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Is This What Happens to Items You Leave Behind on Flights?

Is This What Happens to Items You Leave Behind on Flights?
Jennifer Billock

A man who accidentally forgot his laptop on a Delta Air Lines flight had it stolen from the plane; he was ultimately able to track the computer down to the home of the person who allegedly took it and get it back, but he has concerns now about how this was able to happen so easily in the first place.

Robert, a passenger on a recent Delta Air Lines flight who declined to share his last name, accidentally left his laptop on his flight when he boarded—and later discovered it had been stolen. Robert alleges that someone on the cleaning crew took it. Ultimately Robert was able to track his computer down and luckily had the laptop returned to him.

“I was not hopeful. I was not expecting to actually get it,” Robert told WSB-TV Atlanta. “I called Delta, tried to get them to track it down. They just put me through to lost and found and I left a voicemail.”

The laptop was found at a home less than 10 minutes from the airport. Robert found it by using the Find My iPhone app on his phone.

“When you go in there, it shows you all your devices and you can zoom and see where they are,” Robert told WSB-TV.

The person at the residence where the laptop was found confirmed that he cleans Delta planes and eventually admitted to stealing a laptop from one and selling it for $500. The police had the man call the person he sold it to, buy it back, and return it to Robert.

“Probably a lot of people after a long day of travel forget phones, laptops, whatever—and the fact that it can be so brazenly taken right out of an airport is frustrating and I think a little bit scary in the bigger picture,” Robert said.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (22)


  1. tmac100

    December 30, 2018 at 6:02 am

    I forgot my tablet on a Sri Lankan flight from DOH to CMB. Initially UL said they had no knowledge of it, but I persisted – telling when I first noticed I forgot it (at the Serendib UL lounge in CMB) and what seat I was in and where I had left it.

    With that knowledge UL found it and sent it onward to me in MEL on the next scheduled UL flight (CMB-MEL). What service!

    Recently, in India, when I left that same tablet at an air-con waiting room lounge at Cochin Railway Station, and I noticed I did not have it – just as the train was leaving the station – I contacted the Indian Railway police on the train and the ticket inspector. They contacted the railway police at the Cochin RR station and found and retrieved the tablet, stating it would be sent to the Station Manager at my destination – and on the next train. At my destination, I saw the Station Manager and he already knew the tablet was on the train and would be there shortly. About 3 hours later, when the next train arrived, I got my tablet, charger, and charging cable. I just had to give a photocopy of my passport ID page and write out and sign a statement as to what I received.

    When I thanked the SM he grinned and said “This is Indian Railways. We take care of our passengers”. Classic statement.

  2. gya007

    January 1, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    Lost my iPhone on a Southwest flight, last month. No sign of it, on find my iphone. it’s been offline since that day. They must ripped it apart and sold it off for parts… :-(

  3. squiddy

    January 4, 2019 at 10:41 am

    My laptop was stolen at an a/p, and the detective assigned to their said employees, including TSA screeners, were often the culprits in those thefts.

    But yeah, I left a tablet on a flight in the seat back, realized it within 30 minutes and immediately made a report, including the seat number. The aircraft was still at the airport. Never found.

    95% a cleaning crew person took it.

  4. Carl Christensen

    January 4, 2019 at 11:05 am

    @tmac100 sounds like you need to be more careful leaving expensive electronics laying around. I have never left anything on a flight. Who doesn’t do an inventory check to make sure they have everything.

  5. see2xu

    January 4, 2019 at 11:16 am

    After a 2-stop, 22 hour marathon on AC to SYD, I left my fitted earbuds on the shelf beside my seat. I realized what I’d done when we were waiting for our luggage, but the lost baggage agent was of no use, and there was no mobile signal in the bowels of the terminal.

    As soon as we got outside, I started wading through the phone tree, trying to get to someone alive within the terminal. Eventually I succeeded, they took my information, and I never heard from them, again.

    Two years ago, I left the replacement set in the seat pocket on a DL flight that ended up storm-stayed in MKE. Same story, I realized in the cab on the way to the hotel that I’d screwed up. Called Delta, gave them the information (the plane was still sitting there, of course!), but they couldn’t produce the ear buds.

