Dear United Airlines: I Want My Kindle, and My Dignity, Back

"Tough luck, sucker! Sincerely, United Airlines"I recently flew from SFO to JFK on the first leg of a trip for book research. My three-part itinerary on United Airlines — all domestic flights — cost me $1334 in total for coach seats, even with an advance purchase. Of course, that impressive price tag didn’t include many amenities that used to come gratis with air travel, such as a hot meal even on shorter flights, the ability to check bags without paying an extra fee, or a reasonable expectation of arriving on schedule.

The metaphor of frogs that don’t notice the water around them is getting warmer until it’s boiling (and they’re cooked) is only an urban legend, say the vigilant debunkers at — but it’s an apt image for today’s frequent flyers. Schlepping their carry-ons through security mazes, standing shoeless with arms outstretched in bleeping machines, shrugging off dramatic confiscations of shampoo and toothpaste, and frantically rejiggering carefully-plotted itineraries at a moment’s notice, we’ve come to accept the current state of affairs as just another way that life sucks in the post-9/11 era. Never mind that I’m old enough to recall when a cross-country trip on an airplane, even in economy class, offered an opportunity to unwind and feel coddled in the lap of luxury for a few hours with a stratospheric view. Now I look forward to flying about as much as I look forward to a trip to the dentist.

Unlike the constitutionally enraged audience of Fox News, however, it’s not TSA pat-downs that bug me. I’d be flattering myself to believe there’s anything prurient about some guy in a rented uniform having to touch my middle-aged junk. I’m sure that feeling around in the waistbands of science bloggers for plastique is not what most TSA agents had in mind when they signed on for the job.

It’s the casually contemptuous attitude of the airline industry toward its customers in the face of snowballing inconveniences that I find soul-crushing. Formerly courteous gate agents now have the wary look and defensive manner of IRS agents who are accustomed to being convenient targets of hate and ridicule. Flight canceled or hours late? Routine. Connecting flights missed? Happens all the time. Massively oversold? That’s just how we roll. Bag gone missing despite a $50 handling fee? Fill out this form over there, sir — there’s a line of passengers behind you.

Not until my most recent trip, however, did I realize that the airline industry’s reckless attitude is conspiring with developments in the technology of personal computing to breed a new kind of nightmare in the formerly friendly skies.

United Easy Check-In

Yeah, well.

Arriving at SFO hours early in the hope of avoiding long lines at the ticket counter, I discovered that United’s “Easy Check-In” system was unable to locate my reservation. Thankfully, the ticket agent spotted my name on a printout, but I was informed that my aisle seat on the outgoing flight had been mysteriously converted to a middle one. Oh well, at least my plane was still scheduled to depart on time.

The smartly-dressed woman in her late 30s or early 40s who occupied the aisle seat in my row — who looked like an academic of some sort — scowled at me when I approached my seat. Looking terribly inconvenienced, she finally stood up, and I gingerly eased around her and strapped myself in for the five-hour journey.

Luckily, I had my trusty Kindle 3G with me, complete with e-books and PDF files I’d carefully chosen to guide and inform my three weeks of research. Back in the pre-digital days, the bag on my aching shoulder would have been overloaded with reading materials, because watching two-month-old romantic comedies on a jerky screen at 30,000 feet is not my idea of passing the time. My Kindle had become my constant companion on reporting trips. I slipped it into the pocket of the seat in front of me and tried to make myself comfortable.

Kindle on a plane

Kindle: So portable and convenient, you may never see it again.

Suddenly, the woman beside me jumped up and convened a hushed meeting of flight attendants. Though she hadn’t said a word to me, it didn’t take long to figure out that the subject of this emergency summit was me. The attendants kept glancing at the woman’s face, and then at me, with expressions that broadcast This is the last thing we need to be dealing with right now. Finally, the woman crossed her arms in triumph, and the senior flight attendant came over with a pleading look. “Sir,” she said, “I’m afraid we have to ask you to move to another seat.”

It seemed that the woman on the aisle had decided that she should not be compelled to sit quite so close to another human being; she may have footnoted her whispering with a piquant arch of her eyebrows about my being overweight. Fat people are never more conscious of the burden they place on others than when they fly in coach. We’re used to navigating the aisles with expressions of pained apology on our faces.

As the flight was full (are they ever not these days?), the attendant directed me to the one remaining seat in the cabin — also in the middle of a row, of course, and in fact much more constricted, wedged between two other refugees from Weight Watchers. But at least we all had the virtue of being good-humored. We made ourselves comfortable in an absurd situation by putting up our armrests and being decent and humane to one another. Meanwhile, as soon as the plane reached its cruising altitude, the woman in my old row began spreading out the contents of her voluminous purse on the vacant seat beside her, piling up stacks of paperbacks and magazines, and laying out a personal buffet of chips and candy bars. She was clearly a pro at this game.

Air travel in the 1950s

Not science fiction. Air travel in the 1950s.

To their credit, the flight attendants took note of the fact that the whole process must have been humiliating for me. One by one, they came over to say quietly that cocktails would be on the house for the duration of the flight. There was only one problem; I hardly ever drink booze on planes, particularly when I’m planning a late dinner with friends at the other end. I thanked the attendants and stuck to club soda and lime.

All things considered, the flight was a pleasant one, due to the esprit de corps of my fellow passengers. Instead of reading or watching movies, we chatted and joked our way from coast to coast. Eventually, one of the flight attendants came over and slipped me a coupon for a $75 discount on my next United trip, which I appreciated. Upon arriving at JFK, I took down my carry-on bag and gratefully walked off the plane, breathing a sigh of relief as I strode out of the jetway.

That sense of liberation lasted only a few steps. Then I remembered that my precious Kindle and the documents on it were still in the pocket of my old seat on the plane. I turned back to the gate and asked an agent if I could quickly reboard the plane to fetch it. That would be impossible, I was told. I was instructed to call United’s lost-and-found number to retrieve my Kindle.

The automated voice on the line was defiantly pessimistic, as if it didn’t want to foster any naive hopes that merely making a call to a lost-and-found number might actually result in any lost objects being found. Please do not leave multiple messages about your lost items, the voice admonished me sternly — one message is enough. If I didn’t hear back in ten days, I could assume that the things I’d left onboard were gone forever.

International symbol for lost-and-found

Lost? Yes. Found? Not so much.

Unsurprisingly, I never heard a word. An automated message promising due diligence in retrieving my lost item would have made me feel a little better, even if it was a bald-faced lie. But instead, the whole system is designed to make passengers feel like fools for daring to bring an electronic device onto a plane. Apparently, the airlines now wish us to believe that a $189 Kindle in a $39 leather case is worth the value of a crumpled cocktail napkin, a used airsickness bag, or a tattered copy of Hemispheres magazine; that is, of no value at all.

Which is not to say that my Kindle was of no value to whoever subsequently discovered it in its seat pocket. When I contacted Amazon customer service to deregister the device, I was informed that it had already been deregistered by persons unknown.

Which leads to discomfiting questions: Are ground crews supplementing their undoubtedly meager income by deregistering and reselling lost Kindles online? (An Amazon customer-service rep I spoke to this morning confirmed this possibility, since a Kindle can be deregistered via its Wi-Fi connection without a password.) Or was the culprit the next passenger who was forced to sit in that middle seat — which means that seat pockets aren’t even cursorily checked or cleaned between cross-country flights? That doesn’t seem like a good thing.

Am I overlooking a third possibility? Given the state of security, isn’t the trajectory of objects left behind on planes a relatively closed loop — unless aspiring used-electronics vendors are sifting through trash cans outside of JFK?

While it may seem overly sentimental to mourn the loss of a relatively inexpensive e-reader, that Kindle meant a lot to me. It was a thoughtful Christmas present from my hardworking science-teacher spouse after a very lean and stressful financial year for both of us. The unspoken message of the gift was: Keep working hard on your proposal, and someday people will be enjoying your book on a device like this.

It strikes me that two contemporary developments in the culture of air travel have converged to our detriment. One of the chief selling points of Kindles, iPods, and other personal digital devices is how convenient they are for traveling, whether commuting to the office or jetting to Beijing. We entrust them with our personal libraries and other data and assume they’ll be at hand when we need them. The makers of these products have anticipated our needs by designing ever-slimmer, lighter, and more convenient devices with extended battery life — indeed, so slim and convenient that we can slip them into the seat pocket of a 757. Even people who can’t bear to sit through another Adam Sandler showcase no longer have to worry about getting bored on long flights.

At the same time, airlines like United — which once touted its corporate philosophy as “making friends and keeping them” — have propped up their bottom lines in a free-fall economy by calculating precisely how little service they can provide to their customers in coach, and how much frustration, humiliation, and disappointment those customers will endure before they stop buying tickets. I’ve been a loyal United flyer and Mileage Plus member for decades. But when I’m actually onboard a plane, I’m just another piece of oversized human freight that can be shifted around if that may make a problem passenger stop whining.

In other words, the major airlines — with rare exception — have stopped wooing customers by trying to make them happy, at least in coach. Instead, they reliably make them miserable, and then “up-sell” them ways of becoming slightly less miserable, such as Economy Plus seating, snack boxes full of mini-bar also-rans, and élite boarding passes that enable well-heeled flyers to bypass the pandemonium that is now de rigeur at the gate. Those Easy Check-In kiosks that once seemed so customer-friendly are now little more than high-priced vending machines for last-minute reprieves. And heaven help you if anything out of the ordinary happens, like accidentally leaving a device designed to fit into the seat pocket of an airplane in the seat pocket of an airplane for a few minutes.

I don’t blame flight crews, the gracious public face of corporations that have decided they can’t be bothered anymore. It can’t be easy working in a “service” industry that regularly brings its customers to tears. But if I have to watch that smarmy video of United/Continental CEO Jeff Smisek congratulating himself on the merger of the two companies one more time — against a backdrop of Gershwin’s majestic swelling chords from Rhapsody in Blue — I’ll be reaching for the little bag in the seat pocket myself.

