Don’t get lost: 3 insider tips on how to keep your stuff when you fly

You’re probably feeling a sense of loss today.

No, I’m not talking about the results of the presidential election. I’m referring to the two posts that preceded this one — stories about lost luggage and how to find it.

I’ve covered the problems of misplacing items when you fly in the past. And this site is filled with lost luggage stories — too many to mention.

Luggage always seems to vanish. Airlines misplace one to two bags per flight, sometimes more, sometimes less. See the Department of Transportation’s latest airline report card for the best and worst carriers.

No one really knows how many items are left on planes or in airports. There are no reliable statistics, but experience tells me that we airline passengers are much better at losing things than the airlines. (Then again, we don’t charge ourselves $25 fees to carry them around.)

So how do you track your stuff when you fly? Here are a few tips I’ve picked up from the insiders — the cleaning crews, flight attendants, pilots and gate agents who find your belongings.

Check for these commonly misplaced items.

Here’s what people lose, according to the site Pebblebee:

1. Car keys

2. House keys

3. Winter accessories

4. Clothing

5. Credit or debit card

6. Wallet

7. Watch or jewelry

8. Cash

9. Umbrella

10. Driver’s license

Check out the list. Which of those items might you remove from your carry-on when you’re waiting for your flight or on a plane? For air travelers, you can add electronics, power adapters, books and magazines to the list.

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Take a deep breath.

Air travel is stressful. Things sometimes go missing because you’re distracted by a boarding announcement or unnerved after a rough landing. Add sleep deprivation to the mix and it’s no wonder people leave their laptop computers on a flight. What were they thinking? Well, they weren’t. They were trying to find the closest bed. Seriously, people were not meant to fly.

Check. Then re-check.

Hey, remember those in-flight announcements about checking for items you may have left in your seat pocket? They’re made for a reason. People leave things. Make a mental list of essential items and review them when you land.

Laptop? Check.
Passport? Check.
Charger? Check.
Kids? Check.

I’m not trying to be funny, and I speak from personal experience. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, we entrusted our then eight-year-old son with his own passport when we flew to Europe a few years ago. The boy made it; the passport remained on the plane. So much for our checklist. I reviewed my list after we set foot on the ground, and fortunately, we located the passport.

As everyone knows by now, I’m so far removed from elite that I’m practically guaranteed a seat in the back of the plane next to the galley. Yeah, that’s me with my family in boarding group D.

But one of the benefits of sitting in the last row of economy class is that you get to talk to the flight attendants. And you watch them start cleaning the cabin as you exit the flight. This is particularly interesting on JetBlue and Southwest, where the attendants pitch in to help clean.

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Why are they working so fast? Well, it’s true, they want to turn that plane around quickly. But they also want to catch up to any passenger who may have left something — and I’ve seen them do it.

It’s made me think twice before assuming a dishonest flight attendant found a laptop and wanted to keep it. Most of the crewmembers I’ve seen want to reunite you with your misplaced item as quickly as possible.

Of course, it’s better to not leave anything on the plane in the first place.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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