We've all felt it: the immediate panic followed by dread when you realize you've lost something. And losing something while in transit is even worse, since you're likely far from the airport or airplane where you left your valuables. If you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, all is not lost. The T.S.A. estimates that around 100,000 items are left behind at checkpoints each month as harried passengers scramble to get to their destinations on time, and many of these items make it back to the hands of their rightful owners. But before you read on for our advice (some of it learned first-hand) on what to do if you lose something at a T.S.A. checkpoint, the airport, or on an airplane, do yourself a favor and label your valuables. Tape your business card to the bottom of your laptop, put your mom's phone number on your cell phone lock screen, and slip a note with your name, address, and phone number inside your wallet. Your future travel self will thank you.
If You Forget Something at the T.S.A. Checkpoint
Losing something at a T.S.A. checkpoint is actually the best case scenario, as long as you notice what's missing before you board your flight. T.S.A. officers are trained to deal with forgotten items, and at smaller airports, they may temporarily keep your valuables to the side, hoping you quickly return to claim them. At Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, I once received a phone call from a friendly T.S.A. agent who notified me that I had left my work computer (which had a label with my name and cell phone number on it) on the security conveyor belt. If you don't immediately return to pick up your lost item, T.S.A. agents will catalogue and store it in the lost and found section (which is either off-site or at the airport -- check the airport's website for specifics). From there, you have two options: Fill out an online form and pay by credit card to have the item shipped to you, or make a trip to the lost and found counter. When I left my driver's license at the T.S.A. PreCheck line at Los Angeles International Airport, I had to make an online appointment, fill out paperwork in person, and show up to a small government office near the airport. It took about 20 minutes, and I got my driver's license back. Lost and found items are usually kept for 30 days. Anything that isn't claimed is either destroyed, turned over to a state agency for surplus property, or sold by the T.S.A. as excess property.
If You Forget Something at the Airport
Losing something at the airport is different than misplacing something at a T.S.A. checkpoint. Deducing exactly where you left your belongings is half the battle. Did you have the phone when you stopped for coffee after the security line? Or, was the last place you remember seeing your phone in the small bowl going through the security conveyor belt? If you're not sure, file claims with both the T.S.A. and the airport police, who operate the airport's lost and found. If you're still at the airport, retrace your steps and ask airport retail employees if anything was turned in. If the item was already given to the airport's lost and found, you may have to exit the gate to retrieve your item from the police, then go back through security. If you've already left the airport, you can fill out forms online, pay for shipping by credit card, and have your item mailed to you if the claim is approved.
If You Forget Something on an Airplane
I left my iPhone in the seat-back pocket on an overnight flight from New York to Marrakesh, and I left my wallet on the floor of the plane (it fell out of my tote bag) on a flight from Maui to Los Angeles. I got the wallet back, with all the cash inside, but the iPhone was never seen again. In Morocco, after I arrived at the riad and realized what I'd done, I took a cab back to the airport to place a lost item claim in person. Royal Air Maroc reps were friendly, but mostly unhelpful. Since no one had turned the phone in, there was nothing to be done.
For the forgotten wallet, I wasn't sure if I misplaced it at the airport or on the plane, but I knew it wasn't at T.S.A. since I bought food after the security checkpoint. I canceled my credit cards and filed reports with both LAX and American Airlines. Both agencies immediately got back to me with generic emails explaining they would be in touch if the wallet was found. You can also tweet, email, and send Facebook messages to the airline if you're not receiving a fast response.
Luckily, American Airlines had my wallet within the hour (a flight crew employee turned it in). To get the wallet back, I had to show up with an approved I.D. during a small window of time at the American Airlines lost and found office. The room was overflowing with jackets, bins of tablets, purses of every shape, and laptops stacked on top of each other. The takeaway? It's very easy to forget something at the airport, but much harder to reclaim it. That being said, it can be done.
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