Why You Never Get Stuff Back You Leave on a Plane: Delta Cleaning Crew Steals Passenger Laptop

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.

Of course geolocation tracking makes it much easier to track down stolen devices when the thief isn’t technically savvy enough to disable the feature.

An aircraft cleaner in Atlanta admits to taking a laptop found on a Delta aircraft and selling it for $500, after the laptop was tracked using the “Find my iPhone app.” Police persuaded the thief to buy back the laptop and return it to the passenger.

Delta for its part denies any responsibility because the cleaner is works for a company they contract with, rather than being an employee of the airline.

A Delta spokesperson said the company is still looking into the matter.

However, the company said it subcontracts the cleaning crews and the person who took the device is likely not a Delta employee.

I don’t see how an airline is absolved of responsibility for theft from its passengers, on its planes, through a contracting relationship.

(HT: @RenesPoints)

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. I figure that the cabin cleaners are measured only on how clean the plane is when they are done and how fast they can contribute to turning the plane around. The outcome is that the cleaner’s supervisors will place a low priority on sending items found to Delta’s lost-and-found, and I figure that the jacket I left in the overhead last Spring was in a plastic bag in the bottom of a dumpster about the time that I was making my lost-and-found claim on Delta’s website (this was on a flight from LGA to ATL).

    By the way, I was upgraded to domestic First, and for some reason on that flight the FAs didn’t offer to hang up my jacket – so it went into the overhead. My habits got the better of me, and I didn’t check for that jacket when I grabbed my roller bag and briefcase to exit. Now I think twice when removing my stuff from the overhead bin.

  2. Left my wallet (~3 years ago) on a british airways (or maybe Virgin Atlantic) flight from LHR – JFK. The item was found during cleaning when the plane got back to LHR, and had a friend pick it up from there (they asked for ~$250 to send it to New York). Overall positive experience.

    Left my wallet at a National Car Rental, in a rental, three days later I gave up hope of finding it when auto parts charges started adding up on it. Obviously called and got it cancelled / charges removed.

  3. Yep. The new model is “kiss it goodbye”.

    With AA, they have outsourced the lost and found function. Enter info online, receive updates periodically, but not your item.

    One thing that helps: tape a biz card to those devices. With that, you improve your chances.

  4. There is no ancillary revenue from a lost and found service, so I suspect all parties are guilty of a don’t-bother mentality!

  5. I have left my Wi-Fi device on a plane twice in the last year. Both times at BNA. Each time, AA found it and kept it at baggage services.

  6. American retrieved my iPhone from an international flight, and got it through customs for me. The guy who brought it also had lost items from two other passengers, all taken through customs and returned. The retrieval was handled by the agent on the transfer desk, and was done in about 10-15 minutes.

  7. You’re obviously stating this issue in the worst possible light for travel providers (it’s a bad habit of yours). Yes, when you lose your stuff, sometimes you don’t get it back. On an airplane or anywhere else. That said, I have witnessed heroic efforts by employees to return things. Just the other week, I happened to have a front row seat to the AA employees at ABQ who searched an entire plane to find a wallet for a guy who had left it “somewhere” on the airplane. After they found it, they then ran it to the counter and called him to make sure he’d get it. I was impressed by their humanity.

    Obviously, this doesn’t happen all the time. But airline employees are no worse, and probably better, at reuniting people with their stuff. Stop hating on them for no reason.

  8. + 1 for having lost a jacket to Delta’s “tough cookies” policy, despite contacting them immediately. I can’t imagine it being any different among the US Big 3 and their race to the bottom.

    It would be interesting to find out how Singapore, Cathay, etc handle same.

  9. Airlines have policies on their lost and found. Some can sell or donate your items within 30 days. Some airlines will ship your items to corporate, in another state, compounding the issue. Most are between 30 and 90 days. The odds of getting your stuff back is really low. WSJ reported a few years ago, that at least luggage loss is declining due to technologies that track bags and the cost of checking a heavy bag. So that’s a positive direction.
    shameless plug:
    This is one of the reasons we started BOUNTE. BOUNTE is an intelligent mobile app that creates a national “lost and found” platform. BOUNTE’s MISSION: link people who lost a valuable item with folks who are willing to find it… and do it before it ends up in the regular lost and found.

  10. I had left my iPad in a seat twice on AA at DFW and gotten it back both times within the past calendar year. I do have a business card taped to it and it has cellular so I can find my iPad.

  11. I left my smartphone in a SriLankan Airlines flight and was surprised to get it back when I went to the lost and found area in CMB airport. After that incident, I take my time to make sure I check every nook and cranny of my seat before disembarking the plane. Whenever I fly in premium cabin, I always feel there’s pressure to leave as soon as possible so that they can start disembarking economy pax.

  12. As to SQ, I left a bottle of duty free alcohol in the overhead on the old Sin-Ewr flight and reported it 20 minutes later. Never got it, but more importantly, never heard from them.