United and Continental CEOs

The CEOs of United and Continental announcing the formation of the world's biggest airline.

But I will never entrust a Kindle, or any other electronic device, to my seat pocket on a plane again. Would United have been so cavalier about my losing an iPad, BlackBerry, Galaxy Tab, or MacBook Air? I will now dutifully label my digital devices, count them before I bring them onboard, and rehearse that number in my mind as the plane begins its descent, making sure I have the correct number of devices safely stowed in my bags before I walk down the aisle to disembark.

I suspect that I’m not the only passenger to have left a treasured digital device behind on a plane. A friend recently lost a pair of $349 Bose noise-cancelling headphones the same way. Like me, he realized his error while he was still at the gate. He was also turned back and told to call lost-and-found. You know how that story ends.

Have you ever left an e-reader, iPhone, tablet, PDA, MP3 player, or laptop behind on a plane while in transit? Did you get it back? Have the Kindle-deregistering elves that have apparently infiltrated airport security ever exploited the private data stored on your smart phone or laptop?  What are your tips for preventing digital devices from getting sucked into the Bermuda Triangle of modern air travel?

Update: After reading this blog, two different United/Continental reps (thank you Georganne and Christina) hunted down my phone number and email address and contacted me to make things right.  That doesn’t solve all the problems I mentioned, but I also heard about some behind-the-scenes United efforts to cope with the problem of lost electronics. And I am very glad to learn that United/Continental has empowered its customer-service reps to track these problems on Twitter and the Web and reach out to keep its customers happy.

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159 Responses to Dear United Airlines: I Want My Kindle, and My Dignity, Back

  1. PSonic says:

    On May 4, 2013, I flew United from Huatulco, MX, to Houston, TX. After boarding, I took out my year-old Panasonic HDC-HS900 video camera which has 220 gigabites of storage, an internal memory card, and had several more full cards stored in its case. The camera was inside a Tamrac camera bag which, besides the discs, held other personal items in the pocket.. The camera bag itself was in a larger carry-on which held other bags, pouches and electronics. After being seated, I removed the camera from within these two bags to begin looking at the most recent (of thousands) of photos I had taken during three-and-a-half months in Mexico. A passenger boarded and took his window seat next to me, chatted briefly, then asked whether I would exchange with his wife who sat several seats back so they could sit together, and I pleasantly complied. When I moved to her seat, I resumed looking at the photos, and then when it was announced to stow all items, I slipped it beneath my seat (rather than in front) as I was having difficulty getting it into the larger bag quickly. I believe that was the last time I saw my camera. I didn’t realize I was without it until having gone through customs, and re-checking bags due to international travel, and boarding my next flight. People were still boarding, so I notified the flight attendant, and asked what to do. He said the best thing he could think would be to call the gate agent right away, and to be quick about it, as we would soon need to power down our phones. He then just walked away with no further interest in helping me. How in the world did he expect I could contact a gate agent? Not to mention that it had been probably two hours earlier that I’d got off that flight. All I could think to do was call my husband, and that was the beginning of the run-around you so aptly describe. He and I both dealt with it. That night, when I arrived to my next destination, a hotel in Chicago, before returning home the next morning, I immediately was on the phone with representatives from United who were no help whatsoever, other than telling me to just complete the online form. Of course some of the info was incomplete (serial number), and even after filling out the first report, I had changes to add that might make it more identifiable. I called and asked a representative to pull up my form, so that I could make add info. He said ‘We can’t do that, ma’am.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ He said ‘Because it’s an electronic form, ma’am. If you want to make changes, just file a new report online.’ I asked how long things are held in the lost & found at Houston, and he said for 30 days, and then they are shipped to the Atlanta re–sell store. During this month, I have called many numbers, talked with several people, listened to numerous recordings, filed reports with TSA, with airport security, written a detailed report to United customer service (with attachments showing the camera and the case), and have filed at least four electronic reports with United’s lost & found. To no avail. It is, I believe, an intentional black hole. It’s interesting that on the flight to Chicago, I was telling my seat mate about the loss; he said he had also lost a video camera on a United flight, and described going through the process that I was about to go through. He also told me that one of his best friends is in management at United, and told him that he would likely never see his camera, that if he were to find it at all, it might be through Craig’s list. He said that the companies United hires to clean the aircraft do not have anyone overseeing them enough to stop them from stealing, then re-selling items such as this. It is totally disgusting. The camera itself was expensive, but of course it is the photos & the videos which really matter, and there were loads! I also had jewelry & medications in the pocket of the camera case, as well as several memory cards with photos, and days worth of HD video of concerts from a tours I have managed. In the event that the camera did not get stolen, and it does go to Atlanta, does anyone know of people who have gone there, found, and bought back their items? Is this possible? Would hiring an attorney help get results? This was an especially difficult blow for me as just a few days earlier I had been assaulted & robbed in Mexico, and had my large handbag with money, credits cards, clothing, tools, many personal & sentimental items stolen. (And, believe it or not, just a few days before that had been bit by a big street dog!) A good part of my therapy was walking the area where the robbery had happened, and taking exploratory walks in other areas of the neighborhood where I live, but had never before visited. I took many, many wonderful photos, and I expected that even after returning home, they would me to continue healing from the trauma of the assault and robbery. Most importantly, I had preserved the very good memories of my beautiful stay. I had hundreds of new photos of friends, and of my farewell party, of my walks, plants, flowers, foods, surfers, animals, countless things which I had not yet downloaded. It has not been easy for me to follow-through on all this, as I’ve been quite depressed during this entire month of being back home . . .

  2. Tadas says:

    Kinda the same thing. Left my iPad on UA341 on Feb 9. Noticed after changing terminals and only minutes before my flight to Europe. So there was no way to get back. Filled on-line form, but got no reply for a week. Call center lady with a terrible accent repeated me 5 times the same, that “we will contact you, when we find it”. Oh yeah, right..

    • Tadas says:

      I’ve also contacted SAS a week or so ago, because my tickets were bought through them and it had shared SAS number. SAS replied in several days appologising and forwarded my e-mail to United. Guess if United got back to me even to say “ok, we are sorry, we will look at it”? No, response is their way.
      I am not naive enough to say I won’t fly with United anymore, because they share flights with SAS and Lufthansa. But I will certainly walk that extra mile to pay somebody with actually existing customer service.

    • KAMMY says:

      I truely wish all of you would stop bashing UNITED… The UNITED you are flying post merger is not the UNITED from years past.. During the merger most Legacy United management were replaced with Continental management… It is Continental management running the airline… UNITED is only the name now, as it is truly Continental… There are legal reasons behind the keeping of the United name, as to retain the name Continental, one more bankruptcy and it would have to be liquidation.
      As far as the problems with items left on board, at major and some smaller stations, the cleaning is contracted out… Most of the time it is not United/Continental employees handling your lost items, but some contractor….

      • Mary Valenzuela says:

        I left my kindle on a United flight 2/19. The flight attendant found it and turned it into the lost and found at LAX (a wonderful honest person). Imagine my surprise when United informed me that it had not be found…A UA employee stole it from the lost and found! I had the same experience that Steve Silberman trying to get resolution from United. No one cared.

    • Jerry Nelson says:

      My wife left her ipad in the seat pocket on a flight to Grand Junction, CO. She discovered it the next morning and filed a claim online and by phone, including the serial number, . Got the usual run around from United.

      But here’s the interesting part. We used ‘find my iphone’ and turned on the lost ipad feature. This lets you put a message on the screen of the ipad with a number to contact to return it, and sends you a location report when it is turned on. Guess what? It was turned on for about 20 minutes later in the day and the location was about 3 miles from the location of United’s lost baggage center in Houston. So whoever has the ipad actually has a telephone number to call.

      Given all the other posts on this site, you can probably guess the outcome. No response. I wonder if United actively tries to facilitate theft from their warehouse?

  3. Sophia says:

    Reading the blog and responses just adds to my disappointment with airlines, specifically United. For those who were able to retrieve their items, I’m happy to know there is some hope.

    My boyfriend and I traveled to Florida to celebrate the New Year of 2013. We had a great time. Our return home on 02-Jan-2013, however, was not so great. We were traveling from FLL to EWR. We each had one carry-on luggage. Neither of us intended to check our bags, and so we packed accordingly; I had valuables in mine. While waiting at our gate, we heard announcements encouraging passengers to gate check their bag because the flight was full and overhead space limited.

    When at the counter, one of the employees told me I would have to gate check my bag because it was too big. I informed her that I prefer not to and that the bag is of proper size (for I have carried it onto planes numerous times). She kept insisting and took the bag from me stating that I would be able to pick it up from baggage claim in EWR, and that there would be nothing to worry about. There was so much haste in this process. I felt uneasy, but boarded the plane. Once in the plane, it hit me that I didn’t grab my valuables out of my luggage. Also, as I looked around at the overhead bins, there was plenty of room for me to have carried on my luggage. This is true even after all passengers boarded.

    We arrived at EWR. We waited, and waited at baggage claim for my luggage. When I got home, I went through it and could not find my valuables. Of the items, the most precious were a pair of diamond earrings from my boyfriend (valued at $215) and a Movado watch from my brother (valued at $500). If you know me, none of my jewelry comes close to these in value.

    It took me a few days before I contacted United regarding the loss. I filed a claim over the phone on 07-Jan-2013 and mailed in a claim form and letter the next day. I received a response two weeks later in the mail from a Claims Analyst. The letter stated “I regret that we were unable to locate your belongings. There are certain items of property that are excluded from the limits of our liability. Unfortunately, your jewelry is among the lists of those items. Also missing property must be reported within 24 hours of travel.” Enclosed with the letter was a portion of their Contract of Carriage, which outlined that “…a preliminary notice of claim must be submitted to UA by the Passenger within twenty-four hours after arrival…” and “UA shall not be liable for the loss of, damage to or delay in delivery of…jewelry..” (Rule 28).

