My (Successful) Experience With Delta’s Lost Items Department

Filed Under: Advice, Delta

Whether we’re new to the game or living in airports full-time, we all make mistakes from time to time. And while I’ve largely been able to keep it together ever since my disastrous China Eastern non-journey from a year ago, apparently I was due for a travel mishap.

This time, this mishap came in the form of an iPad that was left in a seatback pocket.

How it happened

This probably isn’t the first time in the history of air travel that someone has left an iPad behind, and I sure wish there was a better story to go with it. But honestly, I was tired, it was a long week of work, and I’d just spent two hours trying to drive forty miles from western Maryland to Washington’s DCA.

So when we landed at Detroit’s DTW, my mind wasn’t on the contents of my seatback pocket. Rather, I was thinking about how on earth I was going to get my luggage from fifteen rows back while running almost a half mile to the opposite end of the A-concourse, where my next flight was currently boarding.

A less stressful day at DTW’s McNamara Concourse A

It wasn’t until I sat down on my connecting flight and opened up my laptop bag that I realized that it was missing. Oh crap. 

I immediately got up and alerted the flight attendants, to see if they could call down to the gate. I knew exactly where the plane was, and hoped that with the right set of phone calls, a miracle would strike.

The problem was, I had already boarded, so of course I couldn’t leave the plane. And neither could they.

To their credit, the flight attendants tried calling down to the gate, to no avail. Our gate agent came down the jet bridge to talk to me, and offered calling down to the gate agent from my previous flight, but he got no response. Finally, after multiple attempts to call down, he offered to walk down himself.

But of course he couldn’t do that until after the plane took off. And while I could offer him my phone number, Delta policy doesn’t allow gate agents to call passengers directly.

So while the crew gets an “A” for effort (if any of you are reading this – thank you!!!), I knew that as soon as the boarding door closed, I would be subject to the online world of Delta’s lost item claims.

What I learned

This (sadly) isn’t my first rodeo with Delta’s lost items, and as much as I like to talk to human beings whenever possible, this is one area where the online form is the way to go. Apparently, all of Delta’s lost items eventually go to a centralized location after 24 hours of holding, and the web form is basically a necessity.

Unfortunately, ever since the advent of their new website, many of the tried-and-true links are nowhere to be found. So the first thing that I had to learn was…

1. Where to go to fill out the form

The agent at Delta’s lost items desk did provide a few helpful tidbits, the most helpful of which by far was this link. It takes you straight to the landing page for lost items, which looks something like this:

I knew I needed to fill out the form right away, because my phone agent had warned me of another very specific piece of advice:

2. The sooner you fill out the form, the more likely you are to get your item back

Our time together on the phone was short, but she made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that the best way to get a lost item back was to fill out the form right away. Apparently, the last items in are the first ones out, so if you don’t want your item to disappear into a black hole, it’s best to strike while the iron is hot.

(Diamond Medallion desk this was not, but she made this much pretty darn clear.)

In addition to the item description, there is a space on the form for contact details and flight information:

All-in-all, the form was really easy to fill out. It wasn’t until after I sent everything in that I did some further research, and realized that I might have missed a crucial component, which brought me to my next learning:

3. Have something on your device that differentiates it (or better yet, a serial number!)

It had never been more clear to me than in that moment that I have the world’s most nondescript iPad. The case is gray, the background is generic, and the size is the same as most of the world’s other iPads. I wasn’t about to provide login details for any specific apps, and I found myself wondering how I could possible describe the thing, knowing that a clear description could be the make-or-break in ultimately getting it back.

Maybe you’re more on top of it than I am, but I don’t exactly keep track of the serial numbers of my electronic devices (and half the time I forget that they even have serial numbers).

And then it occurred to me that the answer might live with Verizon, where I learned that…

4. Your mobile phone provider may have key details, like serial numbers

I knew that this was my best shot, and immediately logged into my Verizon account, where I pulled up their live chat support. Within about five minutes, I had a serial number in hand.

