What happens to lost property left at an airport or on a plane?

Nov 5, 2019

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If you’ve ever left a personal item on an airplane, in a lounge or even at the gate before your flight, you’re not alone. Thousands of personal items are left behind every year in U.K. airports. Panic may set in once you realise what you’re missing, but don’t assume it’s lost forever, as most major airports and airlines have sophisticated processes to collect, track and return items to passengers.

Gatwick Airport, for example, estimates that it returns around 85% of valuable lost items to their owners each year, and 30%-40% of lower-value items like books.

On a recent flight from New York to try out the new British Airways Club Suite, there were so many storage options in the new seat that I left my brand new and very expensive Macbook Pro computer on the aircraft when I landed at Heathrow Terminal 5. After a very sleepless night, the device was returned to me within a few days.

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(Photo by Getty Images/Mongkol Chuewong)
(Photo by Mongkol Chuewong/Getty Images)

If you have lost an item at the airport or on a plane, you will likely need to pay a fee for it to be returned. With the number of items lost and left behind in major airports and with major airlines, you will likely not be allowed to turn up at an airport and rifle through a big room full of lost items to find yours — a fee will be charged for your item to be stored and then returned.

Items lost at airports are usually stored for a period of up to 90 days — sometimes more. This allows their owners time to realise an item is missing, work out where they left it and contact the right location or department in the hope that it is found.

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(Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

Some items are never collected. If you’re visiting New Zealand, for instance, and leave a set of reading glasses in the lounge at Christchurch Airport before the long journey back to the U.K. and don’t realise until a week later, tracking down and returning them may be more trouble than they’re worth.

This also applies to unclaimed baggage. Though you might not ever dream of saying goodbye to a piece of your checked luggage forever, some luggage is never collected from the carousel and is kept in a baggage claim area typically for up to 90 days.

At the end of this period, some airports and airlines will simply dispose of/discard the goods, while some will auction off the contents, often with the proceeds going to charity — like the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama, U.S.A. Some will allow bidders to see the contents before bidding, while some other auctions are more mysterious — you bid on an unopened suitcase and then whatever is inside is yours to keep. You would be hoping for jewellery and electronics rather than dirty laundry.

If you’ve left something behind, the best way to go about getting it back is too contact the appropriate airline or airport as soon as possible. Don’t let too much time go by, or you may have said goodbye to your item for good.

Featured image by Shutterstock /Maurizio Milanesio

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