Recently, when sifting through my bag at the car rental counter, it hit me: My passport was most definitely still on the plane. After a brief moment of total panic, I remembered the most important thing when you’ve left something vital on the plane: Time is of the essence.
Help! I Left My Laptop, Passport, Tablet, Wallet, Glasses, etc. on the Plane
Go ahead, give yourself 30 seconds to freak out. Done? Now it’s time to spring into action.
If You’re Still in the Airport and Haven’t Exited the Pre-Screened Security Area
As quickly as you can, head back to the gate. Hopefully, the plane hasn’t left yet. If it’s still at the gate, there’s most likely a cleaning crew on the plane. Politely explain your situation to the gate agent; they should be able to retrieve your left-behind item.
If You’re Still at the Airport, But Have Left the Secure Area
Go straight to the baggage desk—or the check-in desk, or the customer service desk—for your respective airline and ask them to radio the cleaning crew on the plane. Have your ticket handy and tell them your flight number and origin/destination, so they can relay the information quickly. You’ll also want the information for your gate number, seat number, and a specific description of the missing item.
If You’ve Left the Airport
First, contact the baggage services department of the airline. If you’re not too far away, you might even consider heading back to the airport; an in-person conversation in this situation can be helpful. Sometimes, reaching out on social media, especially the airline’s Twitter account, can mobilize the airline more quickly. If it’s been more than two hours and the plane has most likely left, your next step is to call the airline’s customer service line and file a lost and found report. With some airlines, you can fill out the report online.
Note that there are some third-party websites that claim to have access to lost-and-found databases of airlines and airports. But note that these services charge a fee to retrieve and return lost items at airports, so I suggest always going through the airline or airport’s official website and process. However, you should still expect to pay shipping charges for your lost item if it’s found and returned to you by the airport or airline.
Travel Tip: If you’ve left electronics on the plane, try and use the location services on the device to locate it. Once you’ve located it and filed your report, you should turn off any data plans associated with it so you don’t end up with overage charges. For cellphones, call service should be left on for about a week in order to help with the search-and-verification process.
Lost and Found Cheatsheet for Airlines
Deadlines for reporting lost items on airlines range from seven to 30 days, so the sooner you report your item left on the plane, the better. Airlines technically are not responsible for your missing or lost property, but many do their best to reunite you with your left item. Here’s lost-and-found contact information for domestic and international carriers.
Domestic/North America Airlines’ Lost and Found Claim Contact Information
- Air Canada (online form available)
- Alaska Airlines (online form available)
- Allegiant Air (call 866-719-3910)
- American Airlines (online form available)
- Delta Air Lines (online form available)
- Frontier Airlines (online form available)
- Hawaiian Airlines
- JetBlue (online form available)
- Southwest Airlines (online form available)
- Spirit Airlines (contact airport or baggage office directly)
- United Airlines (online form available)
International Airlines’ Lost and Found Claim Contact Information
- Air New Zealand (online form available)
- ANA (online form available)
- Avianca Airlines
- British Airways (contact the airport directly)
- Cathay Pacific Airways (contact local baggage services)
- Emirates (contact the airport directly)
- Korean Air
- Norwegian Air Shuttle (depends on your airport; passports are handed over to local law enforcement)
- Qantas Airways (contact the airport directly)
- Qatar Airways (online form available; passports are handed over to local airport authorities)
- Singapore Airlines (online form available for Singapore airport only; otherwise call airport directly)
- Thai Airways International (contact the airport directly)
- Turkish Airlines (contact the airport directly)
- Virgin Atlantic Airways (contact the airport directly or call 1-800-880-6253)
Note that if it’s a passport you’ve lost at an international airport, it will most likely be turned over to local law enforcement or local airport authorities.
You’re Not Sure Where You Left Something …
Your next step is to contact the arrival airport’s lost and found (usually you can find this with a simple Google search or on the customer service section of its website). If you’re unsure when your item went missing, also contact your departure airport’s lost and found, any airports where you had a layover, and the TSA’s (if in the U.S.) lost and found.
Lost and Found Claim Contact Information for Major U.S. Airports
Most airports have a desk location in the airport, plus contact information and an online form so you can file a claim even if you’re no longer at the airport. Click the link for a specific airport’s details.
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
- Denver International Airport
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport
- Chicago O’Hare International Airport
- IAH Airport
- John F. Kennedy International Airport
- Los Angeles International Airport
- Newark Liberty International Airport
- Miami International Airport
- Las Vegas McCarran International Airport
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
- San Francisco International Airport
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
How to Avoid Leaving Something Important on the Plane
The good news is that you can take steps to ensure you don’t leave anything on the plane. And if you do leave an important item behind, there are ways you can prepare in advance to increase the chances of getting the item back. Here are my top tips:
- For electronics, make sure that location services and features like “Find my phone” are turned on.
- Clearly label your items.
- Consider purchasing a device tracker, like a Tile Sticker, to help you locate your device if it goes missing.
- Don’t put items in the seatback pocket in front of you.
- Always travel with a photocopy of your identification and passport in your personal item.
More from SmarterTravel:
- How to Cope with Lost Luggage on Vacation
- This Is the Worst Airline for Lost Luggage
- What to Do When Your Checked Bag Is Lost
Ashley Rossi has, in fact, left her passport on a plane (one time, okay!?) and will never put something important in the seatback pocket again. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.