Can this trip be saved? “I’m sorry, we don’t have your raincoat”

In the overall scheme of things, Edward and Leonora Lawrence’s problem may seem relatively small. After they checked out of the Hampton Inn in Auburn, Mass., they discovered Leonora’s raincoat was missing, and they suspect the hotel has it.

But this isn’t a minor issue, as far as my consumer advocacy practice goes. Almost every day someone contacts me hoping I can help them retrieve their iPod they left on the plane or their cherished CD they forgot to take from their rental car.

There’s only one of me, unfortunately, and many more pressing consumer problems. So until now, my best advice has been to offer a list of executive contacts — here are Hampton Inn’s — and hope that they can solve this themselves.

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But this case is different, because Edward and Leonora’s son is none other than Ed Lawrence, a longtime reader of this site. Also, he asked me if I could put this case up for a vote.

How could I say “no”?

Let’s get right to Dad’s story.

Last month, he says, his parents were in Auburn for a wedding. Just before they left, his father saw his mother’s raincoat in the closet.

My father did not take her raincoat from the closet, got distracted, and left the room to meet my mother at the car to drive to home.

The next morning my mother could not find her raincoat, and my father realized he had left the rain coat at the hotel.

He called the Hampton Inn, and asked if they had rented out the room. He was told the room had not been used by a customer. He then told them about the rain coat.
So, my father expected the coat to still be at the closet.

To his surprise, the woman on the phone told him there was no raincoat in lost and found, and no raincoat was in the room.

Aha, a mystery! Did the housekeepers take the raincoat, which had cost Lawrence $50? Did the hotel have it somewhere other than the room?

Related: In today’s edition of What’s your problem?, I help a reader fix a chassis that destroyed his PC.

The Hampton Inn employee told Lawrence’s father several times that it is their “policy” that the hotel isn’t responsible for anything left behind.

(As a side note, I love it when businesses tell customers it’s their “policy” to do something. I wonder how they’d respond if a customer says it’s his “policy” to pay only half the bill?)

Lawrence adds,

It’s not a huge deal as many of your problems go, but my parents aren’t sure what to do next.

Should they chalk this up as a loss, or should they push for compensation, or should they go to the police?

They are reluctant to call the police because they figure the maid would probably be fired immediately. They just want the coat back.

I suggested sending a short, polite letter to Hampton. Lawrence’s father called Hampton corporate instead, and they told him the same thing — it’s our policy.

Today’s question isn’t so much about Lawrence’s rain coat. It’s about all those lost and found cases, and what to do. In addition to the items left behind, I also receive numerous requests to track down lost luggage. The best I can do is ask the airline to look into it, and there’s no evidence that my involvement makes the luggage get found any faster.

These are almost always unsolvable cases.

But telling a longtime reader that you won’t contact the company on his parents’ behalf is a certain way to lose a reader. Even a polite, rational explanation is likely to get me nowhere.

(Photo: mxgirl85/Flickr)