    My delay in filing a claim immediately was due to my uncertainty on the proper process to follow. The items could have been taken by an airline employee or an airport employee. I also had a feeling of dread that any claim I file would just be dismissed. The dread is now confirmed.

    For all future travelers, my word of caution is to never pack valuables, carry-on or not. Additionally, don’t feel rushed into anything (as I was) during the boarding process. Finally, file a claim immediately. However, in my case, would filing a claim within 24 hours make a difference if they are telling me they’re not liable for jewelry?

    It’s upsetting to know that I had no intent of checking my carry-on luggage. I feel United should take some responsibility in the action of their employee forcing me to check my bag, admit I was not at fault, and reimburse me in some way for my lost valuables.

  4. Kim says:

    Here’s how we’re getting out Ipad back tomorrow…

    My husband flew to Boston from SFO yesterday and left his Ipad in seat the pocket. He called UAL immediately and filed a report on-line. We received a call from UAL Baggage Service same day, here at home, saying they thought he left something on the plane and left an 800-335-2247 number to call back. That routed us to India where the gentleman could be of zero help. As my husband was traveling on business and was now an hours drive from Boston, I kicked in the research here from home and found this number on 1-281-821-3526 it’s a missing items number for those who don’t have access to the “toll free” number above. I spoke to Kevin immediately. Since I was able to play back the voice mail left here at home, Kevin realized the call came in from Boston and called there direct. He gave me this Boston number 617-418-6132 and the lady who answered, (imagine that… a human, english speaking person answering the phone), she and I were able to determine that she, in fact, was in possession of our lost Ipad and that my husband could pick it up when he goes back to the airport tomorrow night to return home. Hope this helps. Good luck God bless!

    • Glenn says:

      Unfortunately, I left my iPad on a United flight this past Sunday from O’Hare to SFO. After reading many of the replies here, I’m suddenly pessimistic about ever seeing my iPad again.

      I called one of the 800 numbers and talked to someone who obviously was in India. I asked for the phone number for the lost baggage office at SFO. He said that there’s no public number for the office. My response to that is that I want to talk to someone in that office and he says it’s not possible, fill out the online form, blah, blah, blah.

      This is a pathetic level of customer service for an airline that’s trying to make a claim of superior customer service. Substituting pathetic for superior would actually be the truth.

  5. john says:

    I left my new Ipad in seat pocket 2A on a 30 min. flight form LAX to Plam Springs on October 3, 2012…. 2 mins off the plane I realized I’d left it – went back for help the Ual employee went back on and said couldn’t find it…. it was not visible to departing passangers …. No real help form Ual….. guess the cleaning staff has a new Ipad… Thanks UAL

  6. Tabeen says:

    I left my brand new Macbook Air on a flight from Sydney to LAX on 10/22. I left it on the seat (48B) on Flight 840 with United. I contacted them immediately after and was told it was in the hangar then plane wouldn’t be cleaned for hours. Since then, I have called the police lost and found, TSA lost and found, have filed a report online, and have tried calling numerous times. I am extremely frustrated with the terrible service from United and their inability to give me a clear answer – everyone I talk to redirects me to someone else. Does anyone know the best way to retrieve something? I spoke to someone from United on the phone who did say he found a laptop, but it was with a different department and he would call me back – which he never did. I have NO IDEA where my laptop is now and can not reach anyone from United to get a clear answer – does anyone know if there is a place where they log items found on planes? Thank you so much for any help! –

  7. jonathan says:

    Left my ipad in seat pocket last night on flight from lax to phx. This was after an 12 hour flight from Shanghai, and 5 hours waiting for a connection, so I was tired. At noon today, I called and the get this lame reply that I need to file a form online,(which i had already done) I called again to ask if there was someone I could call at the airport. (of course not how could I be so stupid?) I was assured by call 2 call center guys from India that United will do “everything” they can to find my ipad. What like look in the seat pocket in front of the seat I was in and find it? I know someone from united found my ipad. I also know they should have contacted me by now. They should have contacted me even if I didn’t file the online form. They do have records of who was in what seat. Anyway I know I should have remembered to grab my ipad, and I still have a little hope, I will reserve final judgment to see if they bother to contact me. I am simply annoyed by the fact nobody bothers to take responsibility to get something done quickly. Anyway someone from united found my ipad, by now, for sure. They had to when they were making sure the magazine full of junk for me to buy was in the seat pocket. Will they return it? I’m not holding my breath.

    • jonathan says:

      I got my ipad back! They had it at the terminal. They believed they already knew who it belonged to, as there was a label with someone else’s name on it. But since I knew the password they knew it was actually mine.
      I decided to go back to the airport after another couple calls to India, the representatives asked me to wait for the response to the online form, useless, after I asked for a supervisor or the number to the united baggage desk in PHX 3 or 4 times, he put me on hold and called the united baggage desk. 5 minutes later the rep came back on and said there were no ipads matching the description I had given. (I had told him it was in a black carbon fiber case and he simply told the rep at the baggage area in the airport it was a black ipad, as I found out later)… So I drove to the airport because I knew either someone stole my ipad or it was sitting in the back room awaiting shipment to Houston *****The above rep told me one useful thing, United ships lost items to Houston within 24 hours***** Lucky for me I only live 20 mins from PHX airport.
      So to sum it up United’s east Indian call center reps have almost no purpose, if you really lay on them they will try to help but then since their English is bad and they really don’t care anyway, and they won’t give you the number to the baggage desk at the airport, or a supervisor, the only thing to do is go to the airport and get help from someone face to face. I hope this helps someone else.

  8. Ruth Evans says:

    I have become so frustrated with United’s inability to find my lost luggage. It seems like no one is doing anything to find it! Is there a number for the United Airlines Baggage WhereHouse in Houston?

  9. Shivani says:

    I revently had bad luck with leaving my iPad behind in on a United Flight. I was flying from DC to Frankfurt and had a connecting flight within 2 hours from Frankfurt to Delhi. I realized within half an hour of getting off my plane in Frankfurt that my iPad was in the seat pocket. I went to the the United service desk and let them know, the cleaning crew found it but they refused to get the device to me. I had more than an hour to make my next flight and they could not do anything to get my iPad back to me even though my connecting flight was from the same terminal.

    I sent numerous emails to United after getting to Delhi and 4 days later someone replied saying I could have my iPad Fed exed to me (it will cost around $200) when they can simply send it on any one of Lufthansa’s daily flights to Delhi. What would have been simpler would have been for them to just make a little bit of effort and get my iPad to me at the airport itself. But not a single staff member at that desk could have been the least bit bothered to go out of their way to make that little bit of effort.

  10. Very well written article. I have traveled for both business and personal for decades and am a million mile flyer on United. I have gone out of my way to ALWAYS fly United except when I couldn’t because I was in another country or schedules, etc. I still fly a lot (over 60 flights this year alone and counting) and I do still use United but primarily because of my status. Twelve years ago I left my electronics in the seat pocket at ORD. About 10 min after I exited the plane I heard my name calling me back to the gate. Five months ago I too left a Kindle Fire on the plane and was told to call lost & Found…. You know where that ends? But for me the real tragedy is the lost service to customers. I understand the full flights and applaud them. I love the fact that United Airlines is running their business for profit. But the lack of customer service should not be lost, especially for frequent flyers. It kills me that I am a million mile flyer, will reach at least my platinum (if not 100K) status this year and still I cannot get an upgrade if my life depended on it. I was talking to a guy in SFO the other day. he was added to the upgrade list and put ahead of me. There were 13 people ahead of me on the list. So I asked him what he does that gives him such status. The man told me he makes 4 international flight a year on United and puts Dr. before his name. I am on flight #62 for this year and it is only July, I am a million mile flyer, extremely loyal to UAL and yet the Dr. making 4 international flight a year gets better service. I want to know what the real benefits are for being a million mile flyer? I really don’t see any benefit to being loyal for years and years. Do the math, 4 international flights and be a doctor and you get high level service but fly the equivalent of 1 round trip flight per month from LAX to BOS for 16+ years without a single break and you are treated just like cattle in the back with nothing but soda and water. I LIKE UNITED AIRLINES BUT THEY REALLY NEED TO STEP UP THE CUSTOMER SERVICE.

  11. Paul Jackson says:

    Similar thing when I left $150 worth of duty free under my seat!! I had been delayed and bumped on my connection to Europe for 24hrs so I was tired and clearly not thinking straight. UA902 Washington to Munich 20/21 July 2012. Seat 22C. What made this worse in my opinion was that the duty free bag was one of those security sealed bags that contained all of my details (name, flight, frequent flyer no. etc.) – it’s just disappointing to think that someone who works for united saw all of this personalised baggage and just took it for themselves; I honestly wouldn’t do this!!!… As for contacting United, it was not successful; don’t call us, we’ll call you. How many reported items are found I asked? I don’t know Sir, we’ll call you. Which I read as – Forget about it!

