Think flying is already stressful enough? Mix in a missing phone or wallet somewhere along the way, and that dream trip suddenly shifts into nightmare mode. No matter how many announcements the flight attendants make, even the most seasoned travelers are susceptible to forgetting a personal item onboard an aircraft.
While the odds of getting your item back might be slim, there are a few steps you can take to increase your chances of retrieving your lost item.
In almost all instances, your success will come down to timing and a bit of luck. The quicker you realize your item has gone missing, the better your chances are of being reunited with it.
Steps to Retrieve a Lost Item Onboard
Ideally, realizing you left your Kindle in the magician’s hat that is the seatback pocket where all things seem to disappear before exiting the plane is the best situation. Not all cases play out as easy. Here’s a look at several different scenarios and what you should do in order to (fingers crossed) get your stuff back.
At the Airport – Airside
If you’re still at the airport when you realize you’ve misplaced an item and you haven’t gone past the point of no return—beyond security—your best bet is to beeline back to your arrival gate.
If you hurry, there’s a chance that your plane might still be at the jetway going through cleaning or waiting for the next batch of flyers to board. Alert the airline employee at the gate with a quick description and your seat number and they should send a crewmember to look onboard. Due to security restrictions, you won't be let back on to help search, but the odds of immediately finding your missing item are the highest with this method.
At the Airport – Landside
Maybe you’re standing around waiting for your suitcase to turn that corner on the carousel when you notice that you’ve left your reading glasses onboard. Since you won’t be able to return to the gate, the best plan of action is to head over to the carrier’s baggage department and speak to a representative in-person. More often than not, when things go missing on an aircraft, they’ll be relayed to the Lost & Found area at the claim office.
The item will likely not be at the office if you notice that soon, but by alerting the staff at the office and filling out a claim there if the item does arrive your chances of getting it back are drastically increased. They also have the ability to call the gate and see if it has been returned to the podium by cleaning staff or a crewmember.
After You’ve Left the Airport
Sometimes it’s not until hours later when you realize you’ve accidentally left your Apple EarPods in the seatback pocket that was in front of you. In instances where you've already left the airport and aren't within range of returning, your best option is to pick up the phone (granted it's not the thing you lost). First, call the baggage department at your arrival airport and see if the item has been returned to Lost & Found, if that comes up dry, call the airline's hotline to file a lost item report formally.
It's at this point that the search might hop online. Many airlines will redirect you to their websites to file the claim, and I've listed the links below for shorthand, but if you're desperate to get your item back, your best avenue is to return to the airport and speak with someone directly. The face-to-face interaction generally gets the ball rolling faster than filling out the form online and anxiously awaiting a reply.
If you’re still clutching at straws trying to locate your lost item, try the social media route. Most airlines have a dedicated Twitter account or Facebook page where you can turn for a last ditch effort to retrieve your item. While success rates are low on this road, it’s worth the long shot.
Airline Contact Info
Alaska Airlines: Send a lost item report with this link
Allegiant Air: Complete a lost item form by clicking here
American Airlines: Lost & Found landing page can be viewed here
Delta Air Lines: Send a lost item report with this link
Hawaiian Airlines: Central Baggage Services Office information here
Southwest Airlines: Report a lost item and FAQ’s can be seen here
Spirit Airlines: Lost & Found landing page can be viewed here
United Airlines: Instructions on missing item issues can be found here
For international based airlines not listed above, it’s best to call the airline's toll-free 800 number and ask to be relayed to the airport baggage office as soon as you notice your item is missing.
Alternatively, you can fill out a form on the carrier’s website but if in transit speaking directly to a representative is a faster solution than filing and waiting for a claim via e-mail.
For your valuable electronic devices, set up tracking apps like “find my iPhone” to pinpoint where you might’ve lost it. If you can successfully locate it, relaying that information to the proper airline employees will significantly help in the search for your devices (this feature doesn’t work in airplane mode, so take note of that, but if someone finds your device and switches it off it will become discoverable).
If you're always forgetful, small tracking devices like the Tile, Rinex, and Cube chips can help find lost items like keys, wallets, or laptop cases if you prefer a more high-tech route to locate your belongings.
Lastly, it seems simple enough, but most people don’t take the time – label your belongings! I personally write my phone number and name on all my headphone and glasses cases in the event I misplace them while traveling. You can also insert business cards or any other contact information into pockets or labels of jackets, phone cases, or tablets. That way, if the airplane employees can’t seem to find it, you might still have a chance that your lost item turns up in a good Samaritan’s hands and they’ll give you a call.