    Resigned to ordering yet ANOTHER set (these are fitted to my ears, and rather pricey, but of NO value to anyone whose ear canals aren’t a close approximation of mine), I entered the information on the Delta page for “left on board” items. A short time after, I got an e-mail from a service in BHM, who had them, and I got them back for the price of shipping, probably 5% or less of the cost of new ones.

    I’m not sure I can applaud DL for their honesty, it’s possible their cabin cleaners recognized that these wouldn’t bring anything on eBay, or tried them in their own ears and they didn’t fit, but I was immensely relieved to get them back.

    Also had an iPad apparently fall out of my briefcase, unnoticed, in a rented Avis car. I’d already ordered an (engraved!) replacement, when Avis called to tell me that a subsequent renter had found it, and turned it in!

    I’m pretty confident most of the time the items are taken and marketed by the cleaning crews – most who can afford to fly already have the kind of items that are commonly left, and have a healthy fear of the consequences if they’re found in possession of someone else’s valuables.

    But it’s still a distressing comment on the times we live in.

  6. squiddz

    January 4, 2019 at 11:32 am

    I did a double-take when I saw “squiddy” above – that’s not me! I left an iPad on a plane about 7-8 years ago, the airline personnel found my contact info and called me and I returned to the airport and got it. My other experience was with BA, maybe 5 years ago, flying to London and then Italy. I left my Bose headphones on board when we landed in London, I realized it when I got to Italy. I tried to contact BA at the Italian airport with no luck. But I found a phone # for BA online, called them in London (from Italy) and got a real live person right away, who said they had my headphones! When I got back to London I took the tube to LHR and a BA employee met me with my headphones. I am glad I was able to tell this story again because it had such a wonderful outcome and I was so grateful to everyone at BA who helped. Yes, I am more careful now. 😉

  7. tonyv8

    January 4, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    I left a Kindle e-reader on a Korean Air flight and did not know it. As I was waiting for my bag to arrive on the carousel in LAX, I was paged by Korean Air, then a uniformed employee walked down to the baggage area and gave it to me.

  8. avw

    January 4, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    I left an ipad mini on a plane once. I think it was on Delta.I immediately filed a report and told them my seat number.The device continued to ride in the seat pocket to another city where the cleaning crew retrieved it. It was returned to my original destination within 48 hours and I was able to pick it up at lost and found before I boarded my return flight. Great service!

    On another occasion, my husband left his ipad on the Atlanta airport train. We put a notice on the device that it was lost and where to call to return it. We offered a reward for its return. Using The Find My Phone app, we watched the device travel to a home not far from the airport. We received a call at about 1 am from someone who said that he had it and would like to return it for the reward. He was a fast food worker in the airport. I told him to take it to the lost and found at the airport and we would arrange for the return. Lost and found was not happy that I was going to pay a reward for the return, but I told her that the message we put on the phone promised that and we were very glad to get it back. No doubt, the person who took it intended to keep it, but changed his mind when he realized that it was being tracked. Love that Find My Phone app!

  9. pmrowczynski

    January 4, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    In 2018, traveling from RNO to PHL I left a cell phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 8) on a Delta flight. Calling it after reaching PHL, I was pleased to find out that it was in the hands of Delta lost+found in SLC where I had my lay over.

    The cleaning crew picked it up (in the seat back I presume) and turned it over to Delta. On the return flight, I simply swung by the baggage office and picked up my device.

    It’s not all doom and gloom, there are still good people out there. At the time, the phone was worth about $800-1000.

  10. satman40

    January 4, 2019 at 2:53 pm

    Left an IPod Touch on WN Fight years ago,

    Cleaning crew found and forwarded it to my hotel..Fed X my account..

  11. mfan

    January 4, 2019 at 4:14 pm

    It all comes down to your luck, whether the finder is honest or not… I have left my laptop on the plane 3 times over the past 12 years. Each time, it was turned over to the airline lost & found office, and I recovered it. Also, my son’s girlfriend left her iPhone X on a Southwest flight into SJC last Thanksgiving. She realized it when we were driving down the 101 freeway. W turned around immediately to get back to SJC. They went to the Southwest check-in desk to ask, and one of the flight attendant happened to be turning it it into the lost & found office. The bottom line is there are still MANY honest people in the world…

  12. MimiB22

    January 4, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    There are honest people and there are dishonest ones. I left a cashmere shawl on a flight and despite an immediate lost and found report before leaving the airport, it was never turned in. I can’t be sure who decided to keep it, it could even have been a fellow passenger. I also once left my Kindle on a plane in the seat back pocket and despite a report to the airline including my seat number, it was not turned in or returned to me. But this happens everywhere and all the time. Kindles don’t have Find Me apps.