  12. Mónica says:

    Same thing happened to me flying Newark-Houston on July 9th 2012 , UA 1178. Please HELP ! Do you have any numbers where I can talk to a real person who cares at United Airlines? Thank you and I am sorry for your loss! Really , I love to read too, and I loved my Kindle

  13. Brandy Hoffman says:

    I thought to be easy has been awful, hung up on and uncaring-
    I left iPad on flight 4391. Apparently as of last night i believe it was still on the plane 2 seats on single seat side behind the emergency exit. In seat back. Ipad locator show its movement. Please call 678-756-5921 or email
    My grandson picture are most important. You help is appreciated!
    ~Brandy Hoffman

  14. Grozdanova says:

    j’ai perdu mon appareil photo sonycybershot dans l’avion Dallas Houston, 27 may, quand je suis arrivée au term E pour Paris , j’ai compris ma perte, tout suite j’ai signalé au giche United, la dame m’a dit, faitez une raclamation a Paris, à Paris j’ai esseyé da faire une reclamation, c’etait ENFER, j’arrive à la maison tout suite j’ai fait une raclamation online, j’ai téléphoné, rien rien rien, aprés une semaine passante au téléphone, reclamation, Dallas, Houston, à la fin une dame m’a dit, dans lost sont trouvé deux camera sonycybershot, une arrive de Hosuton, d’autre de Karaiby, encore je passe un bon temps pour téléphoner ,reclamation, RIEN RIEN , et plus j’ai les numéro de deux camera, personne ne téléphone, rien rien rien, j’ai écrit des lettres aux service United, RIEN RIEN, je me demande, est ce que existe ce service lost and found ou c’est une arnaque, une fraude???? D e tout façon je ne voyage plus avec United, pour moi ne respecte pas de tout leur passagers

  15. Robin says:

    All of these comments only fuel my anger towards United Airlines. I have not flown them in years and after my most recent experience with them I will NEVER again! I can honestly say I HATE this airline. Someone posted earlier that Jeffrey Smisek is all about greed and I 110% agree with that comment. My experience on this airline was probably the worst I have ever experienced on a flight in over 20 years. It was a trip to Japan which I had been awarded thru work and was obviously excited about. To make a long story short, I had 4 necklaces stolen out of my checked luggage, a delayed flight which resulted in ultimately a cancelled flight and then they lost my second bag. The only other thing that could have gone wrong with this flight would be for the plane to have crashed. Being a seasoned traveler, I have learned to have patience with the airlines and I understand that delays, cancellations and misplaced luggage happens. For me, it is all about the customer service and how those issues are dealt with. In my opinion and to ber perfectly blunt United SUCKS at this!! And that is why I say Jeffrey Smiseck and his company is greedy! All I hear from those who used to travel on Continental Airlines is how great of an airline it USED to be. Anyone I know who used to fly Continental HATES Untied and I can understand why. My biggest question to United is WHY do you outsource your baggage claim customer service to India?? In earlier posts I saw people complaining that when they lost something and tried to call the “baggage claim” hotline they could not understand the person. Do you know why? Because they all live in India! It is absolutely ridiculous. I got so frustrated that no one would actually connect me to the airport where my bag had last scanned that I got in my care and drove there so I could physically talk to an “english” speaking person and one that could understand me. Jeffrey Smisek…PLEASE do me a favor and call your own baggage hotline as if you lost a bag and see how you like it! Or better yet, PLEASE go on the show “undercover boss” because I know you could learn a lot about your airline if you saw it from a different perspective. Flying is stressful enough and full of anxiety that we do not need any further frustrations! I WILL NEVER FLY THIS AIRLINE AGAIN!!!!!

  16. Jonathan says:

    Jeff Smisek and United should be ASHAMED of themselves. Raising prices the way they do. You now have the worlds LARGEST AIRLINE…and your being even more greedy? Seriously?!
    Larry Kellner needs to come back to what was the best airline…CONTINENTAL, and move things back they way they use to be. STOP BEING SO GREEDY JEFF. Us loyal customers have been with Continental for decades, and you come along and mess it all up with your greediness.
    Your customer service has become anything but helpful. I ask your FA’s during flights how they feel and they respond with “Hate it” “Wish I was still a Continental FA” … This says something about the way you run your airline.
    American and Delta, here I come with my business and 15,000 employers and clients.
    Get a GRIP JEFF!

  17. Scott Horton says:

    I left my Kindle in the front pocket of United Flight 3916 on April 19, 2012 seat 5C. I filled out the form posted on the United web site adn as of June 12, 2012, I have not heard from them. I called Unitedspoke to a man who was hardly able to speak english who told me, “Wait for a reply, I cannot help you. There is no contact phone number for lost and found.” Forget the $50 per bag fee, just confiscate all lost items, sell them and get another pound of flesh from your loyal traveler.
    I don’t get it. With enough complaints, maybe the govenernment will get involved with more airline regulations – something nobody needs! Is the largest airline the best airline? Very disappointing.

    • Bob McNeal says:

      Same thing I experienced. Left my IPad in the pocket seat on a United Flight into Newark. Realized my mistake when i boarded my connection. The Flight attendant on that flight was helpful with giving me a number to call but they were not helpful when i called the number. I have given them the serial number and all the information through their website lost items site.

      The thing has still not been connected to the internet so I think it is either on the plane still or they have it somewhere.

      • Brandy says:

        SAME HERE!! no one at UNITED gets it! Let my IPAD and it still Pings to there Houston warehouse-soon battery will die and then “who know” I have done everything. Even stopped by baggage lost and found traeling back thru Houston. NO empathy NO help Didn’t care wither way. AND the Iraqy at the other end of the phone – why do they even answer the phone???

  18. Ray says:

    I am business class customer; and, Here is the flight info when I left the iPad (iPad2, 64 Gb, in black leather-or fake black leather Targus i-Pad case) and the iPod (iPod touch, 32 Gb) (in a small swiss air drawstring bag).
    There was no confirmation number when I completed the form on line.

    May 21, 2012
    United Flight #374 (Boston to San Francisco)
    Items left in seat back pocket in front of me.
    No response? Do the cleaning crew steal the items and sell them
    on eBay? Are they check for security or just check us with nonsense anytime we fly?

  19. Tim B says:

    Yesterday evening I left my Kindel on a United flight from Houston to PDX. I reported the loss on United’s website and to a lost & found voice mail box. Suspecting that the plane stayed overnight and was cleaned in Portland, I took a chance and went to the airport early this morning. The Kindel was waiting for me. Thank you United!

  20. Kelly says:

    Not about a Kindle butttt..

    Today my fiancé, me and our family dog were booked for a return flight to Canada after 5 months in Nicaragua. We confirmed our dog through the PetSafe phone number. This morning we arrived at the airport 3 hours early to have our pet checked in, to our surprise the following events took place.

    – When we got to the United Cargo to drop Jack off we were told that the only Canadian destination that they ship to is Vancouver and Calgary, they would not be able to take our pet to Toronto Ontario. When I told the cargo person that we had brought Jack from Canada and that we was booked in on this flight, the cargo guy told us that that was not possible because paperwork had to be filled out. I told him we were flying in 1 hour and he said that was not possible.

    – All of a sudden we are told at this point that our bags have been removed from the plane. The supervisor was called and my fiance spoke with him. We were told that our flights now had to be changed and that we had to pay more money because of this. My fiancé voices his frustration.
    When we fiancé hung up the phone he called United.. our flights were changed at no extra cost to Wednesday May 30th. My fiancé called PetSafe to confirm Jack in for this same flight.

    – As we we walking away because we thought we were done, I was handed a piece of folded up paper with a hand written quote to have Jack shipped. $706.00!!!! I look at the guy and asked him what this was as when I shipped Jack from Canada it cost us $125.00. My fiancé jumped back on the phone with PetSafe and was told that the price was $396. He told the guy in cargo andsaid nope it is $706.00. We were told that if we wanted Jack to fly on Wednesday that we had to agree to this cost. We said NO and that we would call United AGAIN!!! This is ridiculous I told him.. along with telling him everything else that was on my mind.

    – As we walked way from the cargo area after standing out in the heat for 2 hours, my dog gets heat stroke and passes out while seizing. I screamed at people for water and no one helped me, people stood around laughing and taking pictures?!?!?!
    I called Petsafe again and they so nicely didn’t care about our troubles or how this delay affects us orrr what happened to my dog. We’re told that we would get 50 % off ONE of the charges.

    Now we have to: get a new air bill, find some Nicaraguan customs office for paperwork we were never knew we needed, stay at a hotel, miss work, put Jack through another scary day and no one at United/PetSafe cares.

    What a horrible experience!!

  21. Mits says:

    As a fellow gate agent for another major U.S based airline, I can tell you the gate agent you’ve asked if you can reboard to is right. YOU can’t reboard the plane once you’ve exited HOWEVER, the agent was also wrong. The agent could’ve went down and check for your Kindle as they would have obviously had the proper credentials and badge to access down to the plane. This happens all the time and there’s no reason why you shouldv’e had to call L&F. I’m sorry for your loss.

  22. Yuri says:

    Oh man do I have horror stories.

    The most recent would be two days ago. My dad paid an extra $99 for a seat with extra leg room, or so the lady on the phone claimed. Today he discovered his seat was switched, and he lost the extra leg room and his $99. No refund, no leg room. And no replies to complaints, either over the phone or email.

    Curse you, United!

  23. Paul says:

    Well, on it goes. I left my Kindle in the pocket of the seat in front of me on a United flight from Dulles to SFO just last week on May 9. I didn’t remember it until I got home, some hour later. I alerted SFO lost and found, I alerted United lost and found at SFO, and I filled in the (theoretically) nationwide United lost items form on the web.

    But of course, I have heard nothing. Reading the stories below confirm my worst suspicions about lost items on United, as well as on other airlines. Even such customer-friendly airlines as Southwest place zero value in attempting to find left items and return them to their owners. With the use of contract cleaning crews after hours, it is no wonder what probably happens to most goods left behind.

    This could not happen without the clear implied permission of the airlines, passing on the message that lost items are fair game. It feels like a burglary or theft committed upon my person. It sickens me.

    Since all airlines appear to participate in this affair, there seems to be no “better” airline to turn to. One would think this could be a powerful competitive tool to offer real customer service, esp. with respect to lost items.

    Dream on.

    • Dr. Chris King says:

      Dear Paul,

      Maybe no solice to you, but United finally responded to me and wrote that if I responded in two weeks, they would ship my I-Pad domestically only at my expense (though I was on an international flight). So with some inconvenience I finally got it back but still have a bad taste.

