Here’s What to Do If You Leave Something on a Plane

Ever step off of the plane, watch the boarding door close, and realize just one minute too late that you left something behind? Don't lose hope yet!

There’s nothing as hectic as a traveling day. We all know the drill: from the moment your alarm sounds in the morning, your mind swims with last-minute errands to run, items to pack, and affairs to set in order before your flight. You misplace your phone every two minutes. And your wallet. And your keys. When you finally manage to hail a cab, you find yourself, predictably, in a traffic jam. Eventually, you arrive at the airport and reach your gate breathless, bitter, and boarding. Though you do make your flight, it’s too late to escape the effects of the chaotic day; in all your frenzy, you accidentally leave something on the plane.

At this point, you might feel like the world and the airline companies have joined forces to play a cruel prank on you—and you definitely need these travel secrets to minimize your stress. Rest assured, however, we’ve all been there, and there is a way to get your item back from the plane. Here’s what to do:

Go back to the gate

Julie McCool, travel expert and writer for Fun in Fairfax VA, suggests that “if you are still in the terminal near the plane you departed, and time allows, return to the gate and find an agent. Show your boarding pass to the agent and be as precise as possible about what and where you left the item (under the seat, in the seatback pocket, etc.)” Since gate agents can contact the cleaning crew or flight attendants who are still on the plane, this is the most direct way to retrieve your lost item—one of many secrets airlines won’t tell you. Plus, handling the situation at the gate means that you can walk off with your item—rather than waiting for it to be returned in the mail.

Get help at your connecting gate

If you have a connecting flight and no layover time to return to the gate you deplaned from, go speak with an agent at your next gate. Again, make sure to show the agent your boarding pass, describe where you left the item, and provide your contact information so the airline can mail your item to your home or final destination. Most people don’t realize the gate agent for their connecting flight can be extremely helpful in these situations—just like people don’t know about these hidden airplane features. That being said, McCool says it’s important to “keep in mind they might be too busy boarding your next flight to make calls for you.”

Go to baggage claim

You may be wondering what you should do if you have already left security by the time you realize your item is still on the plane. Don’t worry, you can still recover your belonging. In this instance, Cassandra Brooklyn, travel expert and owner of EscapingNY, suggests that you “head over to your airline’s baggage department, where you can fill out a claim form. You can also ask the baggage department staff to call your gate to see if your item has been returned to the gate podium by the crew or cleaning staff.” If your plane is still at the airport, chances are the flight attendants or cleaning crew onboard will be able to help.

Call the airline

In your frazzled flying state, you may not even realize that you’ve left something on the plane until you return home and find yourself needing the one missing item. If this is the case, the first thing to do is get on the phone. Cassandra Brooklyn suggests calling “the airport’s baggage department to see if the item has been turned in to the airport’s Lost and Found. Next, call your airline to file a missing item report.” Hopefully, one of these two calls will lead to success, and you’ll be reunited with your belonging in no time. However, if the item has not been turned in to baggage claim and the airline representative cannot help you file a report over the phone, Brooklyn suggests submitting an online claim for your lost belonging.

Send out an S.O.S. on social media

It may surprise you to learn that one of the most efficient ways to contact airline representatives is through social media. According to McCool, “most airlines have support staff who monitor social media accounts and they are often quick to respond to a polite request for help.” If you have already left the airport and can’t get an airline representative on the phone, McCool suggests tweeting first and posting on the airline’s Facebook page second. “Make your initial social media request more general, since it is going to be public,” instructs McCool. “Say something like: ‘I left an item on a flight at Dulles Airport today. Can you help?’ The support person will usually respond with the correct contact info or ask you to send a direct message (which is private) with more details,” McCool explains.

Road-trip to Alabama

Hopefully one of these recovery channels can help reunite you with your lost possession—and you never make this mistake, or any of these other errors you should never make on a plane, again.  However, “if all else fails, and your item is never found, consider a trip to Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, Alabama. This giant store is where lost items from airlines get a second life,” says McCool. The aisles are lined with forgotten clothing (cleaned and pressed), misplaced electronic devices (wiped of all personal information), and random lost treasures (ranging from unclaimed snakeskin to snowboards). While you might not be able to find your exact item in this store, you might find a good replacement. At the very least, a road-trip to this eccentric store will help you see that you’re not alone—no one is immune from the traveling craze!

Carley Lerner
Carley Lerner is a freelance writer and former editorial intern for Reader's Digest. She is a member of the Class of 2021 at Duke University, where she writes for the school newspaper, The Chronicle.