What To Do When You Leave Your iPad on a Plane

The short answer is, Give up all hope of ever seeing it again.

As Consumerist puts it: “Airline Employees Really Don’t Care That You Left Your iPad On The Plane.” It is, of course, something that you would never do in the first place, happy person still in possession of your iPad. You will always be extremely careful with your iPad, and listen carefully to that reminder about making sure you have collected all your items. But let this Consumerist story be a lesson to you–once you’ve left the plane, your iPad is likely gone. To disabuse anyone of the notion that airlines have the time and staff to look for an iPad–more Consumerist stories aside–I can offer my own experience.

On my way back from Puerto Rico, flying US Airways, I had a connecting flight in Charlotte, where I changed planes for the final leg to Seattle. I was in the middle of reading Game of Thrones on the Kindle app, and so I stuffed my iPad into the seatback in front of me. I also pulled out my camera–since the view out my porthole was gorgeous–and spent the entire flight happily clicking away. As we pulled up to the gate, the person in the seat behind me dropped their phone, and had me look under my seat for it. Then I grabbed my camera and the extra lens, packed up, and left the plane.

About an hour into the Charlotte-Seattle flight, I reached into my bag for my iPad–and suddenly remembered stuffing it into the seatback of my last plane. Still, it’d been only two or three hours, so no reason to panic. That was the night of December 17, 2011.

Now, I’m a little astonished by my naivete. I actually had the idea that US Airways staff might, from the plane, alert the cleaning staff about my iPad. It wasn’t as expensive as my camera, but with the Logitech wireless keyboard I was using as a faceplate, it would set me back over $700 to replace. Maybe insurance will help cover that–but what starts to eat at you is the worry about what sensitive information might be accessible. Was there any? Who can be sure? It’ll lock, right? How impossible is a four-character code to break?

The flight attendant did not drop everything to alert US Airways Lost & Found HQ of my emergency, you probably have guessed. People–other people, not you, happy person still in possession of their iPad–forget and leave their iPads on the plane all the time. I was supposed to tell the agent at the gate when we arrived in Seattle, which I did. She directed me to the Lost & Found at SeaTac’s baggage claim area, where I filed an incident report sufficient to ID my iPad, complete with the seat number where it was located.

But, again, this information was not going to be communicated to anyone who might walk onto the plane and check the seatback in question. If an iPad was found by a cleaning or maintenance crew, and they noted the seatback it came from, it might help. I left SeaTac with the number for the US Airways Lost & Found at the Charlotte airport (704-359-3075), and called and left a message the next morning, giving them the pertinent details.

They called back, and said a) they don’t normally call back to say they have found nothing, and b) they hadn’t found my iPad. I was to give them another day and call again. Which I did. Still nothing, though they had several other iPads on hand that they powered up to check if any were mine. (The Lost & Found has an iPad power cord to deal with dead batteries.)

It was in the course of these phone calls that I learned no one was ever going to just walk onto the plane and check the seatback for me. If a cleaning crew didn’t find my iPad, it would have to wait for a passenger to notice it. An added wrinkle, with iPads, is that if you’ve enabled Find My iPhone tracking software, you can tell if someone has used it to connect to the internet, and even determine its location. (Mine remains obstinately offline.) But knowing that it wasn’t being used made me suspect it hadn’t simply been stolen, but perhaps had traveled with the plane to another airport.

After an hour or so on the phone with US Airways, I learned that they were unable to tell me where my plane had gone to next. This was a little hard to credit, as was their assurance that my missing iPad would have been found before the plane took off again. But in any event, all items unclaimed from US Airways Lost & Founds after about a week make their way to what I fondly imagine to be a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style warehouse-sized Lost & Found in Charlotte, NC. You email them a passenger property form (pdf), and, in my case, in two days they send you an email that reads:

Dear [MvB]:
Thanks for contacting US Airways. I’m sorry to hear that you misplaced an item during your trip.
I reviewed your Lost Property file and your iPad has not been located at this time. I’m sorry the result could not have been better.
[MvB], if we do find your item, we’ll be sure to contact you right away. Thanks for flying with US Airways.

Goodbye, iPad. For two and half months, we shared some times I know I’ll never forget. Maybe you’re in a better place.

7 thoughts on “What To Do When You Leave Your iPad on a Plane

  1. I once left an entire bag of goodies on an airplane en route from Heathrow to Seattle via Reykjavik. I realized I felt much lighter than I had at Heathrow and just likened it to not being in a shithole. After a few more minutes I realized I had left the bag back on the plane and ran across the (little) airport to the gate.

    Nobody was at the gate. Nobody was on the plane. I ran on and walked right up to the seat where the bag was in plain view.

    Yeah, nobody checks that shit.

  2. Yeah, flight attendants generally don’t check the seatback pockets after flights, save for obvious garbage. The crew has to clean the plane after passengers have disembarked and before they begin boarding for the next flight, generally 10-15 minutes. This case sounds like a boon for the person who occupied their seat after you: reach for the in-flight magazine, and instead of an article on the top three heart clinics in Baltimore, you find an expensive electronic device. Yoink!

  3. I am a flight attendant and will tell you that aircraft cleaners routinely steal anything they can get their hands on. They will put it in their trash bag when no one is looking and take it off the plane. We have caught them redhanded many times. This can happen at any airport. They are only minimum wage contract employees and don’t care.

  4. I left my iPod on a plane about 4 1/2 years ago, never saw it again, and I was in 1st Class for that flight, so if you don’t have it when you get up to leave, kiss it good bye. I will say that I remember a more thoughtful response from Alaska airlines on that occasion (I’m on a first name basis with some of the “customer service” over there) but i bought another iPod within a few days.

  5. Yep, my sister-in-law still hasn’t seen her early-model Nook from a few years ago, left in a plane.

    I lost a book once. Would have cost me around $10, if I had liked it enough to replace it. I did not file a report, or an insurance claim.

  6. I twice left an iPad on a plane (last time this Monday). Both on Delta flights. Both times it was turned into Delta’s baggage claim lost & found at the airport and I was able to pick up. I fly about 50 legs a year… So twice in about 150 flights. I consider myself very lucky and am rethinking how I handle my iPad on planes moving forward… Like never use the back seat pocket.

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