August 31, 2017
A few weeks ago on Delta Flight 2815 from New York's JFK to Miami, the unthinkable happened: I left my new MacBook Pro under the seat in front of me on the airplane. I realized at home an hour later that my most prized piece of aluminum was missing. So as soon as I got over the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me shock (and the hard blow to the experienced traveler's ego), I grabbed my handbag and cell phone and rushed back to the airport. Below I’ve listed in detail what followed:
ON THE WAY TO THE AIRPORT: I immediately started tweeting Delta for help. I gave them as much information as possible: my flight number, seat number, and my SkyMiles (airline loyalty program) account number.
While I was going back and forth with Delta on Twitter (they responded immediately), I also called their 1-800 number to speak with a live person. After a 12-minute wait, I finally got someone. The representative quickly suggested that I speak with one of their baggage claim agents at the airport. I agreed and asked her to transfer the call. According to her, she had no way of contacting them and suggested that I go to the airport. (Luckily I was already on the way.) I then asked her to call the gate where my flight had landed. I knew that common routes like MIA-JFK turned around quickly so if there were any hope of getting a sympathetic human to search the airplane for me, it had to happen fast. So when I heard, "Sorry, I don't have a way of contacting them either", my heart sank. At this time, the rep, probably picking up on my disappointment, gently reiterated that if anyone who could help me, they'd be at the airport. I thanked her for her time and ended the call.
AT MIAMI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT: As my Uber driver slowed down to drop me off at the terminal, I thanked him, jumped out the door and ran straight to Delta's baggage claim office. Once I got there, I bypassed the line of people and asked the agent to call the gate where I deplaned. He looked at me, justifiably annoyed, but called anyway. The plane had already left. He then called the airport’s lost & found office. Nothing. Desperate to remain hopeful, I asked him who cleaned the airplane cabins before each trip. He thought for a second and responded: "Oh, they use a cleaning company!" Before I could say anything, he started calling around for the cleaning company's phone number. Within minutes, he reaches them, but no luck. Mierda!
At this point, I was mentally preparing to camp out at the baggage claim office for a while when finally the call came in: my computer had been found and was upstairs at the Delta ticket counter! I bolted out the door, yelled, “thank you” to the guy who helped me, and dashed up the escalator to the second floor. Within in seconds, I spotted Walter who was patiently waiting with my MacBook Pro in hand. "You're a very lucky lady", he said with a sly grin as he handed it to me. I smiled back, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and then asked to document the moment with a photo!
So what to do if you forget a valuable on an airplane:
1. Get the airline’s ATTENTION VIA SOCIAL MEDIA immediately. In today's world, this will probably be the fastest way to connect with them. (If you do not have a Twitter account, consider creating one just for emergency situations like this one.) If you still don't believe in the power of social media, click here to learn more about "United Breaks Guitars". It was a totally preventable public relations disaster that ended up costing United Airlines $180 million dollars back in 2009.
2. CALL THE AIRLINE directly. Even though my experience didn't seem that helpful, it's still a necessary step. At least the call center agent can tell you where to go for help once you get to the airport. Keep in mind that not all airlines have their own baggage claim offices. Some of them share these services with their codeshare partners and it would help to know this ahead of time.
3. RETURN TO THE AIRPORT immediately. If your valuables are going to be recovered at all, it’s best not to let too much time pass by. As soon as you realize that something is missing, go directly to the airport. Another good reason is that it's much more effective to get things done when you're standing in front of someone. (Remember the saying, "The squeaky wheel gets the oil?)
4. BE YOUR OWN DETECTIVE and find out exactly who's onboard the aircraft while it’s at the gate. Do not expect anyone to automatically offer this information. Be persistent and don't take “I don’t know” as a valid answer because there’s always someone who has the answer.
5. On the same note, ask the person who's helping you to call the AIRPORT'S LOST AND FOUND department. It's an entirely different group that manages the lost and found for the whole airport, not just a single airline.
6. Ask for the names (or ID numbers) of each person you encounter in this process. In today's world where people avoid accountability, it's important to know who's doing what to help.
7. If the item is recovered, THANK THE AIRLINE PUBLICLY on social media. Everyone loves a happy ending!
8. Finally, breathe!
Sheree M. Mitchell has traveled to 40 countries, lived on three continents and speaks English and Spanish (while currently working on Italian and Portuguese). In 2014, Sheree gave up her comfortable life in Miami to embark on an ambitious 14-month, five continent transformational solo sojourn around the world. Today she oversees Immersa Global and IG Scholar, two boutique firms that specialize in designing unique immersion experiences abroad for adults and students. Sheree also speaks publicly on transformational and immersive travel as well as serves as a travel coach in her spare time. Connect with Sheree and Immersa Global on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @immersaglobal