There is a growing movement among passengers and legislators that the airline business needs to take more responsibility in getting luggage to passengers in a timely fashion, and I whole heartedly agree. With technology and the ability for airlines to track a piece of luggage anywhere in the world (similar to tracking a FedEx package, with the advent of barcode readers/scanners, etc.), the airlines should be able to get an errant bag back to its owner pronto.
In today’s world, there really shouldn’t be any excuse, and the exception to those rules should really BE the exception! Yet time and again, hundreds and thousands of items end up in the airline equivilent of the “dead letter” files every year. There are even outlet stores that resell items that go unclaimed after a time, when the airlines cannot reunite them with their owners.
Some items are found on the aircraft…left behind by those unwitting passengers who either got distracted when leaving the plane or just didn’t listen to that all-important announcement at the end of their flight almost begging them to “check all around your seat for all your personal items.” Yet it is inevitable that things get left behind and trying to locate the owner is usually a gargantuan task, especially when planes get cleaned and turned so rapidly that before long, it would be impossible to accomplish.
Today, I want to share two stories of lost items with which I was personally involved and afterwards, you will see firsthand how a small decision on the owner’s part could be the difference between getting reunited with that precious item, or losing it to the Great Cosmos…
The first story takes place just a few days before New Years. My crew and I had just boarded a Boeing 777 that had arrived from Los Angeles. During our safety checks, one of my crew members discovered a small black nylon bag under one of the economy class seats that the cleaners had missed (one of our safety checks is to ‘sweep’ the aircraft for anything unusual or out-of-place before boarding begins).
Normally, I would have turned the misplaced item to the Customer Service Agent to hand over to the Baggage Services Department. On this particular day, however, the boarding of our flight was so frantic and the gate agents were so busy that I forgot to hand it over when the door was closed. I felt badly, but I was determined to make sure it got returned to its owner.
With a fellow crew mate observing, I opened the bag and found two ‘high-value’ items inside: an iPod with earbud headphones, and a Nikon camera. There were a few other non-descript items inside, but nowhere, inside or out, was there anything that could help me identify the owner: no Name/Address card, markings, tags or business cards to be found. Normally, in this case, our Baggage Services Department would catalogue the items and store it for a short time and, if left unclaimed, it would be turned over to one of those “outlet” stores I mentioned earlier.
Then, I had an idea. We had looked on the camera and noticed that quite a few pictures and some videos had been taken. It looked like a family on vacation, and I knew that these pictures were of some value to the owner, not to mention the camera and iPod. I took a gamble and contacted Nikon customer service, told them who I was and that I was trying to reunite the camera with its owner. I asked them if they had a customer registration for the camera on file and if so, could they be kind enough to contact them and have them get in touch with me somehow.
After a couple of days, I recieved a call back from Nikon telling me that they had located the owner, based on the serial number I provided them. They agreed to forward all the items I had back to the family who lost them at the company’s expense, and I immediately FedEx’d the entire package to Nikon.
In this case, the passenger who lost the camera had had the foresight to fill out that all-important registration card and sent it in. Because of that small act, a family’s record of vacation to Southern California was saved…but it could have been a whole different story.
The second example involves a standard rollerboard carry-on bag.
In this story, the flight attendants are trying to assist customers in getting settled during the boarding of a completely full flight. The overhead bin space is filling rapidly, and people are desperate to find space. While this is happening, the flight attendants are going through the cabin, trying to close bins that are full, when they come across a rollerboard that obviously doesn’t fit and the door to the bin won’t close.
The flight attendant pulls the bag out and begins calling out around the area of the bin to find its owner. No one responds. The attendant asks out loud again, and the only thing he sees are all eyes looking at him, but no one is claiming the bag. An announcement is made over the PA system, and still there is no claim to the bag. Here, we have a dilemma. The rollerboard looks brand new. It’s all black, and therefore looks like thousands of others bags travelling around the system.
As we prepare to finalize the flight, the gate agent turns to me and asks what we want to do with the bag. With her there as a witness, we open up the bag to find a set of mens clothing and shoes and other apparel — it’s obvious that it belongs to a male passenger — but no where on the outside or inside of the bag is there anything else that would help us identify its owner.
The decision is made to gate check the bag to our destination, and she hands me the claim check in hopes that the owner will identify himself prior to landing. Sure enough, about 4 hours into the flight, a man approaches me and says, “I have a problem! I can’t find my luggage anywhere on the plane. I wanted to change my clothes and I can’t find it anywhere!” I ask him for a description of the bag.
“I really don’t remember! I just got that bag, and I don’t even know who made it!”
I ask him if he could tell me what he had packed inside it and after I hear a few of the things he mentioned which I remember, I tell him what had happened.
“Oh yeah, I remember the attendant was asking about that black bag, but I wasn’t thinking it might be mine!”
Well, needless to say, I explained to him what had happened and what we had done and gave him the claim check for the bag, instructing him to claim it at baggage claim at our destination. I also suggested that he have an identifying tag with a business card or address on it, and have a card with contact information on the inside of the bag as well.
These two examples highlight one of the many reasons why passengers never get reunited with their personal effects — whether left on the plane accidentally, or if they are somehow mishandled by the airline — the lack of identification on such items is tantamount to just giving it to the universe diliberately.
I suggest one of two methods to keeping a virtual leash on your belongings when travelling.
First, and least expensive: Attach an owner/address tag to your bags, or have the information on a card inside the bag that can be easily spotted and retrieved. Using this method will assist airline personnel in getting these things back to their rightful owners.
Second, there are several services that, for a nominal fee a traveller can use, which place a permanent barcode on your item along with a phone number (and some even offer a reward to the person reporting the lost article to the company). This method will allow the service to retrieve your item from the finder without divulging your personal information, thus providing you with a little piece of mind, if this concerns you.
The airlines have improved their numbers in misplaced bags and lost items over the years. But many things are still lost and the majority of these items could be properly identified and returned to its owner if these small, easy and most-of-all vital steps are adhered to.
Do yourself a favor: check your bags now for tags and/or identification BEFORE you travel next, and you’ll avoid a mountain of headaches in the future!
The Savvy Passenger would love to answer your questions about airline travel, from the vantage point of an airline insider! Send your questions, queries and comments directly to TheSavvyPassenger@gmail.com
He’ll do his best to answer you in an upcoming column. All personal information is strictly private and will not be shared with the general public, unless requested. Feel free to comment on specific articles right here at the bottom of the page! Safe travels, everyone…