      For a country which claims to have a post-industrial service economy, the service sector is VERY ineffecient and unfriendly to customers. So in a way, I consider the bad treatment an extension of having no newspapers and only a snack box with pretzels in first class and the absense of a business lounge in large airports. If these savings measures would result in low domestic air fares, I would have more understanding, but that is also far from the case.



    • martha says:

      I flew United Airlines. Left my Kindle on board. The employee at the desk stated he would look into it and would call me that night to report what he had found out. I ask him for his name and number. He wrote a name and number on sticky not.
      I received no call and the number he gave me does not answer.
      After being given lots of numbers to call I found out there is a form to complete. I did, but have little hope of seeing my Kindle again.

  24. Dr. Chris King says:

    The runaround at united is not limited to economy. I was travelling first class from ORD to ABQ on a leg of an international trip and left my ipad in a seat pocket. In ORD, I had to change terminals and I called the supervisor who found the ipad but said no one had any time to bring it to another terminal and my flight was leaving, so lost and found would send it to me by courier. United Lost and Found has done nothing and after making a report the website tells customers not even to enquire. This is terrible service for a Star Alliance Gold passenger in first class (or any other passenger for that matter).

  25. Douglas Lowenstein says:

    I have been a Continental customer for 25 years – And thought they were the best – Ever since UA took them over, you can’t get them on the phone – minimum 45 minute waiting times – in flight UA services are not as frequent as Continental – I am leaving this airline and I hope everyone does as well, they should go BK, and Continental should emerge independent – SHAME ON UA!!!

    • Marcus Luepke says:

      Hi Douglas,
      While things have become more difficult following the merger, numerous conversations with United (new) reps made clear to me that we are now basically dealing with Continental Airlines but name “United.” It seems as if Continental Airlines took over United but adopted the United name. All changes have shifted procedures to the old Continental procedures, not the other way around (what I initially also had expected). Therefore, not to absolvce United (old or new) but to be fair, it appears not correct to blame the old United.
      Let’s hope that things improve!
      One positive thing: All old United vouchers appear to remain valid and accepted until the end of the calendar year in which they normally would have expired, so the validity can be nearly 12 months longer!

  26. Dee says:

    I feel your pain. A day ago the united flight I was on from Newark to Houston was redirected to another gate and new plane. We all complied. Tons of passengers. I was first class because I travel so frequently. The new plane was missing two rows of seats in first class. They said I’d have to go coach. I was in the airplane when they sent me back to get a new boarding pass. While negotiating a new arrangement I asked to know how the decision was made concerning who stays in first class and who doesn’t. I was informed there was no plan. I said, “are people seated in first class by who pays the most? Who booked first? Who has the most miles?”. Again, told it doesn’t matter. Then a new agent interrupted and said there was a plan. I told them that if I’m on the bottom of that list, I’d move. Otherwise, someone else should be moved. Finally seated in first class. Row 4.

    Flew the next day united and flight attendant STOOD over people waiting for them to turn off cell phones. My phone often delays as I am turning it off. I told him this and said it would just take a few seconds, thinking he would leave then check on his way back down the aisle. He said, “I’ll wait”. I was so shocked. As if we are 6 year olds! I said, “are you serious?” He was. Now, this is after they made me gate check a bag that would have fit in the overhead space and I was the 3rd person on plane still close to door and he refused to let me get bag even though it wouldn’t have caused any delay. I asked him his name. He refused to give it! I asked again later when things settled down on the flight and he wasn’t busy. He said he’d write it down. Really? Why? Geessh. He gives me a piece of paper with flight attendance manual codes and his employee number. I asked what his name was … He said, “there’s my employee number”. I said, “I asked your name. Not employee number. Are you refusing to give your name? I was hoping to call you by name resolve the issue of you being impolite to me.” He ended the conversation and never gave his name. That flight was over an hour late. I missed my connecting flight. I spent 6 hours stuck in another airport trying to get to my final destination, only to find out my checked bag also had complications getting to my final destination.

    During the 6 hour wait, I reported the incident with united and they said just the day before they had an identical report about the same attendant. How many times do you have to be rude and it get reported to lose your job? With as many unemployed people in the country, can’t united find someone friendly?

    I found your article brilliant and so true!!!! Thank you for helping me realize it’s not just me, and others are suffering too!


  27. JenniferM says:

    I left my Kindle on the United Flight from Chicago O’Hare to Louisville last night. I filled out the United online form, and I went back to the Louisville Airport this morning (Sunday) to talk to the ticket counter and baggage. They seemed to really want to help me find it, and searched a few places. However, like some others commented, I do not think the crews clean that thoroughly, and possibly some will pocket items. Instead of my Kindle, the ticket ladies did bring out this nice Asus tablet someone had left on the plane, so if, in a 1 in a million chance are reading this, your Asus tablet is in Louisville.

    However, my Kindle, 3G plus Wireless. What I did was send a document to my Kindle before I deregistered it and had the serial number blacklisted by Amazon. The document says that the Kindle was lost or stolen and has my contact info. Hopefully someone will be kind enough to contact me.


    • JR says:

      The flight crews don’t clean the cabins. They have staff that boards and cleans. Really, the attendants are only doing what they have been trained and told to do under duress of losing their jobs.

  28. Cole Rivers says:

    Wow, what a horrible experience. Such a pain to fly through/over the US.

  29. Ben Rubin says:

    As a late entrant to this discussion – I actually have a positive story to report.

    In a wonderful harebrained moment I left a water bottle and my wallet on a plane. I turned around at the gate and quickly asked for my water bottle to be retrieved (didn’t realize my wallet was gone) – an attendant immediately grabbed it for me. 10 minutes later I reported I had ALSO left my wallet onboard. The cleaning crew was hailed – they had found my wallet – and someone rushed it over to my gate before my connecting flight completed boarding.

    One positive story in the many negatives that others and myself had has with airlines recently. The reality I have come to accept is this: We accept poor customer service and have truly shown airlines that we will buy bottom-dollar fare no matter what. Airlines respond by cutting services and experience and bringing costs down. The saving grace or damning straw is the on-the-ground United employee. The one that runs on the plane and brings you your lost stuff vs. the one who grabs your stuff and sells it on eBay.

  30. mansoor sakhiy says:

    I was flying in the United airlines flight and I dropped my $200 head phones from the first row seat c7 towards first class due to rough landing and I got up to retrieve it, the flight attendant told me to have a seat by time the plane stopped the head phones were gone stolen by someone in first class. I told the flight attendant that since you prevented me from getting up and retrieving my item just check the first class passengers and there was only four of them. United did not help me at all they have the worst customer service.

    • NOYB says:

      Really? Your going to blame the flight attendant for doing his/her job by telling you to sit down. You do know that you are breaking federal law by not remaining seated with your belt fastened at all times while the signs are on? Your $200 headphones can wait. I’m sure no one stole them, you just didn’t look hard enough. Don’t bring things of value.

      All you people need to get lives because your material posessions are not worth your sanity or safety. Do yourselves a favor and cut down on all the carry-on crap and you wouldn’t lose these things.

      The airlines collect 1000s of lost articles a day! It takes time to sort them out, and then a black (insert electronic device here) looks just like the next. If you lose something, kiss it goodbye!

  31. Andy Jenkinson says:

    All this talk of a LOST Kindle! Surely it was not lost as Steve knew where he’d left it. It was STOLEN!

  32. Elizabeth says:


    My name is Elizabeth and back in August I left my SLR Canon Rebel T3i (2 months old) on a Delta flight connection from San Diego to Atlanta. I remembered once I was on my second flight from Atlanta to Nashville and contacted Delta Lost and Found as soon as we landed. I had unsaved pictures of my daughter, family, and our trip to San Diego and things did not look promising. I did have hope however, we sat in row 44 (the last row) So, I knew that we were the last passengers off the plane and no one had gotten in our overhead bin the entire flight. I explained this to Delta and how this fact only left one option-Since the flight attendants and/or cleaners open the bins for the next passengers to store their items someone had to have seen it before another passenger. I even talked to an airport detective in Atlanta that explained to me how easy it would be for a cleaning crew to hide a stolen item in their gear. SERIOUSLY? He said it was long gone and I should give up. I didn’t. I wrote a letter to Delta, searched 7 days to talk to a HUMAN, and found out the plane my camera was on flew to Las Vegas for the night. About 2 weeks later, I received an email from Delta saying they were disappointed I felt the need to explain how a Delta employee most likely took the camera. They said there was nothing they could do. I know in this situation it’s easy to put the blame on someone else when you lose track of an important belonging, but the facts just added up to wrong-doing. It is a crime to take something that isn’t yours…Even if you find it. Since it happened on airport property they should have at least done an investigation. All they care about is your money. They don’t truly care about the people riding in their planes or the personal belongings that they unfortunately forget. I am mostly upset with the person that decided it was okay to take it home, look at the pictures of my daughter, and then probably erase them for their own use. I mean, what type of person feels okay doing that? I would hope that Delta at least holds meetings to teach their employees what to do if they find personal items and to not stick them in the used blanket bins while they clean the airplane. I’m glad the airline called you and made an effort to make things right. I am thinking about calling our local news station, they are always looking for stories like this to expose wrong-doing. Hey, if a passenger took my camera that’s just my loss, but I would think Delta would have at least tried to get the camera footage of the people leaving my gate, or something. What can ya do? Thanks for the blog.

  33. William Penrose says:

    Flying United Airlines is its own punishment. I’d rather crawl the length of I-40 on broken glass than ride United again. I was once a fan of American, Delta, and Frontier, but they all want to be as loathsome as United. If I can’t get there by Southwest, I find another way to travel, or I don’t make the trip at all.

    • chris says:

      southwest isnt any better. i just recently lost my ipad in the exact same way. filed a lost and found – never heard anything back. lesson learned i guess.

