If you have lost something when flying or when making your way through an airport, you might be able to still recover your item. In fact, there’s a very particular set of steps you can follow to make sure that all of your bases are covered.
In this ultimate guide, we will walk you through how to handle dealing with lost and found departments with various airlines and airports. You’ll see that airlines and airports have a different policies and that there are multiple ways to hunt down your item.
Table of Contents
Item left on the aircraft
If you are fresh off the plane and realize that you left something on the plane, your best course of action is to immediately contact an airline agent.
You should head over to the gate where your plane landed and see if you can speak with an agent at one of the desks. If there is a line, feel free to cut the line at the very front and just tell the agent that you “have something urgent you need to ask them about.”
If you see crew members such as flight attendants or even pilots from your flight exiting the jet bridge area you can try to wave them down and ask if they can do anything to find your item.
You might feel like you are wasting their time but many flight attendants and pilots are more than willing to help out a passenger in such a situation (if they have time).
In some instances, an airline agent will be able to go back into the plane and look for your belonging.
An aircraft will spend about 90 minutes to 2 hours on the ground between flights, depending on the airline and the size of the aircraft.
It will probably take around 15 minutes for passengers to exit the aircraft and another 15 minutes for the plane to be cleaned and that is most likely your best window for getting someone to access the plane.
That’s because you could have multiple crew members looking for your item during clean-up.
If you wait until the plane starts boarding for the next flight, flight attendants will be more restricted in what they can do because they will not want to interfere with the boarding process. So time is definitely of the essence.
Beyond the sterile area
Airports in the US have areas known as “sterile areas” which are where all of the gates are and also where all of the airside shops and restaurants are located.
As you make your way closer to your exit or baggage claim area you will usually see a TSA agent sitting by the border for the sterile areas and there will usually be a sign letting you know there is no re-entry.
If you have made it past the sterile area you will typically not be allowed to re-enter unless you go through a TSA security checkpoint.
So if you have already made your way past airport security, you’re not gonna be able to head back into the plane or contact an agent at a gate.
But you should still be able to find an agent for your corresponding airline (or for a partner airline).
You can look for special airline help desks which could be located throughout the airport. If you were not able to find one look for the airport’s general information desk and then ask if they can point you in the right direction.
You could also head to the baggage claim area where you often find a small airline help desk area. Again, if you don’t see your airline you might be able to contact a partner airline.
The reason you want to speak with an agent at the airport is that they might be able to quickly contact someone who can check the plane for your lost item. If they are successful, they can probably have an agent come and deliver the item to you at the baggage claim area.
If you are unsuccessful or if nobody is able to check the plane for you, then then you should request or simply look up where that plane is headed next.
If your location is not the final destination for the plane, it’s possible that you could get in touch with someone at the airport it is headed to and they may be willing to search for your item when the plane lands.
Your success with this method really depends on the graciousness of the person you’re speaking with and it is not always guaranteed they will be willing to go above and beyond for you.
If none of the above methods work you most likely you will need to file a claim online.
It’s likely that you will file a claim through nettracer.aero or chargerback.com, since those are two commonly used websites for lost and found processing. However, some airlines may have an alternative process.
The way the online claim form usually works is that you submit a claim and then if anything is found you should be notified within 30 days. If you don’t receive any notification within 30 days chances are your item will not be recovered.
To maximize the odds of recovering your lost item, you need to provide as much detail as you possibly can in the claim form.
The detail you input will hopefully go beyond things like the color or model of your phone.
It really helps if you can get super specific with things like a:
- scratch in the left corner of the screen
- serial number
- a special sticker, etc.
Also, be prepared to answer specific questions about your item in the event they need you to verify your ownership of it.
You can see a more detailed breakout of individual airlines’ lost and found policies below:
- Alaska Airlines Lost and Found Guide
- JetBlue Lost and Found Guide
- American Airlines Lost and Found Guide
- Delta Airlines Lost & Found Guide
- Hawaiian Airlines Lost and Found Guide
- United Airlines Lost and Found Guide
- Frontier Airlines Lost & Found Guide
- Southwest Airlines Lost & Found Guide
Lost at the TSA security checkpoint
TSA estimates approximately 100,000 items are left behind each month!
Since a lot of people leave items behind at the security checkpoint, it’s always recommended for you to store as many items as you can into your carry-on and personal item when going through the full body scanners.
If you believe that you lost an item at or near the security checkpoint, there’s a good chance that it has ended up in the TSA lost and found.
TSA only receives data on weekdays and not weekends or federal holidays. Also, it could take up to five business days to receive a response from TSA.
