Don’t get lost: 3 insider tips on how to keep your stuff, so you don’t loose your luggage when you fly

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By Christopher Elliott

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 luggage when you fly? Here are a few tips our advocacy team has picked up from the insiders — the cleaning crews, flight attendants, pilots and gate agents who find your lost stuff. (Related: These travel hacks just don’t work (so don’t even try).)

Check for these commonly misplaced items:

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

1. Car keys

2. House keys

AirAdvisor is a claims management company. We fight for air passenger rights in cases of flight disruptions all over the world. Our mission is to ensure that air passengers are fairly compensated for the inconvenience and frustration caused by delays, cancellations, or overbooking.

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.

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. (Here’s everything that you need to know before planning your next trip.)

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.

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 lost their stuff — 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.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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