  34. LynneQi says:

    I put all my seat-use items into a bright orange fabric Chico bag (ipod, recharger, book, earphones, water bottle filled at drinking fountains, etc.) that I stuff into the seat-back pocket. As I finish with something, I put it back into that bag, so things never really go into the seat pocket. When it’s time to leave, it’s easy to grab that orange bag and stuff it into my carry-on bag.

  35. B Lawrence says:

    I am getting the same runaround from United’s Lost Articles. After four emails to the required address and a dozen phone calls, I have learned that it is United’s completely unprofessional official policy not to acknowledge even receiving the report from the customer that something was lost on a plane. They will not acknowledge the report unless and until they find the item, and they ask you when you press at certain pressure points, but not the lost articles department, so they can’t help you directly when you ask, to wait 14 days and then give up. One of the disconnects is particularly funny in a Catch-22 sort of way–the airport says they are not responsible for items on planes or even at the gate areas, and the airline voicemail says that you have to contact airport lost and found for the same areas and that United representatives are not allowed to help you. When I ask to talk to a human that deals with cleaning or maintenance of the airplane, I get routinely transferred to dead numbers or office voicemail messages that say they don’t take messages. Nothing reassuring, and NO ONE to even acknowledge that they have a record that you lost your item. No number, no callback, no human, no email, no satisfaction. In my case it was some irreplaceable items, and a big enough item that it was definitely found by a cleanup crew. There are just too many levels of silence between me and that crew to get anywhere. So far its been a nearly a week and the silence is simply deafening.

  36. Some Guy In Illinois says:

    honestly,, if you lose something on the plane your best chance to recover it is to call the airline you were flying with, asap. If they don’t have it, ask what company cleans the airplanes, then call that company and see who was the manager at the time of your flight, and ask THAT MANAGER if he’s seen it. We’ve found laptops, ipods, ipads, headphones, shoes, money, this job is really beneficial lol. And we give it back upon asking for it.

    • B Lawrence says:

      I have called dozens of times and can’t get a human other than a travel agent.

    • Robin Einzig says:

      “We give it back upon asking for it”?????? If you find something that is not yours (i.e. ANYTHING you find on a plane), it should go to a well-coordinated (not that hard in these days of technology) system of lost and found. Geez, doesn’t ANYONE have ethics anymore?

  37. Valerie says:

    Great story — with thanks from the hundreds of us who have left cell phones, ipads, kindles, laptops in airplane seat pockets, in overhead bins and still wonder where they are.

    I left my (work) laptop plugged into the charging station in Concourse A, gate 5C (United Express gates) at Dulles airport last Wednesday night. Yes I was careless and stupid: but it was 11 p.m., flights had been delayed, I was exhausted and had just flown half-way around the world. I carefully count my belongings when I go through security, also carefully check seat-pockets and overhead bins (left my first Kindle on Thai Airways). But I don’t usually plug things in…

    I called and called and sent several emails over the next few days. TSA Lost and Found at Dulles got back to me by phone (within an hour) and email (next day). They did not have the laptop but said if found it would be with United ‘lost articles’. I sent multiple emails to ‘lost articles’, tried to call (via United lost baggage number) many times. I received an automatic response to my email to ‘lost articles’ saying they received too many loss reports to reply in person and they would get back to me within 7 days if they found my lost property. TSA strongly encouraged me to come into the airport to follow up in person; said the United person responsible for ‘lost articles’ was very busy.

    I returned to Dulles early Saturday morning — same gate. To my surprise and utter delight, I found a note taped to the charging station at gate 5C that said United Customer Service had found my laptop and it was in one of their drawers. I spent the next 3 hours hunting it down… after sitting in a drawer for a day, the laptop was sent to the ‘lost articles’ office in the baggage claim area. The lost articles office was closed for the weekend. I got passed from person to person in Customer Service, also Baggage Services, but kept waving the note and asking where was my laptop. I was leaving on a flight to Seoul later that day — thus a stand and deliver situation. To be fair, a number of United staff tried to help, but everyone was busy and I (and my laptop) were clearly irritants. Eventually I got passed to the shift manager who could check out the key and open the lost articles room.

    A message to all you guys out there looking for lost stuff: the room was chock full of electronics — I saw a number of laptops (yes, including mine!), a big box stacked with Kindles, another box full of Ipads, all variety of cell phones. Of course there were bags and small suitcases as well, but electronics are clearly high loss items.

    The laptop belongs to my employer. It has a big sticker right on top that says “Property of XXX XXX” with the employer’s property number and the serial number of the laptop. United did not try to contact my employer. Nor did ‘lost articles’ try to contact me despite the fact that I had filed a loss report and the laptop was sitting there in the office.

    What should I say in my letter to United? Customer Service did a wonderful job of recovering the laptop and holding for me. Kudos to you oh Customer Service! I wish I had kept the note (it is with United baggage) so I could thank the person who taped it up in person. Kudos to you oh nameless woman who works for United Customer Service at Dulles! But then the United ‘lost articles’ office dropped the ball with a thud. Boooo! You could have reunited me with my laptop with minimal effort. But didn’t.

    I have flown with United for years, benefit from upgrades, free flights, all the rest. But they are more and more missing out on the little things that matter and generate customer loyalty.

  38. Duane says:

    Some commenters have accused Steve of not taking entire responsibility for his mistake. Even were that true, and it isn’t, that observation would be immaterial to his post and useless. People make negligent mistakes. This is about what happened on an airline when Steve did.
    I am someone who seldom (really seldom) has to fly, so perhaps I’m overlooking something but my immediate thought was that the airline can’t help him because no airline employee ever had possession of his Kindle.
    The Kindle departed with the arrogant woman. She packed it up with her toys and chuckled about her coup the rest of the day.
    “Life just ain’t fair” is just as true when awful people get rewarded.

  39. Frank in Midtown says:

    I’m shocked that you don’t love our deregulated airline industry! Everywhere I travel I come across industries that don’t pay their employees enough but still have employees. Inevitably, the employees’ jobs all offer opportunities to supplement their low pay. Inconveniences like this are just part of the social cost of underpaid employees, thanks for paying for the rest of us. The stories of Chinese power company employees, meters that don’t read, and a mandatory 5000 Yuan fine are too funny.

    • B Lawrence says:

      The lost articles service at Dulles is much worse than anything underpayment of employees can explain. It is simply not doing a minimum minimum wage job. It is clearly dysfunctional.

  40. Raj says:

    I am a brown East Indian, just to give you a backdrop. And I did leave things inside the planes, numerous times. Once, I walked all the way out of the plane, through the gate, then realized my mistake and turned around, headed right back in without asking anyone. Heard a shout, next thing I knew security was escorting me back out.

    The thing is; they don’t allow anyone back in, period. Especially if the TSA has anything to say about it. One more thing I learned was the Lost and Found is all dependent on the airport.

    I have left things where, I got it back within minutes. I have left things where, it was a waste of time trying to recover it.

    I use 3 separate airlines, and have a lot of miles in all of them. They are all about the same. My recommendation, is just stay with what you are most familiar with. This way, you know what to expect, and you will not get disappointed.

    These days, traveling requires a lot of patience and a fairly thick skin. I have encountered just about everything an airline crew and ground staff can dish out. Including racial insults from a slew of US Airways ground crew post 9/11 (especially hard when you loved this country as much as I do and when you are neither a Muslim or a Christian). A joke by one of my colleagues, resulted in my luggage being examined with a tooth comb, and escorted by FBI agents. Getting to get off the plane, to point out your bag, while wondering what rest of the passengers thought of you with some giving you dirty looks as you slowly climbed back up the stairs, and walked down the aisle to way back of the plane.

    I haven’t had a exit row seat since 9/11, it gets blocked out when I book.

    To be fair, there are crew members who go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. There are also ones, you just ignore. For those who have treated me with dignity, thank you.

    Prior to 9/11, you could get back into the plane and retrieve just about anything. So, today, if you leave something in the plane, don’t blame the crew, the airline or TSA. Be aware that chances of you getting it back is very very slim, no matter what airline you are in.

    I developed a practice of not putting anything into pockets, no more bantering with crew, as little eye contact as possible, and just keep your mouth shut! If I use my ipad, as soon as I am done, I open the overhead bin, and shove it back into my bag, even if the steward screams for you to sit back, and buckle up!

    Flying is a whole new experience these days.

  41. Longshot says:

    Thanks for the great post! Your words resonated with me and I was happy to share it with others. The human side of your aspect is far more interesting, but I’ll comment on the material aspect, as a similar thing happened to me.

    It might have been an interesting social experiment had it not been my ipad that I’d left in the United seat-back. Like so many folks who have written above, I realized my oversight shortly after deplaning. My only official recourse then was the unhelpful voicemail number. But cheerfully I latched on to a glimmer of hope. I’d installed the “find my ipad” app that when enabled would report its location, and optionally, allow the device to be wiped remotely. Brilliant, I could hunt it down myself! Except.. I’d powered the device off, and prior to that, left it in “airplane” mode so that even after powering up, the radios would be disabled.

    Complicating matters, I’d enabled 4-digit password protection. So now, the lucky finder would have to guess my password before accessing the device. After 10 incorrect entries, it would automatically erase itself, obliterating all the personal data stored within, along with any hope of my ever finding it again.

    No dice. I waited a couple months for some sign of life, but nothing. AT&T reported that the device had been powered up shortly after I lost it, but had not connected to the cell network since.

    My take home lessons:
    Gifting the airline with a $1000 device sucks. Not knowing whether someone is reading your emails sucks way worse.

    If you’re going to load an easily misplaced device like a smartphone with personal information (emails, contacts, dropbox files!, account numbers, etc.), make damned sure it’s encrypted with non trivial keys. 4 digits seems like reasonable security until the moment when only your dog’s birthday stands between you and identify theft.

    UA has no vested interest, monetary or otherwise, in making me (your average schmuck passenger) happy.

