Lost and Found Is An Airline Failure Few People Think About

Alaska Airlines does a nice job taking care of customers one at a time – not always and in every case, of course, but on the whole my dealings with them have been just a touch more ‘human’ than average for the U.S. airline industry. So it didn’t surprise me to see this tweet about Alaska successfully recovering a laptop left on one of their planes.

I very stupidly, and very distractedly, left my laptop in the seat back pocket of my @AlaskaAir flight this afternoon. Less then two hours later I get a call back, laptop found, and I’m en route to pick it up. Thank you! A thanksgiving miracle! 🙏🦃

— ☁️ David Ulevitch ☁️ (@davidu) November 28, 2019

This shouldn’t be a standout, but how often do you expect to actually receive valuables returned to you if you’ve left them on a plane?

  • Planes are supposed to be cleaned between each flight, seat pockets checked for trash for instance
  • Airlines (at least most airlines besides Southwest) know exactly who is seated in every seat
  • And they have contact information for passengers who book direct with them or who are members of the carrier’s frequent flyer program

Airlines have computer systems that can append notes to passenger records. Gate agents have computers. Flight attendants have tablets. Airline IT investment is massive.

It shouldn’t even take filing a lost and found claim to get your stuff back – the airline should be able to be proactive!

The reality though is much more complicated. Planes often get the barest once overs between flights if they are even cleaned at all. There’s very little incentive for contract cleaners or airline employees to go out of their way for customers. That takes extra effort that’s rarely rewarded.

I’ve forgotten jackets on planes many times. Usually the flight attendant working domestic first class just forgets to return them, and I get off the plane – only to realize immediately what I’ve done. That’s an easy recovery. The only real mistake I’ve made was in Singapore.

I once left a camera on board a Singapore Airlines flight from Bali to Singapore. I realized I’d left it by the time I made it to the train to change terminals. I went back to the gate, but there was no one there. I proceeded to Singapore’s lounge, told a staff member, and they got to work. The staff member found me while I was still in the lounge and let me know the camera would be waiting for me on the jetway boarding my next flight. Indeed there was an officer on the jetway who checked my ID and returned my camera.

That was a lucky break, and I was a premium cabin passenger on an airline that has the ability to go the extra mile in service. Airlines can and should be able to replicate it nearly every single time however.

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