The Read family only realised someone plundered their luggage when they arrived in Lisbon, Portugal. The thief or thieves at Manchester Airport had removed a metal padlock from a suitcase and snatched a Tiffany necklace and Thomas Sabo bracelet which were presents for Ella Read, who will celebrate her 21sth birthday while away on holiday on Saturday.
They also swiped at least 20 birthday cards containing an estimated £300 in birthday money, Manchester Evening News reports.
Manchester Airport, easyJet and its baggage handling agent have now launched an investigation into the crime which happened minutes before the flight on Sunday morning.
But mum Catherine, who herself turns 51 on Monday and suffered the theft of some of her own greetings cards, said: "We're absolutely shocked that this can happen. You pay for a service, you pay for a suitcase and you even put a padlock on it and this happens. It's an absolute disgrace.
"Ella always wanted to come to Lisbon. Now she's got no birthday cards or anything to open on her birthday."
The family, of Hyde, Greater Manchester, checked in one large suitcase which was secured by a padlock with a four-digit code at Terminal 1.
It took about 45 minutes for them to go through security but the flight left on time and they landed in Lisbon just after 1pm local time. They say their bag came through quickly and they noticed the padlock was missing and items had been taken from inside.
David, a 53-year-old service engineer, and his partner Catherine, believe the crime happened while the bag was at Manchester Airport.
Mum-of-two Catherine says it was quickly removed from the plane by baggage handlers in Lisbon and was soon on the luggage carousel in the arrivals hall.
Other members of the family bought replacement birthday cards for Ella's 21st.
Her mum continued: "It's not right. Why should they be able to go through people's personal belongings. We just don't want this to happen to anybody else. It's not a nice feeling knowing someone has gone through your personal belongings. We've never experienced anything like this before."
A spokesman for easyJet said: "We are sorry to learn of the Read family’s experience. We take all allegations of this nature very seriously and are investigating this with our baggage handling partner at Manchester Airport.
"We work closely with all of our airport partners to ensure our passengers’ bags are handled securely. We are in touch with the family to apologise for their experience and offer any further assistance we can in the matter."
A spokesperson for Manchester Airport said: "It is disappointing to hear of the Read’s experience while travelling to Portugal, and are assured by easyJet they will be fully investigating the matter."
Airlines contract ground handling agents to handle travellers' baggage.