, staff and cargo channels at the airport through strategies of risk-profiling and intelligence analysis.”

Both the South African Airways flight attendants have been charged with a single count of trafficking in a dangerous drug. The maximum penalty upon conviction in Hong Kong is a fine of $5 million and life imprisonment. Ouch.