And no, I still wasn’t convinced that this would be enough to get my iPad back. But on the plus side, my live chat led to a couple of gems like this:

…and this:


Words of wisdom from my definitely-not-bot

Of course, I had already filled out my online form, and was concerned that I would be out of luck. But I went back to the confirmation email that Delta sent, and realized quickly that…

5. You can update a lost item claim even after you’ve filed it

This part was actually the easiest – Delta’s original lost item email provides a link that allows you to update your claim, as needed. I added the serial number – and a description of the background picture, just for good measure – and hoped that my additional information would be enough to track the iPad down.

The whole updated took all of 90 seconds to complete.

And then I waited.

The final outcome

Six days later (and three days after the requisite “No luck yet, but we’re still looking” email) I received another email with the following text:

We are happy to tell you that we have located an item that closely matches the description of your reported lost item. We have, to the best of our ability, verified that the item matched to your lost report is indeed your item. You will need to click on this link within 45 days and provide the following information:

  1. Verify the shipping address for your item.
  2. Choose a Shipping Service Level.
  3. Provide payment information

After we receive this information, your item will be shipped, you will receive tracking information by email, and we will close the report. We cannot hold these items in perpetuity, so if we do not receive a reply within 45 days, the item will be salvaged and the report closed. We are grateful for your business and we hope to welcome you onboard Delta again soon.

Since this was 100% my fault, I did have to pay for the shipping back to my house, and they do require you to fill out a separate form. In other words, you can’t just use the contact information that they have on file, and you have to fill everything out within 45 days.

Still, I was reunited with my iPad (and its beat-up case) less than a week later!

If only the shipping costs coded as “travel”…;)

Key Learnings

Aside from the obvious “don’t forget your stuff,” I do think there were a couple of key factors that ultimately led to my success here, and they are worth recapping. So here’s what I would do in the event that you (or a loved one) leaves an item behind on a Delta flight:

  • Bookmark this link, so that you don’t have to go on a wild goose chase on the website.
  • Fill out the form as soon as possible. 
  • Keep your serial numbers for electronic devices somewhere on file.
  • Put some sort of differentiator (sticker, address, etc.) on small items that you may be more likely to lose.
  • If you don’t have a serial number, turn to your mobile phone provider for help.
  • Be ready with payment and shipping information in the event that your item is found.

And, most importantly, check your seatback pocket every time.

Bottom line

First off, to whomever found the lost iPad in the seatback of 12C two weeks ago, wherever you are, thank you!

I know that there was a lot of luck involved here, and that my iPad found itself in the hands of the right people, which is far from a guarantee. But I do think that Delta has a solid system in place here. This is the second time that I’ve had something of value returned to me, which tells me that something behind the scenes is working.

And ultimately – and I know I’ll get some flak for this – it’s reasons like these why I keep going back to Delta. Sure, their redemptions might be laughable and their new boarding process baffling, but when bad things happen, they seem to know how to fix them.

More importantly, they actually seem to care. 

So while the policies may not always be as customer-friendly as we all would like, to me, service comes down to what the actual, personal, on-the-ground and in-the-air experience looks and feels like, week after week.

And in this case, they hit it out of the park.

Have you ever had to file for a lost item? How did it turn out?

  1. Also a quick tip for pulling Apple Serial Numbers, you can find the serial for every device associated with your Apple ID at

  2. Great article, as usual. It seems like you included the personalized link for getting your iPad back though, I’d edit that out. 😉

  3. @ChocolateFactory – Oh goodness – somehow I missed that one. While stealing my iPad would take some next-level stalking now that it’s safely back in my possession, I’ve gone ahead and edited it out.

    Thanks for the heads up, and the kind words. 🙂

  4. Put your name and emergency contact information on your lock screen. If it’s ever lost, anyone turning it on will be able to tell who it belongs to. More importantly, should anything happen to you, police/EMS/etc. will know who to contact.

