Man Leaves Wallet With $45,000 Cash On A Plane – And Gets It Back

A passenger on Vietnam Airlines flight VN7177 from Hanoi to Da Nang on April 24 left a wallet on board containing $45,000 in U.S. dollars, along with US$2,169 worth of Vietnamese Dong, and an ATM card. The passenger got the wallet back the same day.

Flight attendants turned the wallet over to lost and found in Da Nang, who tracked down the passenger – who was grateful and sent letters of thanks to both lost and found and to the flight attendants who turned it in. Apparently all of the money was still in the wallet when it was returned.

Credit: Vietnam Airlines

More often than not passengers don’t recover lost items left on planes and that’s a failure that basic systems should correct for, if anyone cared enough.

If you leave something behind at a security checkpoint you’re better off searching for it on eBay than at lost and found. (And with the TSA ‘leaving behind at security’ also means leaving valuables in your checked luggage.)

At American no one will retrieve your missing items because helping customers gets in the way of their operation. Apparently the reason you don’t get your stuff back if you leave valuables on a Delta flight? Airplane cleaners will keep what they find.

I once left a camera behind on a Bali – Singapore flight. I didn’t realize until I made it to the train to change terminals. I returned to the gate and there were no staff there to help. So I went to the lounge and told them my story, the camera was recovered, I was updated in the lounge and told it would be waiting for me on the jetbridge of my connecting flight. And it was. This was Singapore Airlines, flying first class. Apparently Vietnam Airlines does a really nice job with this, too.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. That would never happen in the US. If a kind passenger found it and turned it into the police, the police would have run it by a drug dog (all US currency has traces of cocaine on it) and then seized it. There would have been a big ceremony at the airport where they laid out all the cash and congratulated themselves for “interdicting” it. They may have thrown some knives and other contraband from other passengers on the table for full effect.

  2. I left my iPhone in a Sri Lankan airlines flight once (flew in J) back in 2014 and realized it once I got to the lounge waiting for my connecting flight.
    The airport workers at Colombo airport were helpful as well and I received my iPhone back roughly 30 mins after I informed the lounge employee.

  3. I got to the American Airlines arrivals lounge at Heathrow and realized I left my suit bag in the closet of the plane. Panicking (because I would have to go to my meeting in jeans) I asked the agent (Marc) if he could call the gate. The gate didn’t answer so he went himself all the way back to the plane and retrieved my bag from the closet, through security in two directions. As Heathrow T3 is basically a huge maze, the round trip was probably more than 30 minutes. That guy totally saved my life.

  4. In all my travels, I “lost” two wallets in NYC; one in a yellow cab, the other was found on the pavement on 22nd street between Park Ave and Broadway, “lost” another wallet in an Uber in Singapore, and one laptop in Toronto and all were returned. The first wallet returned to me in NYC was particularly memorable because I had $2,000 cash along with about $100k in combined credit. I received a call 4 hours after not realizing I had “lost” my wallet, giving me directions to meet them outside the building they lived. In disbelief I went and everything was intact; not a dollar taken. I tried to “tip” them but all they asked was for me to repay the deed in future.

    @ SeanNY2: I would disagree because it happened in the US. NYC to be exact.

  5. Had a wallet returned to me that I lost in the customs/immigration terminal at the main airport in the Maldives. Not a dime taken. So great to hear stories like this.

  6. Try leaving $2 on a Spirit flight….. Those mofo’s will pick your pocket before you even leave the plane.

  7. The stories of things returned that aren’t of such high value (like in this case) never make the news. I had once forgotten my iPad in the seatback pocket on a DL flight, but remembered while disembarking, they waited until everyone had left the cabin and then had someone walk back and retrieve it. Another time I forgot my passport after a domestic connecting flight and had already left the secure perimeter, walked up to AA ticket sales, and had only to wait about 20 minutes until someone showed up with it. The third time, I arrived at LHR T3 and forgot my Bose headphones in their case inside the Qantas lounge. I first noticed while I boarded the BA flight at T5. I stayed in contact with Qantas via Twitter, and when I connected at LHR again 3 weeks later, I met up at T3 in front of the BA lounge with a very nice employee from Qantas who handed me back the headphones, and in return, I handed him a bag full of treats you can only buy in the US as a thank you gesture. The only bad experience I had was cash being stolen out of my room at a luxury hotel in Berlin.

  8. Northwest was very helpful and did a really nice job of retrieving a laptop charger from an inbound flight, before its turn, for return later that day at MSP.

    I found a camera left in a NYC cab in a nearby pawn shop, and the owner returned it gratis. Cabbie that dropped it off to secure a loan had his license revoked. Karma.

  9. I found a wallet on the street in Tokyo. It contained about $120 in yen and some young guy’s ID.

    My Japanese is sketchy at best and English is not widely spoken. Nonetheless, I was able to find a police station and discussed the matter with an officer. He informed me that I was entitled by law to a 10% finders fee. I said thanks anyway and moved on.