If you fail to claim an item within 30 days it will likely be donated or sent to some designated collection facility. At that point, your item is considered non-returnable.
Note: At some airports like SFO, TSA contracts with private companies for security. In those cases, your lost and found claim may be handled by the private contractor.
Lost in or around the airport
If there is a chance that your item could have just been left in the airport such as somewhere in the seating area, terminal, bathroom, or in outdoor areas such as the arrival area, parking lot, garage, etc., then you want to check with the lost and found department at that airport.
You could speak with someone at an information desk or you might actually find a dedicated desk for lost and found items within the airport.
These airport lost and found departments are sometimes managed by the airport police department so you could also head their direction if you can’t find an appropriate desk to approach.
If you have already left the airport then simply head to the airport’s website and you should be able to find information for that specific airport’s lost and found department.
In some cases there may be an email address you can contact and in other cases there may be an online form or perhaps even a phone number that you can call.
Be aware that not all items will be stored in lost and found and some may be disposed of instantly. For example, if you left a travel pillow sitting on the seat in a terminal, that is something that may be thrown away when found.
Other airports may only retain essential items like “government-issued IDs, passports, baggage, jewelry, medication, medical devices, high-end electronics, and legal documents.”
Each airport will have its own policy but they may only hold onto your items for a limited period of time such as 10 days while other airports may be more generous and hold onto it for 90 days. After that, your item may be disposed of or it could be donated or even sent to the local police department.
Note: Sometimes items get passed around between the airlines, TSA, and airport personnel. So if you strike out with anyone of those groups you should always check with the other two to see if something pops up.
Lost in an airport lounge
If you left an item in an airport lounge, there are a few ways you can go about it.
First, I would try to contact the lounge or a representative at the airport and ask them to contact the lounge on your behalf about the lost item.
Some airlines like American Airlines may ask you to simply fill out the online form.
You could also turn to social media….
Consider joining a Facebook group for that airline or for a relevant demographic such as Platinum Card members.
Make a post describing your lost item and the lounge you lost it in and there may be members of the group headed to that lounge and willing to recover the item for you.
Lost in a restaurant or shop
If you left your item in a restaurant or shop located within the airport try to contact that specific restaurant or shop.
Sometimes you might be able to find their phone number in the airport’s website but other times it may be located in a Google My Business profile (simply found with a normal Google search) as shown below.
If you can’t find the phone number for the restaurant or shop look for the phone number for a nearby restaurant or shop within the airport.
For example, one time I needed to get a hold of an Avis office located within the airport but nobody would answer the phone. So I simply called up a rental car office located nearby and a representative walked over to the Avis office and got their attention.
The restaurant or shop will likely handover your item to the airport’s lost and found but at least by calling them you can verify whether or not they found it.
Shuttle buses & rental cars
If you think you lost something on the shuttle bus, a lot of airports will have specific phone numbers for their shuttle bus department or rental cars. For example, at SFO they direct you to contact the SFO Shuttle Bus Company at (415)915-9760.
I would also suggest contacting the rental car company directly if you are dealing with a lost item in a rental car.
Fees and shipping
The airlines, airports, and TSA should not charge you anything to file a lost and found claim.
However, if your item is recovered it is highly likely that you will be responsible for paying for the shipping costs to get it back to you via something like FedEx.
Typically, this will be worked out once you get contacted about your item and you can arrange for your package to be expedited if needed. You can also often choose to just pick it up from the airport.
Using third parties
Sometimes an airline or airport will use some type of third-party to process their claims. Other times, they may just use a particular type of software to manage their lost and found claims. For example, LAX uses Crowdfind.
But there are some third parties (not directly affiliated with airlines or airports) that report to increase your odds of reuniting with your item.
I’ve personally never used a third-party service for retrieving a lost and found items so they may be legitimate but it also could be easy to essentially get scammed out of your money. Some airports make it clear that these third-party services will not allow for expedited recovery. So just be careful when trying out third parties.
If you lose a passport at the airport, most likely will be sent over to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection within five days. Larger airports often have a phone number for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at their location, so be sure to look into that.
You can report a lost passport here but note: “Once you have reported your passport lost or stolen, it is invalidated by the State Department. It cannot be used if it is found.”
Losing an item when flying or at the airport can definitely be a very stressful experience. But there are several different routes you can choose when trying to locate your lost item.
The key is try to act swiftly and get help from an airline agent as quickly as you can.
If you were not initially successful with that method then be sure to exhaust all other potential solutions which could involve contacting the lost and found for airports and TSA. And don’t forget to give social media a try!
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.