Have you ever left something on an airplane?
Air travel can be hectic, sometimes confusing and harried, with flights delayed and high levels of fatigue. Although experienced travelers, this was our first time getting off the plane without getting one of our bags from the overhead compartment. But surely this sort of thing happens all the time. Right? A phone in the seatback pouch? A wedding ring? A coat forgotten in an overhead bin? Some paperwork from your job, left in there with the Skymall catalogue?
Ours was a paper shopping bag from Powell’s Books, full of treasures that we had acquired on New Year’s Day in Portland’s most famous bookstore. We also had acquired a few other books from Portland’s super-cool Cameron’s Books and Magazines. Seriously, if you are ever in Portland, do NOT miss that place. Our flight from Oregon brought us home to Montgomery, but first we had to go through Atlanta. Our precious books made it to Atlanta with us, and we purchased a pair of pants from the airport Brooks Brothers (the sale was too good to pass up) and we stuffed those into the bag with our books.
Our flight to Montgomery from Atlanta was delayed four to five hours. We were tired from New Year’s Eve and cross country travel. Although our bag of books went into the overhead, we got off the plane in Montgomery without it. We even left the airport without it. We realized what happened as soon as we pulled into our driveway, sometime around midnight.
If you’ve ever been to the Montgomery Regional Airport at 11 p.m. or midnight, you know that it’s pretty shut down. When there are no longer any outgoing flights scheduled, the last arriving flights are greeted by a complete skeleton crew. Exhausted, we decided that our bag would have certainly been found by the people cleaning the airplane, and decided to contact the airport first thing in the morning. Huge mistake. Huge.
The next morning, the Delta desk in Montgomery said that the plane had already returned to Atlanta, where it was cleaned. The Delta rep in Montgomery said that although they didn’t clean the plane until it returned to Atlanta, that there was no Powell’s bag in the lost and found in Montgomery. He was confident that the bag would have been discovered in the plane’s overhead compartment in Atlanta, and would be placed in a lost and found there. Here’s where the story begins to fall apart.
We were given a phone number for Delta’s lost and found in Atlanta, and encouraged to file an online claim for a lost item. We did that. Keep in mind, losing a personal item on the airplane is not the same as losing a checked piece of luggage. They track your checked bags with a number issued when you get your boarding pass. Lost carry-on items are given a claim number after the fact. This number makes it seem like Delta is paying attention to your bag. Though we’ve always been able to locate our checked bags with Delta, our experience with our lost carry-on makes it clear that they’ve got a ways to go before their system for finding lost bags passes even a basic muster.
A few questions we’ve been asked since we lost our bag:
Why did you leave the bag on the plane? A rare lapse in judgment. We’d been traveling for more than 15 hours when we finally got on our flight to Montgomery, itself delayed by more than 4 hours. We were pretty fried, and we’re lucky we remembered to grab our coats.
Couldn’t a fellow passenger have stolen the bag from the overhead compartment after you got off the plane? Yes. Technically that’s possible. But we were close to the back of the plane, so it’s unlikely.
Couldn’t the cleaning crew have seen the bag up there and stolen it? Yes. Technically that’s possible too. At this point we should mention again that there was nothing of real value in the bag, which looked like a beaten-up paper sack of books.
If you are one of those well-regarded high-status frequent travelers, does Delta give you any better customer service? Evidently not. One of us has had high Medallion status for years, and conversations mentioning this fact on Twitter with Delta have gotten us nowhere. Well, that is, they’ve gotten us the number for Hartsfield’s lost and found office. Where nobody ever answers the phone.
Would someone really steal a bag that contained a few worthless pulp paperbacks about UFOs, a bunch of critically-acclaimed but invaluable volumes of modern fiction, and some old issues of Doctor Strange comic books, plus a pair of pants that don’t fit? Seems unlikely. I mean, it’s not like we left a Rolex or iPhone on the plane. This paper shopping bag from Powell’s ought to have held minimal appeal for unscrupulous opportunists. This is why we think that the bag was probably turned in at some kind of “lost property” desk within the greater Delta hierarchy.
What’s going to happen next? One of us is going to be flying through Atlanta this week. She’s going to see if it’s possible to get access to what we imagine is a Raiders of the Lost Ark-style room of lost personal property. This may not work, but it’s worth a try. Since we’ve already left messages at all of the relevant numbers and hit up Delta repeatedly on social media, we’ve not got many options left.
Here’s the cold reality, folks: If you leave something on a plane, you don’t have a chance of getting it back. People leave TONS of stuff on airplanes all the time, and it’s clear that Delta (at least) does not seem to care at all about getting these things back to their owners. If they did, they’d have our paper bag full of books (and pants). We didn’t leave something nondescript like a blue coat, a cell phone, or key ring. We left a paper bag with a very specific logo on it. We can describe all of the contents. We were the last flight into ATL from Montgomery that night, so we know the flight was cleaned before people got back onto the plane. We are pretty sure that nobody would have let the plane take off again with a mysterious paper bag on board. Ergo, our bag is somewhere at Hartsfield. But there is nobody at Delta who’s willing to take our case or even speak to us as humans about this matter.
The lesson? Don’t leave anything on the plane. You’ll probably never see it again. And even if you’ve got a decade of Delta loyalty, they’ll probably treat you just like everybody else.