  10. @SeanNY2

    Thanks for reminding us the issue of civil asset forfeiture and the war on drugs that criminalizes people for making decisions for their own bodies and is used as a pretext to infringe on our rights in many different areas. All the politicians who complained about civil asset forfeiture have been pretty silent lately. They paid lip service to the issue. They never cared.

  11. My experience with AA, knowing that items ABSOLUTELY were left on board, in First.

    Samsung tablet in a bright orange cover. Gone.

    Straw hats (2), souvenirs of an Australian trip. Gone.

    Different trips.

    AA responsiblilty: None.

    I never thought that the cleaning crews, pre-covid, were SO efficient!

    When AA automated thier lost and found, you can just kiss it all goodbye.

  12. Once I forgot my unlocked iPhone at the Air China PVG lounge, and reported it missing during my PVG-ICN flight (Asiana) completing the proper forms. Lo and behold, 3 days later it was FedExed by OZ to my house in California!

  13. Americans like to think that they’re much freer than the Vietnamese who they fought for a decade in the name of human rights, etc., but the comment of SeanNY2 is absolutely correct and spot on . . . traveling with that much cash in the USA is enough for the authorities to conclude that its either proceeds of a crime, or will be used in a crime, and the cops would confiscate it immediately and you’d be lucky not to be prosecuted personally.

  14. First, who carries $45k in cash in a wallet? Second, how can you fit $45k in a wallet? Last, who is the moron to lose a wallet with $45k in cash?

  15. I was waiting in JAL lounge in NRT for connection to ICN from CGK and recalled that I had left an airport shopping bag in the overhead. Asked lounge staff if I could retrieve the item, was escorted to the plane, through immigration, and found the item where I had left it. Escorted back to lounge.

  16. I once lost my virginity in a motel near Zap, North Dakota. It was never returned.

  17. There are situations where you might not want to get a lost item back. I left my wallet at CLT TSA a few years ago before departing for Thailand. I realized it after takeoff and called Delta from Detroit where I was connecting to a flight to NRT. The Delta CLT station manager got the wallet from TSA and said he’d send it to me in BKK via Delta cargo. That sounded reasonable (I assumed no cost to Delta for my error) even though I’d need to go to the BKK cargo terminal to pick up the wallet when it arrived.

    When the wallet arrived a day after I did, I went to the customs area (which was interesting) but discovered that they wanted a “customs fee” of several hundred dollars to claim my freaking wallet. After going round and round with them about the ridiculous bribe, I mean fee, they agreed I could get the important contents of the wallet (nothing had been removed) without a fee but the wallet couldn’t leave the facility unless the fee was paid. Who knows the wallet may still be there.

    I greatly appreciated the Delta station manager’s efforts but think it would have been easier to use FedEx or something. To top it off, Delta Cargo charged Delta CLT about $80 to transport an item that fits in your hand and weighs less than a pound.

  18. I had just stepped off the airplane and was still in the jet bridge when I realized my Bose headset was still onboard the AA flight (after international arrival at DFW)….I was told I couldn’t return to the aircraft and would get my headset in the customs hall….how do you think that turned out? Yep, someone at AA kept my Bose headset. Someone else mentioned it above, anything left on and AA aircraft should be considered lost forever. Only success I had was when I was on an aircraft leaving Las Vegas and we had to switch aircraft due to maintenance and my laptop had slipped out under the seat when we had to switch aircraft. Realized it was missing while inflight, jumped on wifi and AA’s social media team came through…but not without huge difficulties….even the AA social media team had a hell of a time reaching the airport personnel.

  19. What a beautiful story. It feels good that there is honesty still in the world!

  20. On a taxi trip to the Seville airport my passport fell out of my pocket. The taxi driver found me in line waiting to check in. I don’t speak Spanish and the driver wasn’t handing the passport back to me. A guy next to me said he was asking for a second fare because he had to return to the airport.

    My wife thinks the driver pick pocketed me and runs this as a scam.

  21. @Gavin I totally believe in the kindness and honesty of the vast majority of citizens, even in NYC. Neither of your stories surprises me. I left a bag with about 500 British pounds, a very expensive camera, laptop and iPad and a nice suit in the trunk of an Uber in NYC and the guy returned everything to me the next day. He had even gone through the suitcase to try to find my address (I learned my lesson to put my name even on carry ons) before I finally contacted him. Yet everything was intact. He could easily have said that the next passenger took the whole bag.

    Anyway, my point was that if the good Samaritan gives the wallet to the police they will confiscate a large sum of cash, and they do that all the time.

    And to add to what people say about AA, the same is true of BA. I lost my cell phone in BA business. I told the agent and stupidly I said I wasn’t sure if maybe I left it in the hotel room (as I had two phones at the time). She said if I left it there, then they would surely find it when cleaning the cabin. Well, it’s either still there or the cleaners stole it because I called them back the next day — after I remembered taking photos of my meal with that phone so I’m sure I had it with me after all — and they claimed it was never found.

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