It’s not a good feeling, walking toward baggage claim or a connecting flight, and realizing you forgot an item on the plane. Especially if it’s something valuable, like a brand-new digital camera (not that that happened to me). Okay, it did. I flew Varig into Sao Paulo, and deplaned to catch a connection to Rio. I was halfway to the gate when I realized the camera was missing. I’d removed it from my carry-on to review my pictures mid-flight, and, because I was cracked out on Xanax to quell my aviophobia, forgotten to tuck it back into my bag.
Since I don’t speak Portuguese, it was difficult to explain to airport personnel what had happened, and ask if I could retrieve said camera. I also had a flight to catch, so time was of the essence. I never imagined I would actually be allowed to re-board, due to security measures. Here’s the scary part: the Varig personnel just waved me back onto the empty plane, and let me rip my row apart. I found the camera, made my Rio flight, and vowed never to Xanax and unpack again.
My being allowed back on a plane-unattended, no less-was a freak occurrence. Says flight attendant/Gadling contributor Heather Poole, “Most gate agents/airline personnel can’t help, unless you’ve JUST walked off the flight.”
What to do if you’ve left an item on the plane after you’ve walked away from the gate
Immediately check with the airline’s “airport/terminal lost and found”; that’s where most stuff ends up. Poole says that a passenger’s lost fake tooth once made its way to lost and found.
If the item doesn’t turn up at lost and found at your destination airport, call the airline and ask where the airplane flew to next. Explains Poole, “There’s a chance it won’t be discovered until the next leg. An airline employee might also have picked it up, and will return it personally, or leave it at your hotel.” Poole herself did this with a $500 check she found inside a book left onboard (can you say “good karma?”).
Realize that policies will vary depending upon the carrier, type of aircraft, and where you happen to be, destination-wise.
Try not to appear frantic or act demanding. You don’t want to arouse suspicions, or piss anyone off. Just calmly state the problem, while making it clear the item is of value.
If you don’t speak the language, hopefully you have a phrasebook handy. I keep a list of emergency phrases to cover my butt in situations like this, so I have them at my immediate disposal. I write them on the inside cover of my phrase book. Lonely Planet also has excellent phrasebooks that contain sentences like “Help, I’ve lost my….” Sign language, as I discovered in Brazil, also works well in a left-item scenario.
Leave your name and contact information, as well as where you’ll be during your visit (if this pertains) with lost and found personnel, or any gate agents/airline personnel you personally speak to. Also get the name and phone number of the person you speak to at lost and found, so you can follow-up, if necessary.
How can I minimize the chances of leaving an item on the plane, or losing it permanently?
- Unpacking your carry-on, or fiddling with devices while under the influence is a recipe for lost valuables. If you’re flying solo, tape a Post-it note to the seat back in front of you, reminding yourself to to collect everything before deplaning. Sure, you’ll look like an anal-retentive freak. But who cares, as long as you leave with all of your belongings?
- Don’t stuff valuables in the seat back pocket, especially if under the influence. I always try to keep everything contained to my carry-on, which I stow beneath the seat in front of me. If you normally stash in overhead, keep a compact, reusable shopping bag on you (some have small clips so you can attach to your belt loop). You can put whatever you might need in-flight inside it, thus minimizing the chances of items going astray or falling into the maw of the seat back pocket.
- Always ID tag carry-on valuables like cell phones, iPod’s, cameras, etc.. I use stick-on address labels; if you don’t want the whole world to know where you live, just put a cell phone number and email.
- Even if you didn’t unpack anything in-flight, do a sweep of your seat and floor before deplaning. I’ve had items fall out of not-fully zipped, or elasticized pockets on my carry-on.
Lost and found contact numbers for major U.S. carriers
While researching this piece, I quickly discovered that many airlines don’t have a general number for lost and found. Most require you to fill out an online form, or report missing items in person at the destination airport.
American Airlines: If I may put my two cents in (and I will), AA has the most idiotic lost and found/customer service policy. There is no general number, so you must “call the Lost and Found office of the specific airport to or from which you were traveling.” Which is awesome, because none of these offices are open 24 hours. When I called the Delayed Baggage number to explain who I was and what I was writing about, and if they could provide me with a general number to assist readers, I was told, “You can send a written letter to customer relations.” Thanks, AA. You rock.
Delta: Click here to report your missing item.
Continental: Click here to report your missing item.
Southwest: Report missing item in person within four hours at your destination.
Jet Blue: “Articles found onboard an aircraft will be placed in the JetBlue lost and found area of the destination city. You may call the JetBlue Baggage Service office at the airport to inquire about your lost item.”
Alaska: 1-800-25-7522, say “More options,” then “Baggage information.”
Frontier: Click here to report your missing item.
Virgin America: Contact one of these lost and found offices.
If you leave any item at any TSA security check, call 1-866-289-9673.