    There’s a dedicated setting for this on Android devices. I’m sure iOS has something similar.

  5. Since you mentioned Verizon, I assume your iPad has a celluar connection. You should have used find my iPhone to display a message with contact info on the screen.

  6. A great post with really useful information for travelers. Unlike stories you see that tell the public don’t fly on the day before Thanksgiving (DUH)

    And in terms of being able to identify your device, simply. tape your business card or other ID on the back of your iPad. Then even those who have no idea how to turn on an iPad (or if the batteries are dead) will be able to contact you.

  7. My wife left her iPad on a Southwest flight from Denver to LAX, and we had similar results. After about 2 weeks if was found and we paid $20 to have it shipped back.

    You can go into the find my iPhone app click the lost mode which will allow you to set it up to lock your iPad/ iPhone etc when it connects to WIFI and display a message that can include your contact number.

  8. Same thing happened to me on Delta! Traveled LAX-JFK on a red-eye then a JFK-RDU flight the next morning only to discover the arrival day in Raleigh that I didn’t have my iPad and case with me – usually the case was contained in my backpack but for unknown reasons I apparently separated them. I filed a report with Delta and several days later got a similar email that you did! I paid about $30 for shipping which was worth every penny.

    Everything got back fine including a $100 Delta giftcard that I keep when traveling in case plans change and I need some credit to book new flights. The package was sent from Alabama which is where I knew there’s a major lost-luggage facility.

  9. Another good post Steph. I can’t remember how many items I’ve donated while traveling. The older I get the more systematic I am about packing and repacking, but even so every so often something gets left behind in the room or on the plane. My most resent donation was an old JBL charge I loved traveling with that was left behind on Jersey Island UK.

    One time I left my laptop in a tray at TSA, before pre-check was an option. They tracked me down and sent it to me FedX at home no charge. Pretty decent of them.

  10. I had a similar experience with Southwest. I had no expectations of ever being reunited with my iPad, but a few days after filling out the online form, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email asking for shipping and payment information. And I didn’t even realize I had left my iPad on the plane until I got to my destination and was looking for my iPad that evening.

  11. Yeah, in my rush to get home from dulles before the beltway became a parking lot, I left my ipad in the seat pocket on KLM. I called the next day and they confirmed it was there and I could pick it up at the airport any time the desk was open. When I got it, it was in a bag with my flight, date, and seat number, which seems to me the most obvious way of tracking an article like that.

  12. I’ve never left anything but I’ve found four phones in seatback pockets over the past decade. Three of them were on AA planes which landed late at night and spent the night at the gate. I boarded for my usual 6:20 am flight, discovered the phones and the FAs commented that they always get reuinted with the owners. Seems to be happening more now given that nearly every AA flight I take always ends with an FA reminding everyone to check the seat pocket for belongings. Glad you got your iPad back.

  13. Great article. I just received my Kindle back yesterday. Delta flight same info, Amazon has your Kindle serial number. Also I helped a friend claim hers six months ago. Bit very easy smooth recoveries. Thanks Delta!

  14. Steph, good points. The few times I have messed up (once last year with my wallet falling on the floor of an AA aircraft) I have found that insistence and perseverance EARLY is the key. Great tips though and the Delta links you provided are invaluable.

    On a side note…Western Maryland! I have a cabin in Friendsville and am a WW kayaker often found on the Upper Y. Nice to know others in our little world of travel junkies enjoy it as well.

  15. Another travel item – in a NYC taxi (if you aren’t Ubering) get the receipt or take a pick of the medallion info. If you lose your stuff you’ll be able to file a claim online and it goes through the police who reach out. A coworker left his cell phone when he got dropped off at JFK, realized it at the gate, did the online form (had a receipt b/c it was a work trip) and by the time he landed he had a call to send his info like you had (name/address/payment) to get it overnighted to him, it was already recovered.

