What to Do if you Leave Something on a Plane

I know exactly how it feels. You return home from a trip, start unpacking your luggage and carry-on bag and realize something is missing. Usually, it’s an iPad, a phone, or a camera; something relatively expensive and very important to you. Other times it is something important but not quite as valuable: your reading glasses, a jacket, a pair of headphones, or your kid’s comfort item or favorite toy. 

Whatever it is, your stomach sinks at the thought of losing it. You stress out, you immediately go online to find a phone number or some other way to trace the item back and file a claim. You start googling things like “what to do if you leave something on a plane” and come across this article and others like it.

Some articles say consider your item gone forever if you left something on a plane. This is not one of them. Our story has a happy ending – and tips to hopefully help you recover your missing property.

Our personal experience when we left something on a plane

a man sitting in an airplane seat looking at his phone.

After returning home from a family trip to Belize and Guatemala, we realized our camera, and all of our pictures from the trip, did not return with us. I wanted to cry. In fact, I’m pretty sure I did cry. We went online to find a contact number for United Airlines’ Lost and Found department. Unfortunately, we could find no such number, only an online form to report missing items.

At the time, I thought I had left our camera on the flight from Belize to Houston, before catching our connection to Oklahoma City. Still, I wanted to retrace our steps, so I contacted the Belize airport, the Houston airport, the Oklahoma City airport, and of course, we filled out the lost and found form on United’s website. Then we waited. For two weeks we heard nothing. I was starting to think our camera was gone forever.

We travel a lot, so it was only two weeks after the incident that we were flying out of Oklahoma again. We decided to stop by the United baggage services room at the Oklahoma City airport. That is the small room near the baggage claim carousels that you go to if your luggage didn’t make it to your destination. 

I thought for sure if United Airlines did find our camera on one of their planes, they would have contacted us by that point, so I wasn’t very hopeful that it would be there. Plus, if it was sitting in any airport, I figured it would be in Houston since I really thought that is where I left it.

We walked in and asked the friendly representative behind the counter if anyone had turned in a camera left on a plane a couple of weeks ago. As the sentence was still coming out of my mouth, the United representative started walking to the back, reappearing moments later with our camera!

“I recognized you guys from your pictures,” she said. “I knew somebody probably really wanted this back.”

We were ecstatic! I actually hugged the woman because I was so happy to be reunited with our lost camera.

While our story has a happy ending, I have to admit we’ve had other instances when we left something on a plane that did not pan out in our favor. Your odds of getting your items back greatly improve if you can physically go to the airport where you got off the plane on which you left a personal item.

What to do if you leave something on a plane 

Leaving something on a plane is easy to do. If you’re flying with a baby or flying with a squirmy toddler, it’s easy to become distracted and forget something. Additionally, if you’re struggling to overcome jet lag, that could also be a factor that will make you extra forgetful.

So, if you’ve left something on a plane and want to improve your chances of getting it back, here are our top tips and steps to take.

If you’re still at the airport – go back to the gate ASAP

an airport gate
Return to the gate immediately if you left something on a plane and you’re still at the airport.

Perhaps you have realized you left something on a plane while you’re still at the airport and you have time to go back to the gate. If that is the case, go back immediately and talk to the gate agent. 

You will not be able to go back on the plane for security reasons, but the gate agent can contact the flight attendants or cleaning crew if they are still on the plane to look for and retrieve your item for you.

Contact all the airline’s airport locations you flew through

an empty row of seats on an airplane
Left something on the plane? Contact baggage services as soon as you realize your item is missing. | Photo by Resetopia from Unsplash

If the moment has passed, the plane has departed, or you have left the airport on another flight or to go home, you probably are experiencing that panicked moment of dread. 

Your next step is to immediately contact your airline’s lost and found at the airport where you got off the plane. When cleaning crews find items left behind on a plane, they are supposed to turn them into the airline’s lost and found or baggage services at that location. 

If the plane you forgot something on landed at your home airport, it’s best to go back to the airport and talk to the airline’s representatives at Lost and Found in person. 

If you had connecting flights and are unsure where you left the item during your travel day, contact the airline’s Lost and Found or Baggage Services at every single airport you flew through.

Use the Find My Phone feature

If you lost a phone or tablet, you may be able to use a tracking feature like Find My Phone to track down exactly where it is. It’s important to note, however, that this service does not work if your phone is turned off or it is in airplane mode.

Chances are, if you left your phone on a plane, it was also left in airplane mode and this feature would not be helpful.

Follow airline’s lost and found procedures

If you have called the airline’s Lost and Found at the airport and have had no success, you can attempt to file a missing item report through the airline’s website. 

Fair warning, this rarely results in a positive outcome. But it is worth a try. If they do find your missing item that you left on the plane, be prepared to pay the shipping charges to mail it back to you or make arrangements to pick it up.

Contact the airline on social media

You will likely only radio silence from the airline in response to your Lost and Found report filed online. The next step if you haven’t given up yet is to message the airline on social media. The sadder your story or the more unique your item left on a plane is, the more likely you’ll have an airline representative take pity on you and go the extra mile to try to help.

Go back to the airport again

a bag sitting on a counter
Going to baggage services in person may be the easiest way to find your lost item. | Photo by Kenny Eliason from Unsplash

Having been through this experience, my best advice to anyone in a similar situation would be to go to the airport and check with the airline’s baggage services department again, in person. 

Even if you think you left something on a connecting flight that did not ultimately land at your destination. Go anyway. If it isn’t there, perhaps the baggage services representative can call the other airport for you. But don’t simply rely on the online form to reunite you with your lost item. It may not happen.

Would United Airlines have eventually tracked down our camera and returned it to us? Perhaps. But it could have taken months. Worse case scenario, they may have never returned it.

Can you file a claim with your travel insurance if you left something on a plane?

an airplane at an airport at sunset
The likelihood of retrieving an item left on a plane greatly increases if you are still at the airport where the plane landed. | Photo by Rocker Sta from Unsplash

Although we always recommend travel insurance and believe it is one of the best investments you can make when traveling, in the case of a lost item left on a plane, travel insurance likely won’t cover the cost or reimburse you for your item. This is because travel insurance does not cover negligence. 

So, if you have gone through all the channels and done everything possible to retrieve your item and haven’t been able to, you can attempt a claim, but I wouldn’t hold out hope that they will cover it. 

Do you have any other questions about what to do if you leave something on a plane? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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This guide to what to do if you leave something on a plane was first written in July 2016 and was most recently updated in March 2024 for accuracy and current travel information.

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5 comments on “What to Do if you Leave Something on a Plane”

What great news! While I haven’t lost my camera I did lose years of baby photos on an external drive a few years ago and I’m quite sure I’ll never be over it. Great photos by the way…

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