A major change in the airport's system appears to be required to end the thieving, along with a review of existing security.
The two men were caught yesterday after a departing Australian passenger with Thai Airways on Sunday noticed in Bangkok that a telephone and an iPhone were missing.
Apprehended by full-time airport security staff about 8.30pm last night, the two men told Phuketwan today that they stole from baggage as it was being loaded into departing flights.
Santi Tolawee, 24, said that many others also took items and it happened all the time. ''We weren't the only ones,'' he said. ''There are teams of four doing the loading, so everyone gets to see what everybody else does.''
He said he had been working for the sub-contractors hired by the airport for six months, while the other arrested man, Ha Sem Kamidoy, 18, had been employed for two months. He started work immediately after his birthday, at a rate of 7000 baht a month.
Overtime usually boosted the pay to 10,000 baht a month, Khun Ha Sem said. ''We always looked for bags that were easy to open, especially the ones with strip fastening seals. People are not always careful with their valuables.''
The robberies usually took place either as a conveyor belt carried the baggage to trucks on the tarmac, or as the team of four loaded the baggage from the truck into the aircraft's cargo hold. The thieves always counted on the goods not being noticed as missing quickly.
Airport security staff would often check what the casual baggage loaders were carrying as the men clocked off, but they avoided detection by claiming the pilfered goods belonged to them.
''We never took laptops because they were too big and we could not have escaped with them easily,'' Khun Ha Sem said. ''It was never going to be easy explaining away a laptop. But we could always say that the telephones and other smaller stuff was our own.''
How many times did he rob passengers? ''I lost count,'' he said. ''We did it whenever we could.''
Security cameras were never a problem because they always took account of where the camera was pointing and did the pilfering out of harm's way.
Police pounced on the pair last night after the Australian complained to Thai Airways in Bangkok. More valuable telephones, watches, small cameras, sunglasses, a small hard-drive, bracelets and iPhones were found at the rented accommodation of Khun Santi in Mai Khao, not far from the airport.
Police Lieutenant Rassada Kungwong of Thachatchai Police said that officers recorded about five or six cases a year of theft from baggage at the airport, but clearly there was much more that went unreported.
Officials at the airport were not available to comment to Phuketwan today on the extent of the robberies, or whether the sub-contracting system would be reviewed.
There was a high turnover of staff among the baggage loaders, the two arrested men said.
Travel insurance firms face a difficult task in assessing whether holiday robberies are genuine or fake. Just last week, a 20-year-old Australian woman confessed to making a false report to Patong police that items had been stolen so she could claim insurance.