    Obviously minding your stuff is important; while this experience served as a reminder, I can’t honestly expect that I won’t do something equally, if differently, stupid in the future.

    I don’t bank on the kindness of strangers, but my experience would suggest that it if I did, I would come out ahead. My experience with airlines is considerably more grim, where customer service means being treated about the same as my luggage.

  42. Steve Silberman says:

    Eliot, the data was the one thing I didn’t lose — it migrated to my new Kindle when I registered it.

    By making it right, I meant that they apologized profusely, compensated me in air travel discounts that equaled the value of the Kindle, and talked seriously with me about the problems I raised here, and told me about some initiatives that the airline is taking to relieve those problems.

  43. John Doe says:

    I agree with you completely about the tacky message from the CEO. They need to delete that…. it has nothing to do with the safety demonstration…..

  44. This very thing happened to me, and was finally resolved–in my favor–last week.

    I was flying home from Lost Wages and DefCon on United. My mileage got me bumped to first class at the last minute. I moved, put my Tab 10.1 in the magazine holder, had a drink, and passed out. (DefCon and Black Hat are exhausting, busy shows.)

    I got up when we landed, gathered my things, and bolted. It wasn’t until I was home that I realized I’d left the tablet on the plane. I spent more than an hour on hold with United Customer “Service” and finally got the San Francisco number and instructions for reporting items left on the plane, regardless of seat location. It’s 650.634.1525 for SFO, and will change depending on airport.

    Once you call that number, you leave a message with the flight number, your seat number, the date of the flight, and as detailed a description of the item as possible. My tablet was in a small, thin bag, and so I described both the tablet and the bag. Also leave as much contact info as possible. I sent an email to this address, with all the same information I left on the voice mail:

    From there, there’s not much else to do. United will only contact you if they think they’ve found a match. My tablet somehow made it to central processing office for lost items in Houston, and when United matched my description message to the item, I received an email alerting me that they may have found it.

    Now here’s where it gets tricky. Even though I purchased my tickets through, because the flight was codeshared or somesuch jargony nonsense, it was actually a Continental flight. So, when I received word that they’d found it, the email came from the Continental office in Houston. You can give them a call at 1-800-335-2247, although they might not be able to doing anything until you file a claim.

    I hope this information helps you recover your Kindle. Good luck!

  45. andy says:

    So what you’re trying to say is:

    “I left my on and I didn’t get it back. You suck!”

    Examples of:
    Personal item – kindle, ipod, camera, phone, book, etc.
    Travel provider – airline, grayhound, amtrak, city bus, subway, rental car

    Lesson: don’t blame other people for your mistakes.

    • Steve Silberman says:

      In fact, if you have the urge to complain, blame yourself twice for the original mistake. Am I getting it Andy?

    • Duane says:

      Rather condescending post I would say. Avoid losing items by “not” forgetting them or leave them at home? How about a positive solution? Cobra Electronics makes a gadget which allows you to attach a small item to your keychain and then put its mate on the object you are likely to ” lose”. This would prevent one from leaving an IPad or Kindle on the plane. It triggers when the 2 items are 30 feet apart.

  46. Liz Ditz says:

    Steve, you may be interested in MothersVox posts: Virgin America: No Accommodations for Autism and the follow-up story How can airlines make travel easier for those with autism?, especially the comments.

    It’s not a story about lost items, but about lousy customer service in the first episode, and the airline trying to repair the relationship and improve their customer service in the future.

    More stories of lousy customer service in the comments.

    And say, I too would pay extra to sit next to you on a flight. Ms. Entitled didn’t know what she was missing.

  47. Karin says:

    Wow, complaining on the internet is quickly becoming the best way to get a company’s attention!

    I learned long ago never to put anything in seatback pockets. :p

  48. amy says:

    interesting. i can’t remember which airline it was…Continental, maybe…but I left my jacket in the overhead bin. went right back to the gate and wasn’t allowed on the plane, but someone went on for me, once i told them my seat number, and my jacket was retrieved.

    why couldn’t they do this for you? stupid, stupid people.

  49. Juliann says:

    Last year I flew Delta and Air New Zealand to Australia. On my return journey, on the last leg, I guess I was too tired because I left my iPad in the pocket in front of me. (I always fly bulkhead so it wasn’t a seat pocket but on the wall.) Before I even got home from the airport to notice it missing I had an email from Delta telling me they had found it and were holding it for me, with a direct phone number for how to pick it up.

    I really should fly Delta more often :)

  50. artie says:

    I have twice left my daytimer on a plane — an item of absolutely no monetary value to any one but of extraordinary value to me — realized it before I left the airport, called every possible customer service number available, and never got the daytimer back. Note, I’m a very frequent flyer and typically fly in First Class, so I am presumably a valued customer.

    My guess is that both ended up in the trash, even though neither looked like trash and were clearly labeled with my contact information. I think that it’s sheer laziness on the part of the cleaning crews. Because they’d be required to fill out a form and make an extra trip to the Lost & Found to submit any lost item (at least one with no value on Ebay) it’s just easier to throw it away. And that’s a shame.

  51. Laura says:

    Great writing Steve! I really enjoyed the piece.

  52. Jordie says:

    I noticed after leaving a movie theater that I had lost my iPhone. I returned to the theater just as the ushers walked passed me having completed their trash pickup. The phone was gone. All that remained was the case which had been removed from the phone and discarded in the garbage along with the rest of the trash the ushers had thrown away. Of course I could never prove they were the culprits but like the airline pocket, consider how many of us have phones unknowingly slip from our pockets in the middle of a movie.

  53. passenger says:

    Left a laptop in a seatback pocket once on an American flight and remembered right as I stepped off the jetway. I asked the American gate agent, who asked me only for my seat number, and, while she didn’t let me re-enter the jetway, she immediately went to my seat and retrieved the laptop.

    Recently left my Nook aboard a Continental Express/ExpressJet flight that was overnighting at an outstation. Realized the error right after I exited security. I went straight to the counter and was told by airport and gate staff (it’s a small hometown airport) that the flight attendant already left to the hotel with a passenger’s Nook, as he claimed he would take it back to IAH lost and found the next morning. Thinking I might never see it again, I went to the crew hotel to find the flight attendant, and he was waiting for me in the lobby (the airport tried to contact him) to return my Nook. I don’t want to judge, but the entire situation was a little suspect.

    I will never leave behind electronic devices again.

  54. Dinah says:

    You’re on my psychiatry blog. If you see my macbook anywhere….
    –Dinah of Shrink Rap

  55. nate says:

    Ever since they started breaking guitars I stopped flying united, I’m very sorry to hear about your experience. I don’t mean to sound like a salesperson, but southwest actually has pretty good customer service, you get two free checked bags, and since its all open seating you don’t have to worry about losing an aisle and if that woman had talked to.southwest crews they would’ve had her move seeing as its her choice as to where to sit.

  56. Fahrhaus says:

    Steve –
    Enjoyed the article and your insights. The lost Kindle is truly a shame, as is the way in which United handled the situation. That said, the passenger is primarily to blame – had you checked the seat pocket prior to giving up your seat, you’d have found your device.

    Were I you, my ire would have been over having been asked to switch seats – it’s the “uncomfortable” woman who should have had to move. Whilst I disagree with her approach, however, I can sympathise with her predicament. As someone who takes 100+ flights a year (all on United or Star Alliance), I am routinely landed next to overweight folks who are literally spilling over my armrest and into my seat. Airline seats are miserable little things as it is, and this just makes it worse.

    Lest anyone begin a flame-war over how I’m insensitive to the issues of the horizontally challenged, I’d retort that we’ve become a society that excuses obesity without good reason. Some are, indeed, suffering from hormone imbalances that make it impossible for them to stay fit. The vast majority, though, are simply choosing not to do anything about their ongoing weight gain. Just as smokers (of whom I am one) are forced to huddle in a dark and distant corner to catch a few drags because social ostracism and health concerns make them pariahs, so too do the overweight among us risk alienation and choose to be treated “differently”. Just as smokers opt to pay upwards of $10/pack to maintain an unhealthy lifestyle, so too are the overweight opting to purchase more or larger seats on public transportation in order to maintain an unhealthy lifestyle. I’m a little unclear on why there’s any distinction or any less ostracism for one of these groups over the other!

    Thanks for an interesting read – I shall look forward to downloading your book to my Kindle!

  57. Rocha says:

    Hey Steve.

    I had almost the same thing happen to me last month while flying United. While running to a connecting flight (they only gave us 38 minutes!), I realized my gf left my Kindle on her seat. I didn’t have time to run back so I went to the customer service desk which happened to be close to my connecting gate. I explained the situation to the woman at the counter and she called around trying to get someone at my previous gate while another woman kept an eye on my plane to make sure it didn’t leave without me. The gate agent boarded the plane, got the Kindle, put my name on it and delivered it to Lost and Found. They gave me a piece of paper with the Lost and Found email address along with the employee’s name. I boarded my connecting flight and once I got to my hotel (and on wifi) I emailed Lost and Found. I got a response within 3 minutes asking my address so they could Fedex it to me. I gave them the address of the hotel I was staying at and I had it the next day.

    I must have said “thank you” a million times to all the helpful people I dealt with. I’ll say it again though. Thanks go out to Rita, Margaret, Jerome and Leonard at Dulles Airport.

    Clearly I was extremely lucky to have dealt with them.

  58. Farrah says:

    I’ve had two things go missing on a flight with the exact same response from – in this case, on both occasions, American Airlines. One was a BlackBerry. It literally went missing *during* the flight. I looked for it while the plane was still airborne. No luck. When we landed, no I could not stay behind to look for it. Here’s the phone number. No, it wasn’t ever found.