  13. “At American no one will retrieve your missing items because helping customers gets in the way of their operation.”
    Gary, that’s an unfair generalization. Just last week prior to departure I heard the lead FA asked one of her colleagues to check seat x and remove the seat cushion as an incoming passenger since deplaned had lost his driving license.

  14. I don’t understand how you sub-contract something out and can deny responsibility. To a consumer it is one and the same. Reminds me of the stupid bumper stickers on some trucks that claim no responsibility if they cause damage to your vehicle, clearly incorrect.

    I was in Germany (Rothenburg) around the holidays many years ago and left one of my ski gloves in the back seat of a taxi. While I was sitting on the train (a fairly small station), I saw some guy get on board and I was thinking “He seems familiar”. Turned out to be the taxi driver and he was looking for me to return the glove.

    There are good/bad people all around.

  15. I left my iPad mini (on which I’m writing this) on a DL flight toYYZ (3A) and only realized it when I was unpacking my carryon. Tracker was showing it at the airport but before I had an opportunity to contact DL’s rep at this airport I received a message from an ATL gate agent advising they had it and I could contact their Lost Items office online to have it returned. (Assume the person on the return ATL flight found and turned it over to an FA who passed it along to the gate agent.) He either tracked me down from my PNR or “411.information” as I had my name and city/country embossed on the back.

    I had the iPad sent to a hotel in New Orleans where I was headed the following week at a small charge, so there are honest DL passengers and employees.

  16. Back on the ground, however, one of the few things that I’ve found the New York City MTA does well is its lost-and-found operation on the commuter rail operations (LIRR / Metro North). It actually works!

    The airlines might learn a thing or two about how to make that work.

  17. I *did* get a laptop back, but it cost me the price of a brand-new laptop….

    I had booked a BA flight LHR-MAD, r/t. The MAD-LHR leg was on IB metal, and it was there I accidentally left my laptop in the seat-back pocket. Either no one on the cleaning crew found it, or Iberia deliberately flew it back to Madrid. Be that as it may, IB refused to fly it back to LHR (something BA said they should do). UPS/FedEx/DHL all said they would be happy to ship it, but refused to pack it for shipping. In the end, I had to buy yet another tkt on BA to fly into MAD in the morning, and back to LHR in the afternoon…. $$$$

  18. I love people blaming everyone else for their carelessness. People are generally very honest – especially janitorial people. We owned a small chain of hotels and never once was any employee involved in a theft of a customer’s property.

    I left my kindle on a Delta flight earlier this year. I called the Delta lost and found and they entered an alert in their database. I was called a few days later and was told that the kindle was located – and it was shipped to me (after I paid a reasonable amount for shipping).

  19. I left my phone on the seat of an American plane last year and returned to the airport to successfully retrieve it the next day. There are good people out there =)

  20. I left my kindle on a Swiss flight and easily retrieved it from Zurich airport lost and found on my return layover through the airport. It was easy and efficient. I didn’t even try to get my designer sunglasses in their case back when I left them on an international United flight.

  21. This reminds me of the time my 5 year old left his backpack in an Italian airport. We didn’t bother trying to get it back. But I’m fairly certain that it probably caused a big uproar with a bomb squad in Rome. I kind of feel bad about that.

  22. I am glad that other folks have posted their positive “the airline helped me with my lost stuff” stories. I know they happen, because I’ve seen it, and people regularly tell me their sob stories and how they managed to get their stuff back. Of course, not always.

    I’m guessing that the airlines now have many more high-value lost electronic items, simply because pax are travelling with so many more small electronic items. I would think a hub airport could get several dozen lost items a day. These would not be rare events.

    While I’ve never lost an item, it’s making me think I should probably label this stuff with my name, phone number and email, and encourage family members to do the same. Any downside to this? Like a stalking passenger sees my address? 🙂

  23. Once left a fine bottle of Duty Free Irish whisky in the overhead. Got about 100 yds down the concourse before I turned and ran back to the gate. The pilot went back onboard and retrieved it for me !! Never been so happy to see a bottle… Delta.

  24. Of course, if you follow the airlines’ unsubstantiated instruction to put your devices into airplane mode, you have no ability to track your devices with FindmyiPhone, etc.

  25. I left my MacBook Air laptop at the check point traveling from Denver to Orlando and was lucky enough to find it at lost and found three weeks later on my returning flight. Of course I called immediately to the airport, describe the item and they hold it there for me until my flight back home. I think that was a God’s miracle!!

