Did Lufthansa “steal” her laptop computer?

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By Christopher Elliott

Stacey Tappan claims Lufthansa stole her laptop computer, and she wants me to help her get it back.

Before I get to her story, let me acknowledge that terms like “stealing” and “theft” can mean different things to people. We’ve seen that in several recent stories, and sometimes, we have to agree to disagree.

But Tappan stretches the definition of stealing, even for me.

On a recent flight from Frankfurt to Boston, someone grabbed her computer, and she’s holding the airline responsible.

She explains:

I had a seat in the middle of the center aisle of Row 29. I put my laptop, in a neoprene case, under the seat in front of me so I could watch a show on it during the flight, and put my knitting project bag on top of it, then put my carry-on in the overhead.

I got out a book of puzzles and did one while I watched a movie on my seatback screen. I sat in my seat like this all through boarding.

About four hours into the flight, I reached for my laptop, but it wasn’t there. I asked the folks in the row in front of me if it had slid there, and someone sitting on the left-hand side of the plane in Row 28 said a couple with a baby had found it and gave it to a flight attendant.

So the laptop had slid down to the next seat and had been picked up by the next passenger, but it was safe.

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“I didn’t see or hear any of this happen,” she says. “No one asked me or anyone in my row about a missing laptop, and there were no announcements.”

By the way, if you want more details, she’s written about the experience on her blog.

When she asked about the laptop, a flight attendant told her that it had been offloaded in Frankfurt before departure. The crew had thought that it was forgotten by a passenger on the previous flight.

The purser assured me that I just had to contact a Lufthansa agent once I got to Boston and my laptop would be sent to me.

I spoke to both her and the flight attendant as well as the couple. None of them had tried to see if the laptop belonged to someone. I got a written statement about what happened from the purser.

The next day she heard back from Lufthansa. A representative told her the airline could not mail it back to her or bring it on one of its aircraft.

I would have to arrange for someone in Frankfurt to pick it up and get it to me.

This is completely ridiculous. Not only have I lost my laptop due to Lufthansa’s mistake of not checking before they removed it, but I am supposed to bear all the cost and responsibility of getting it back.

Laptop retrieval expenses unresolved

Now folks, I’m not sure if this rises to the level of stealing but it is certainly problematic. At least the crew could have made an announcement, asking if anyone was missing a laptop. It isn’t immediately clear that Tappan would have responded, though – after all, she didn’t notice her computer was missing until four hours into the flight.

I asked Lufthansa to see if it could reunite the passenger with her PC. It responded directly to her, repeating that she could pick up the computer in Frankfurt. “Kindly understand that Lufthansa is not able to reimburse you the shipping cost of your laptop since our flight crew and ground staff followed proper protocol,” it added. (Related: My seat upgrade disappeared, but Lufthansa kept my money.)

Ultimately, Tappan asked a friend to pick up to laptop and she paid $93 to get her electronic device.

That doesn’t sit well with her. “Lufthansa is responsible for the mistake! If my friends do pick it up, Lufthansa should definitely cover the shipping costs, but they should be going out of their way to take care of this,” she says.

I’m not sure if Lufthansa stole her computer, but it could have done a better job reuniting it. I can understand her anger, and I wish I could have helped mediate a better resolution.

Should Lufthansa have shipped the laptop back to the States at its expense?

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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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