  13. toddhicks209

    January 5, 2019 at 4:03 am

    When you finish using your device, put it back in your pocket or in your bag. It also helps to check your area before walking away.

  14. surfchyk

    January 5, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    OMG I wish I was one of those people who remembered everything all. the. time. i’ve lost so many things on planes over the years, it’s nuts. Most of the time, I’m really fortunate and my ipod/license/book/whatever are turned in. Not always, though. My two favorite (!) were when i walked off my flight without my ipad battery. i was in 4A. I reached the end of the flyway, realised what I’d done, turned back (salmon upstream). In the one and a half minutes that had elapsed, my battery had found a new home (nice battery). My favorite, however, was when i took off my earbuds to go through security. A step away from the conveyor belt, I realised I’d left them in the little carrier thing…turned around; gone. I just consider them gifts to whomever takes them. And thank goodness for ebay.

  15. zoey59

    January 5, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    Ok a few years back left my kindle on a united flight – filled out the forms it was tracked down and sent to me for a small handling shopping fee. I never thought I’d see it again but the process seemed to work

  16. John Sinclair

    January 6, 2019 at 3:45 am

    Pointless article. Everyone knows that 99% of the times the cleaners steal it. It’s the only perk of their poorly paid job.

  17. MitchR

    January 6, 2019 at 7:39 am

    In the 80’s and 90’s airport lost and founds were great. The advent of EBay and Craigs List seem to have ended that.

  18. Mary123

    January 6, 2019 at 8:28 am

    I left a G-Pad on a Delta flight. I left it in the pocket in front of my seat, which was 1A. I realized I’d left it within minutes of getting off the plane and I went back to the gate. The plane was still at the gate but it had been “cleaned” and the pad was gone. I reported it on Delta’s “lost and found” website, which is the only option and you don’t get to speak to a human. I left a comment saying I did not “lose” it, I know exactly where I left it: Delta “lost” it. Nothing was ever done about it and I never saw it again.

  19. jctech

    January 7, 2019 at 1:28 am

    I forgot a pair of glasses on a Swiss Air flight, they were at the desk when I checked in for my return flight.

  20. darch1

    January 7, 2019 at 1:41 am

    Left my brand new Microsoft Surface Pro in the seatback pocket while disembarking from a Brussels Airlines flight in Bilbao, Spain. Realized at the aircraft door but was not allowed back in for a so-called security reason. I had to contact lost-and-found but of course my laptop was never recovered. Very frustrating…

  21. top987

    January 7, 2019 at 7:53 am

    Not everyone is as organized as Carl so some of us leave things behind now and then. But it is ultimately your responsibility and your own fault if you lose, leave behind, have something slip out of a pocket, etc. something and the finder decides to keep it. Delta doesn’t lose the device you left behind, maybe their employee, or another deplaning passenger steals something you left behind, but that’s not on Delta. Employers in some states can do background checks and sometimes they can fire union employees, but it isn’t their fault when an employee or passenger steals something you left behind.

  22. CEB

    January 8, 2019 at 7:21 pm

    Week before last flew into PDX on UA, left my tablet in the seat back (3E as we were lucky and got the upgrade from DEN.) At baggage claim talking to the agent about some damage to a bag from the previous flight earlier in the week and up walks the flight attendant and hands me my tablet!

    A few years ago I came in on UA from Tokyo through SFO to PDX. Left my phone charger in the seat back (You can see where I tend to forget things in the seat back!) and realized it when I got to the club lounge. Agent called and they found the charger, but could not get it to me in time. I said, can you hold it as I’ll be back through next week. No problem and i simply went out to pick it up a few days later (leaving my carry on with my wife.) and was back through security in less than 30 minutes!I

    I have consistently found that UA does a pretty good job even if occasionally things do get truly lost.

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