    Long ago I left my Kindle in the seatback on USAirways (I said it was long ago) and was able to get back to the gate but the next flight had boarded. I assumed it wouldn’t have been turned in (was first generation, totally new electronic device). I asked anyway and luckily I had named something oddly specific that showed when it was turned on so I was able to use that and she handed it to me, no paperwork. She said if I didn’t have anything to really specifically identify it it would have been a pain, she wouldn’t have been allowed to hand it over. I doubt I’d have been able to get to the Amazon page to find the serial number, either because I hadn’t thought of it or because free and fast wifi wasn’t really a thing back then (and I was in a hurry as I had another flight to catch).

    Now with cloud storage I think keeping the serial numbers in a file would be a great idea, and something uniquely identifying on the home page.

    Recently there was an article about a man who boarded a flight and found the previous passenger’s wallet in the seat back, it had just a little money in it too. He didn’t trust the crew to handle it promptly so he took it, added a couple hundred bucks and mailed it to the man’s house on the license.

  16. In addition to taping your business card (or an address label with phone and email), you might enroll in a service like http://www.Return.Me, a global recovery service, which provides little stickers for all your electronics and a web based service to list your gadgets and report/track a lost item. It’s worth the small price.

  17. This may be a little old school, but I attach an address label to most everything. Luggage, back of phone’s, computers, tennis rackets. They’re usually small enough to not be too obtrusive but informative. With my donations to different charities, I have plenty of them!

  18. Not like my Delta experience.
    In my case we almost certainly had the item stolen by the cleaning crew after we deplaned and before new pax boarded. Thanks NOT to Delta gate agents who were probably aware of what happened but played dumb.
    Similar but better outcome on ELAL. After a long 12 hour overnight flight we left one small valuable bag onboard. While we realized very quickly their security protocol would not let us near the plane but we were urged to find the lost and found at the baggage area. By the time we got there the item was logged in and waiting. They demanded ID and a boarding pass to show we were on that flight. Never that lucky in Italy!

  19. May I share my contrasting (also successful) experience with Hawaiian airlines? I also left an iPad in a seat back , flying from Honolulu, to the 9th island (Las Vegas). We landed at 4 pm and it wasn’t til about 8:30 that I realized my iPad wasn’t in my bag. A quick call to McCarran airport lost & found gave me a recording letting me know they were closed for the day. Another call to the Hawaiian Pualani line (call center in Philippines) suggested only that I call the airport lost & found…

    However not 10 minutes later I got this email

    “Aloha Judith,

    A valuable item was found in your seat area on HA6 from Honolulu to Las Vegas today. If you did leave an item on the airplane, Can you please contact us by REPLY ALL to this email along with the description of possible item left onboard. Once the item is confirmed, you can arrange a pick up time. Ticket counters are located at Terminal 3.

    our ticket counter hours are below.

    Daily: 6:15am-9:00am / 11pm-1:30am
    Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun: 2:45pm – 5:30pm

    If you did not miss anything on the aircraft, I apologize for bothering you.

    Thank you

    Xxx xxxx Operations Manager, Las Vegas Station”

    Anyway, a couple emails & an Uber back to the airport & I had my iPad with its beat up cover back, no serial number needed…(yes I feel very lucky about the outcome)

  20. Some years ago I left my Kindle in the seat pocket of a CX flight after an hour tarmac delay (wine service started already there, might have been partly the reason) at HKG going to Tokyo..

    Sent an inquiry, they realized it was at Haneda, next day they had it back and I could collect at HKG. Well done CX.

  21. Glad you got it back.

    Far better than my experience sadly. My father gifted me his Citizen dive watch and at one point in time I had taken it off and placed it in my snowboard bag. Well coming back to Seattle, after spending christmas in Salt Lake one year, my wife and I were flying Delta and I discovered I had left said watch in with my snowboard gear and, fearing a stickyfingered baggage inspection I removed it.