  26. Left my iPad on my first class seat because I stopped to help an elderly lady get her bag from the overhead. I was in a rush to catch my connecting flight but told the flight attendant as I boarded that second flight because I realized I didn’t have it as soon as I sat down on the second flight. Askedthe flight attendant if she would see if it could be retrieved from the first flight as I was headed back through Atlanta the next day. Nope, she couldn’t be bothered to check but, then again, we were boarding. Asked later while we were in the air. Nope, it’s already gone was the response. Obviously, this was delta since it was through Atlanta. I contacted lost and found but never saw the iPad again. Yes, I had my name and address on it and, yes, I knew exactly what flight and what seat it was left on not 30 minutes after I forgot it. My fault, I agree, but the flight attendant couldn’t have been less helpful. I had tracking on it but it was never turned on so all I can think is that it disappeared in the trash. Still pisses me off and it happened two years ago.

  27. Having left expensive sunglasses in a seat pocket once (and, no, they never turned up in Delta’s lost and found), I am meticulous about checking for all my stuff. However, on a recent flight I lost an earring but didn’t discover the loss until just after I left the flight. No doubt it slipped off when I was taking headphones on and off for a seat mate who had to get up several times. There is no sense reporting it. I know they’d just toss it even if it is solid gold. However, it is one more thing to check in the future (and earring companies have to stop selling earrings with no backs even if they do loop through the ear). However, as much as I like Delta, they cannot absolve responsibility for theft by claiming it is a contracted service.

  28. I recently left my wallet on a BA flight from LHR-PHX. My wallet was found by a passenger two flights later (YVR-LHR). I received an email from the BA captain who happened to be flying his next flight the following week to PHX just before I was set to cancel all my cards. I met up with the captain at their hotel who returned it. I was very thankful! I appreciate that I was in F and have GGL status with BA, but it was still an incredible experience. More details at https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/british-airways-executive-club/1941660-thankful-pre-thanksgiving-mini-trip-report.html

  29. Anecdotally, I left an iPad Air2 on a delta jet, and after filing L&F with Delta and the destination airport, Delta was able to find and return my device.

    I have no clue if being a DM helped but I was fairly happy to pay the 2day air shipping to satisfy my mistake and get back fast.

  30. Can’t tell you how many times Americans agents have ran up to the Admirala Club to retrieve an item a passenger has left there. Then at full speed Ran it down to the gate and handed it To the captain who is nice enough to allow us to pass it through the cockpit window only so we did not have to re-open the cabin door.Which is a safety violation in itself. Any passing of eight hours to any of the crew members Hass to go through the cabin door.

  31. The one time I left my camera on my seat in a Lufthansa flight from YYZ to FRA. Agents in the Maple Leaf lounge called the cleaning crew on the plane and had it deliver to me inside the lounge. Great outcome and wonderful service.

  32. All of the above are why I simply never put anything into the seatback pocket. I take things in and out of my underseat bag as needed. That’s not to make light of others’ lost property, but a simple suggestion which would probably eliminate 95% of lost items. We are all human and forget things, but you can’t forget what was never stored anywhere but inside your bag.

    The guy next to me today put his phone, wallet, and car keys into the pocket. God help him if he ever forgets to grab them on the way out.

  33. Yeah, I’m so angry with myself. I was recently upgraded to First Class on a Delta flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis and left my less-than-90-days-old iPad in the seat pocket in front of me. Thinking I had all my stuff, I realized I had left the iPad in the pocket halfway on my way to baggage claim. I literally ran to Lost Baggage, begging them to call the gate I had just left and check the pocket. Unfortunately, they told me the airplane had already gone back to the hanger and they would have someone check there. Thirty minutes later, they still hadn’t found anything, nor were they trying very hard. I had a driver waiting for me to take me home. They said they would call me later that night. No call that night, no call that morning, no call ever three days later. Meanwhile, I had completed Delta’s Lost Item form and called numerous numbers on the Delta site after getting home. Did you know it’s impossible to get a direct phone number to the Lost and Found department in MSP, which I find appalling. It’s now going into day 4 and still I don’t have any “customer satisfaction” from Delta. Either let me know you found it or you didn’t Delta. It’s not that difficult since I literally had gotten off the plane in less than 20 minutes and realized my mistake. One consolation: Since the iPad was purchased less than 90 days ago and thanks to American Express’s Purchase Protection plan, I will be able to recoup my loss. Still, I say shame on you Delta for being such unhelpful employees!

  34. Yesterday I accidentally left my zipped up Bose wireless headphones on the floor under the seat in front of me on an American Airlines flight from London back to O’Hare. I of course only realized it after I had gotten home, unpacked and got ready for bed. Today I called at least 8-10 phone numbers at American, their cleaning service Prospect and the police at the airport – NO HELP AT ALL. Was told by Prospect that the plane was empty and nothing was found…100% lies because the flight wasn’t going anywhere after it was cleaned. So, yeah I filled out their stupid online form, but we all know fully well that it won’t do a damn thing & my headphones were no doubt stolen and probably already sold for profit. Was it my fault that I didn’t quadruple check the floor before leaving? Yes. But after an 8 hour flight with zero sleep thanks to a horrific family in front of us that made the flight hell…anybody would have ran off that damn plane.

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