Story highlights

Italian border police arrest 49 suspects at Rome's Fiumicino airport

Another 37 are arrested at airports across Italy, including Bologna, Naples and Milan

All those accused are baggage handlers working for Italian airline Alitalia, police say

The alleged thefts took place during the loading and unloading of baggage, police say

CNN  — 

Having a much-loved item go missing from their baggage is something many travelers dread.

So the news that dozens of baggage handlers working for the major Italian airline Alitalia have been arrested over alleged theft from passengers’ luggage may confirm their worst fears.

Border police made 49 arrests at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, with another 37 in major Italian airports including Bari, Bologna, Milan Linate, Naples, Palermo and Verona, the Italian National Police said in a statement Friday.

The 18-month-long investigation began after people reported that objects were stolen from their luggage at the airport of Lamezia Terme, police said.

The alleged thefts took place on board the aircraft during the loading and unloading of baggage, police said.

The investigation involved putting recording devices in the hold to identify those responsible. Alitalia security personnel also played a role in tracking down the alleged thieves, the statement said.

All those arrested were Alitalia employees, whose activities were caught on camera, it said.

If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to six years in prison.

The accused have been charged with criminal offenses including theft, aggravated theft and damage, since the luggage that they were not able to open was sometimes damaged out of spite, police said.

CNN’s Pierre Meilhan contributed to this report.