    Fast forward to the end of the flight, I’m having a migraine brought on by a cold starting up and the fact my ears won’t equalize pressure while coming in for landing. Meanwhile I had emptied the contents of my pockets into the seatback pocket to comfortably fit in my seat(I’m 6′ 4″ and at the time 340lbs). Soon as the door opened I was up out of my seat, stuffing things back into place, grabbing my carry-on and rushing off the plane due to the incredible pain I was in, leaving the watch behind in the process. A fact I discover half way home.

    So upon getting into my house, the furst thing I do was fill out the lost item form, giving as much detail as possible like yourselfdown to row and seat where it was exactly left and wait.

    I didn’t even get the “We’re still looking” email, I got no correspondance at all in fact. Considering it was the last flight of that night I know some lucky passenger didn’t win the seatback lottery, and instead believe a less than scrupulous Delta crewmember pocketed it.

  22. I’m happy your iPad came back. My yellow iPhone 5C did not. I realized I had left it in a seatback pocket when I was in baggage claim. I went to someone from Delta and he supposedly called the gate. I knew what seat I had been in, everything. No luck. So I filed the online claim immediately from the car. Supplemented it too. Nothing. Makes me mad because I was right there. Oh well now I have an XS that will be harder for me to lose because it’s awesome and I’m on it constantly.

  23. I had almost the exact same experience when my daughter left her phone in the seat…Delta was great! 3 wks later we got her phone back in perfect condition. The gate agents were so great about helping me at DTW!

  24. I left my suit coat and newly received doctoral hood on a flight change in Atlanta. I didn’t miss it until I was boarding the next flight. No one gave me any real hope of retrieving it. But my wife and I kept inquiring and one day they told me they had it would send it to me if I sent them shipping costs. They were badly wrinkled, but I have them!

  25. Two experiences to share:
    1: United LHR > LAX. I managed to leave a MacBook Pro in the seat back. I realised my mistake when I was already through immigration & customs so had no way back. Went to a check-in agent. She made a bunch of calls, and personally went to get the missing computer from the gate. Really exceptional service.
    2: Lufthansa BCN > FRA. I left a camera bag in the luggage bin (in a very well padded case). I realised my mistake after the bus-ride to the terminal (already a minus point). Was given an email address to contact, no possibility to get it back then & there. I was able to pick it up a week later from the airport, however it had clearly been dropped / thrown some distance as the internal lens elements had become separated (sadly I only checked external at the time I got it back).

  26. Good story, and tips in the article and comments. What also stuck out to me is why you could not have exchanged cell phone numbers with the gate agent. I imagine the gate agent brought up this “policy,” when you talked to them. But if you had a willing gate agent, despite any corporate policies to the contrary, it would be difficult for Delta big brother, to prevent you and a gate agent from exchanging cell#’s.

  27. First, adding info to the lock screen won’t help if the battery dies. I lost a tablet on a Hawaiian flight and they said they can’t charge any devices due to liability concerns.

    Second, if it’s on airplane mode, Find My Device features won’t work until it gets on a known WiFi (with no sign in screen, most free airport WiFis have a sign in). It is highly unlikely there will be one at the central Lost and Found.

    Finally, as soon as you realize your device is locked, you should disconnect it from your accounts (Apple ID, Gmail, ect…) just like you’d cancel a lost credit card. In fact, your credit card info is likely on your device somewhere. This way if someone decides your lost device is theirs, the best they can do is reformat it.

  28. I have done this twice. (Different iPads and about six years apart for what it is worth). I got it back both times, on Qantas and Jet Airways. Luckily both times at my home airport so I picked it up in person a few days later once they confirmed they had it.

  29. I am in the process of recovering my lost HP laptop from the Delta flight. Same story – left it in the seatpocket in front of my seat. Realized it on the way home from the airport and filled out the report within 1 hour. Called Delta agent at FLL, but to no avail – according to her the cleaning crew (who she represented) did not find/returned anything from that flight. Still hope my experience will have as good of an outcome as described in the article. So far (two days after filling the report) I received no status update from Delta (other than the initial acknowledgment).

