Local reports said the thefts are inside jobs. Worse, authorities know that and still theft of bags continues to be rampant.
One flyer, Rita Lamberg, walked out of JFK with an empty jewelry box and pictures of the watches, rings, necklaces and other fashion items that were worth about $160,000 - all stolen from her bag.
"I am so sick. This is a lifetime, a lifetime of my savings," she told a local CBS News affiliate.
So many bags, so many opportunities to steal
Unfortunately, she's not alone. Police say the thefts are increasing at an alarming rate. They say those looking to rip you off include baggage handlers, jetway workers and even security personnel.
"The belly of the airplane has become like a flea market for airport employees. They go in there and go through all the luggage unencumbered, unchecked," JFK International security lawyer Kenneth Mollins told the affiliate.
Mollins is currently helping Lambert and others try to get back their belongings. So is retired NYPD detective Frank Shea, who's been hired by other passengers who've been ripped off. Both men say the theft problem at JFK has approached nightmarish proportions.
"What we're seeing out there is that really anything that isn't nailed down is being stolen and for that matter I would caution, some day, if there weren't tires missing from an aircraft," Shea said.
Yes, profiling does happen
How is it that thieves are so successful? Easy. Authorities say they engage in baggage profiling. It's how they determine which baggage contains the biggest scores.
Thieves look for expensive luggage. They also look for where the traveler is coming from; if they are coming from ritzy parts of the city, for instance, their bags are more likely going to be targeted.
Authorities say the profiling takes place where the luggage meets the plane. "It's really occurring on the tarmac or as it's being loaded onto the aircraft," said Shea. Once the goods are discovered, thieves know how to make off with them as well.
"Sometimes they get loaded into the back of one of the vehicles out at the airport. They're searched through. They can be discarded as rubbish. Other times they are leaving the airport grounds," Shea said.
Put another way, the thieves are stealing the bags but passengers never find that out. Instead, the airline is telling them their luggage was somehow lost in transit.
Says Mollins: "The airlines don't want to report these thefts because it's bad for business."
Where's the FAA?
It's also bad for business because the thefts have led to an increase in expenses borne by the airline. "Fares go up clearly because of this. It's a cost of doing business. They pay out and they hide the fact that these items are stolen," said Mollins.
And passengers, for the most part, have no idea this is occurring.
For its part, the NYC Port Authority (PA) - which owns JFK - said airport workers are fingerprinted and given background checks through the FBI database. In addition, the PA said it would be installing more cameras around the airport, to keep an eye on workers and security officials.
Others say that's not enough. They are calling on the Federal Aviation Administration to implement rules that would require airlines to do more, like tighten operating standards and procedures and require airlines to install cameras in cargo holds.