Tampa Airport Goes Above And Beyond To Make A Kid Smile

Filed Under: Kids

A tiger was on the loose at the Tampa Airport… and his name is Hobbes.


No, Hobbes doesn’t belong to Ben, even though his owner isn’t much younger than Ben was when he started mileage running from the very same airport. (Supposedly Ben has pared down the toys he travels with to just a flock of rubber duckies.)

It turns out that a 6-year old boy, Owen Lake, and his family were flying out of Tampa on a family trip to Houston. Owen had brought Hobbes along and had been playing with him at the gate in Tampa prior to departure. In the controlled chaos known as boarding, Hobbes got left behind. Owen and his family didn’t realize it until they were in the air on their way to Houston.

From the Tampa Bay Times

“When Owen asked for Hobbes on the plane, my husband and I looked at each other and our hearts sunk. We knew he was left behind,” Owen’s mom, Amanda Lake, said.

Like many parents do, she explained that Hobbes was having an adventure at the Tampa airport, and it turns out that he really was.

She contacted the airport to report the missing tiger, explaining that it had been made by the boy’s aunt, and was really one-of-a-kind. The airport staff not only found Hobbes at the gate — probably still looking forlornly at the closed boarding door — but then proceeded to take him on adventures all over the airport, photographing him at every step of the way.

He rode on a luggage cart.


He visited the fire station.


He ate some gelato.


He even visited the Marriott.

Then they collected all the pictures and published them in a book which was presented to Owen upon their reunion at Lost and Found.

It was all orchestrated by Tony D’Aiuto, the airport operations manager who said he “pitched this idea a couple of months ago after I saw a similar idea where someone took a stuffed lion around a museum.”

All I can say is wow!

We read so many stories of personnel that barely want to do the job that they’re paid to do that is very refreshing to see someone go far beyond the call of duty to make a kid’s day. It really shows a love for the job.

I also understand completely what Owen’s parents were going through. My son also has a very special stuffed tiger, eponymously named “Tigey”. Tigey has accompanied us around the world and is almost like family. He rides on top of the stroller, in my son’s pack, or sometimes is pulled along by one leg.

And he is absolutely prone to adventuring.

I swear I spend 10% of my waking hours looking for that wayward tiger. He is arguably the least accountable guy I’ve ever met — he basically has one job, and that is to be there at bedtime to help my son fall asleep, yet he’s often out gallivanting around. It’s come to the point that we occasionally have to tell our son that Tigey is out adventuring and that we’re sure he’ll be back in the morning.

While we tolerate Tigey’s “adventuring” at home, my wife and I are almost paranoid about forgetting him on a trip somewhere. It’s to the point that we have instituted a “no tiger left behind” policy where one of us always throws a glance over our shoulder to make sure he’s not on the prowl.

Except it’s still not a perfect system. 

During our month-long Southeast Asian Adventure, we we stayed a few nights at the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur. Tigey came to breakfast with us — the Diamond breakfast benefit includes up to one tiger, apparently — but got to distracted by the honeycomb and forgot to come back to the room with us. (Hey, it’s a really awesome spread.)

Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur breakfast bufft
Hyatt Diamond breakfast for registered room guests and up to one tiger.

We didn’t notice for a few hours, at which point we feared for the worst and were thinking of how we would explain this to our son. But sure enough, the Grand Club staff had indeed been keeping tabs on a tiger matching the description and quickly brought him to our suite.

Tigie getting photobombed
Tigey getting photobombed

I know other parents that have had similar experiences.

One of our friends now has twin bears that go by “car bear” and “home bear.” It wasn’t planned this way, of course, but rather happened when the original bear was lost, then replaced, er, I mean “found”, and then found for real. As their names suggest, one of them now lives at home while the other lives permanently in the car, presumably avoiding the trauma of forgetting to bring him on a road trip.

Another of our friends’ daughter has twin elephants for a similar reason. Instead of explaining how the second elephant came to be, however, they have somehow managed to always keep the elephants in different rooms such that their daughter truly believes there is only one elephant. When we visited their home, the first thing they did was inform us of the house rule — these elephants can never ever be within sight of each other. Ah, the fun that can be had before kids develop “object permanence.”

Has your child ever lost a stuffed friend while traveling? Did you get it back?

  1. Poppy — I’m sure many have done this even before Denver.

    And FWIW, Hobbes is more photogenic… 🙂

  2. Travis – they probably have. Having said that, I never get bored of the stories, so thanks! And I agree Hobbes is much better looking 😉

  3. Doesn’t matter who did it first – only that someone is willing to do it again for another’s lost/adventuring friend.

  4. I gotta get me one of those. My 9 year old has been reading C&H for a few years now and she LOVES it. I think she thinks she has a little bit of Calvin in her. There are way too many pictures of her making gross-out faces. And one year, her hand-made mother’s day card read:

    “I was going to buy you
    a card with hearts of pink and red,
    but then I thought
    I’d rather spend the money on me instead.
    It’s awfully hard to buy things
    when one’s allowance is so small,
    so, I guess you’re pretty lucky
    I got you anything at all.
    Happy Mother’s Day to you.
    There I said it. Now, I’m done.
    So, how ’bout getting out of bed,
    and cooking breakfast for your daughter?”

  5. As an adult who travels with a small bear like object and said small bear like object has filled several BA skyflyer passport, I love this story. We took a friend’s kid’s Flat Stanley (or in this case a beanie baby monkey named Swinger) on several trips to Europe and took many pictures for his scrap book. We even gave him back when we wanted to keep him. We were very sad to hear that he had been lost on a AA flight from SEA to JFK and not found. Having a car bear is a great idea, but we’re also thinking that getting a small dog tag that can be sown onto the bear is not a bad idea. Anyways, thanks so much for your take on the story!

  6. Emme — Did you mean to post this comment to the El Al thread instead? Might be a better fit over there.

  7. how darned refreshing……and how silly to compare one thing with another that has absolutely no relationship….

  8. We sure do! Our 9 year old has a police bear that his auntie in Australia gave him when he was 5 months old. His ‘high viz’ jacket has saved him many times since he travelled back to the UK with us, but on our most recent Oz trip he was left on the library bus! Luckily we got him back and he is now looking very loved and less fluorescent than 9 years ago. We definitely have a ‘Constable’ policy here and always keep an eye out for him…

  9. I as a 13 year old still have a secret affection for a certain stuffed dog at my grans!
    My coz J___ who is two loves his teddies and his blanket.

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