  30. My daughter dropped her iPhone after a hard landing and it fell to the side as she sat on the window seat. As we searched for it, we found a significant gap between the floor and wall of the airplane that we believed the phone fell into. Never did find it, but we can see via Find My iPhone that it is indeed on the plane as it’s been all over the country the last few days. We shared this information with Delta, but to date they have done nothing to recover the phone and no one appears to care. Very frustrating knowing the phone is on the plane.

  31. I, too, left my Ipad in the seatback pocket on a Delta flight! Just got word (one week later) that they found it! Thank you Steph for walking me through the process, and thanks also to the commenters for additional tips (especially Kyle for the tip about Apple ID storing device serial numbers).

  32. I left something in the gate area and found my way to the landing page that you linked as soon as my two-hour flight landed. I do have a question – is there a way to check on whether they have made any progress in finding my item (it was a piece of clothing, not an electronic device – but I just got it two weeks before, for my birthday!)? I find myself thinking about it a lot and I’d love to go somewhere to hear some news if there is news – or do they contact you only if there is news?

  33. I realized at baggage that my ipad was missing and went directly to Delta Customer Service for help. They did make a call to have my seat pocket checked but nothing was found. I was advised to file a report to have the previous flight checked. I did file my report immediately included a description and serial number of my 2 month old ipad. I have not received any emails or messages from Delta and it is impossible to check the status of the report. I am instructed to get on the Website but there is no way to check the status using my report ID number. Very frustrating.
    I just searched online again and found Nettracer and submitted my ID number.
    My report is closed so that’s it. Have to buy a new one!

  34. I just received the coveted email from Delta saying they had located my iPad! I cannot believe that it was found as I lost it at the beginning of the busy Thanksgiving weekend! I was not sure, but thought that it might have slipped out of a carry-on bag at my feet at some point during a flight from DCA to Atlanta. I did not realize that it was missing until I reached my desitination that day in Little Rock. I flied forms with TSA, DCA airport Authority and ATL airport Authority and then finally Delta because I really did not know when exactly I lost it. (thought I might have left it in security at the beginning of my day). At first I did not include my serial number and was hopeful that “find my iPad” feature on my phone would help. As some other commenters have said- forget about “find my ipad if the airlines have it, because this feature does not work if the device is offline. But..finding my iPad’s serial number in the “settings” tab of my iPhone was a game changer. I edited my lost item report with the serial number and within two days received notice from Delta that they had located the iPad. I almost didn’t receive the email because it went to my spam folder- so check that too!! I hope others have good luck reuniting with their lost items.

  35. On December 1, I flew home from Paris back home to Indianapolis on the (new) Delta direct flight. I left my laptop in the airplane, on the floor near my seat. Neither the flight crew nor the cleaning crew noticed it, and it stayed on the airplane and went almost immediately back to Paris (overnight), arriving on December 2. There are still good humans in the world! The laptop was found back in Paris, and it was shipped from Paris to the central processing facility in Alabama, and I got the happy email today (Thursday, Dec 12). I paid for overnight shipping, so I should have my laptop back in hand on Saturday, Dec 14. I was so overjoyed when I got the email from Delta that I cried. I believe it was crucial that I provided my serial number on the Delta lost and found form. So don’t lose hope, if you are waiting/hoping to get your item back from Delta! Good endings sometimes happen after all! I am very thankful for all of the baggage claim people that I’ve talked to during the last week. They handle many complaints. I called several of them back today, to tell them thank you for the encouragement, support, and excellent customer service during the last 11 days. Needless to say, I have been pretty nervous, wondering about the eventual outcome! This story had a happy ending today! I am forever thankful to Delta. This will definitely continue to be my direct flight from Indianapolis to-and-from Paris!

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