    The second was my wallet – I was on a flight from LA to New York, where I live, and was to have a brief stopover before continuing on to London for work. My wallet, with credit cards, passport, cash, was sitting on the seat next to me because I’d had to take the cards out to pay for the wifi and the snacks. It went missing in air, and when I realized that it hadn’t made it back into my purse – this was when I got down to baggage claim – I met the same response you did.

    The postscript was curious, however. A few weeks later, the wallet reappeared, in the mailbox of my mother’s house. They’d found my driver’s license – which had a very old address on it – and sent it there. No cash, but the cards and passport, now replaced or cancelled, were intact. The envelope had no return address, didn’t even get my name right, but was postmarked Jamaica, Queens. Which means it was found at JFK, where I’d landed, held onto, cleaned out, and then eventually returned… and not by the airline, who I assume would have wanted credit for getting it right.

    But I’ll tell one other story: I fell asleep on a red-eye from LA once with my eyeglasses in my hand. We hit turbulence and I dropped the glasses. They went careening – black framed glasses on black carpet. Not only did my seat mate try to look for them, but I was on all fours trying to feel for them on the carpet. The attendants were trying both to get passengers off the plane and keep one eye peeled for the reflection of a lens. I was growing panicky, and stumbled off the plane to go find a bathroom so I could put my contacts in. I came back to the gate, a few steps away, and was met by one of the ground crew, with his hand outstretched and my glasses in his palm. He smiled, looked relieved and said, “We kept looking – they were about 10 rows up. We were worried you left.”

    That airline? Virgin America.

  59. AJ says:

    I feel your pain, we have lost 2 kindles and an iPod a la United Airlines and was severely disappointed with the lack of customer service in all cases….yes shame on us for leaving behind the goods – but in all cases, it was noticed soon after we departed the airport, and the only method we had of recovering was by the silly voice mail message.

    In the case of the iPod, we had to switch airplanes 3 times before taking off over 24 hours because of mechanical issues – and between the 2nd and 3rd time, I left the iPod behind by accident – and even as a Global Service customer with 1K status sitting in 1st class, I was directed to the dreaded voice mail line.

    If I had a choice to fly another airline, I would – but unfortunately our company contract dictates the use of UAL. AA isn’t much better, but I can usually count on their flight attendants to be friendlier, their airplanes to be more updated and clean, and flights to be more on-time with fewer “mechanical” issues.

  60. Aspendew says:

    I never put anything of value into a seat pocket, because who knows what a previous passenger has put into it – dirty diaper? full sick bag? Ugh.

    I make one or two trans-Atlantic trips a year, and the best thing I’ve found is a travel vest. You can make your own out of a fishing or hunting vest if you’re clever at sewing, or shell out a little over $100 and go the ready-made route with a ScotteVest, which has a pocket that either an iPad or an 11″ MacBook Air, and therefore surely a Kindle, will fit into. I love mine. Makes getting through security a breeze, too; just take the vest off & put it in the tray. (No, I don’t work for the company or sell them myself; just a happy customer. :)

  61. Susie Bright says:

    OMG, Jeff, I want to buy you a new Kindle right this minute and give you a foot massage to boot! What a horrible, horrible, nightmare.

    I would give my eyeteeth to have your company on a plane ride of any duration.

    Your description of the fascism of airport “customer service” is all too true, and yet the sheep keep moving thru the turnstile. I just finished a book tour where BY FAR, the most cruel feature was airline travel.

    When is ENOUGH going to be ENOUGH?

  62. Kejia says:

    I learned one travel tip the hard way: always include identification inside your suitcase. While traveling to Korea, the baggage claim tag and ID tag came off my daughter’s suitcase. Korea Air’s lost and found tried to be helpful, but we had trouble coming up with unique items packed that would identify the suitcase. Luckily my daughter had packed some hardcover library books. I rattled off the titles and we got the suitcase later that day. (Good thing she wasn’t using a Kindle).

  63. Kejia says:

    Left a Mont Blanc fountain pen on plane way back in 1989. Yes I was young and stupid. Lost and Found said it wasn’t turned in. It was in a padded eyeglass case, so im pretty sure someone found it and decided to keep it. On the other hand, my husband recently bought some chocolates at the Amsterdam airport and left them on the plane in the US. A nice airline attendant helped retrieve them. (They were delicious).

    I start feeling penned in on a plane when the seat back in front of me is fully reclined. Much more intrusive than a cozy fit on the seat row. But no flight attendant will address that.

  64. Tim says:

    This is where some social engineering comes into play. This happened to me twice this summer during a multiple-country vacation. I had just strode out of the gate — the door was still open behind me. I turned heel and walked right back up the gangway, told the attendant at the plane door I’d forgotten something, and retrieved the headphones I’d forgotten in the pocket. If I’d asked permission, someone might have said “no”; claiming basic logic and reason as permission enough — given that there would be no actual harm caused even if policy was violated — allowed me to walk unchecked back onto the plane and get my shit.

  65. paganmama says:

    Steve, I’d pay extra to be seated next to you on a cross-country flight. And when your book is out, I’m buying it–in hard copy.

  66. Ogier K says:

    Sad story. Just to contrast that, I once left my wallet on a German train and only realized it when the conductor on the next train I boarded came around to ask for my ticket. The conductor called the other train where they searched and found my wallet. When I finally got off my train the wallet was already waiting for me at the station. Now THAT is customer service.

  67. MarIsa says:

    Thank you for this- specifically the nod to the trials of fat passengers who often face derision from other passengers and sometimes even crew. At least, I suppose that for your 1000+ dollars unlike southwest, they didn’t make you buy an extra seat. *massive eye rolling*

  68. Jess says:

    This happened to me with my keys once, although I don’t recall the airline. I did get all the way to the satellite lot before realizing they’d fallen out of my bag on the plane, but when I got back to the counter they refused to tell me whether the plane was still at the airport, whether it had been cleaned, or whether anybody had found or turned in my keys. They just had me write down my contact information. I was too young to rent a car, so I had to take the bus home, take the bus back to the airport once I had my spare car key FedExed to me from home (I was in college), and stay at a friend’s for a couple of days until I could get a hold of one of my eternally absent housemates to let me in. Naturally I never heard from the airline again. Since my keys were of absolutely no use to them (unless they wanted to try every Neon in the parking lot until they found the right one) I can only assume it was a matter of not wanting to bother, rather than profiting off my mistake.

  69. asya999 says:

    A few years ago I left my Kindle (first generation) on UA SFO-BOS – in F (the rarest upgrade to score on UA!) in my seat. I left messages at BOS lost and found that evening (plane wouldn’t be leaving till the next morning) and stopped by there two days later – nothing. What’s worse is I sent my Kindle e-mail address a message the subject of which would be displayed when it was turned on and got confirmation that it was delivered, but never got the call to the number I sent (The subject of message I sent was “Kindle! I miss you! Please call me at ).

    Oh well. It was less painful than when my boyfriend left his laptop on US plane into JFK and realized it just outside security – no calls or messages helped – the Lost and Found folks were helpful but no one on the cleaning crew fessed up to finding anything.

  70. Jeff Bowers says:

    Maybe I’m looking at this from a different angle. Mr. Silberman seems to gloss over the nice things, and rant about something that is, basically, his own fault. There also seems to be a bit of ‘putting up’ with being moved, only to complain later.

    I would have made a better story about the… lady in the next seat. I personally wouldn’t have moved without a valid reason, just to not let a whiny bitch have her way. The fact that you played the part of the ‘nice guy’ without a fight removes your right to rail about it later.

    About the lost Kindle, and the flood of replies about “We forgot this”, and “We left that”, makes me wonder just how unfocused modern people are becoming as a whole.

    Some of us working types don’t have so many gadgets we can’t keep track of them. When my phone isn’t in my hand, it’s in my belt case. What in heck is so difficult of a concept to grasp that you should keep track of your personal gear? The idea of leaving my wallet, or as one respondent claimed, a thousand-dollar camera laying about ignored is an alien concept to me. I’ve been traveling 40 years, and never left so much as a paperback on a plane, bus, or train.

    So this story is; “I left my trash, they wouldn’t bend the rules, and I’m gonna tell the whole world how I feel I’ve been pushed around, ripped off, and ignored.”. Not; “I made a mistake, and next time I might be smarter and remember where I left all my crap.”.

    • Steve Silberman says:

      “Some of us working types”? Jeff, I’m a writer, as I mention in the first sentence of my post. These “devices” are as much a luxury to me as a pen and an apron are to a waitress (and, in fact, I was a waiter for 11 years while I was freelancing.) Believe me, if I wasn’t stretched for cash, I would have been sitting in business or first class. Hopefully my “whining” will help other people “remember their crap,” since they can’t expect much help from the airlines if they don’t.

      • Chris Ford says:

        I’ve flown United extensively for two decades, and have noticed a decline in service, as well. However, I really have to agree with Jeff Bowers. United’s always been known for superior service, and while service has declined, it still maintains a higher standard than other airlines.

        You’ve made many assumptions here, Steve. Unless you deliberately chose to withhold the reason for the other passenger’s request, you apparently do not know why the flight attendants asked you to move.

        And, as Jeff indicates, you were more than willing to relocate without question, and raised no issue with it.

        Weren’t you at all curious, or did you just prefer to assume that it was a weight issue? Couldn’t there be another reason this passenger “complained”?

        Having been a very frequent traveler for 20 years, I know that when a passenger complains about seating, the crew will make an attempt to relocate the passenger, if seats are available. Crews do not relocate other passengers simply because someone does not want to be seated near them.

        You go on to point out that the crew compensated your inconvenience with complimentary cocktails and a $75 voucher. You won’t see that on most other airlines, either.

        I recently walked through security at an airport, and as I walked down a corridor toward my gate, I made a wrong turn through an exit door. I barely crossed the threshold, and my bag was still behind me on the inside. I immediately noticed that this was an exit corridor, and turned around. A TSA agent standing guard at the door stopped me and told me I couldn’t come back inside. Naturally, I asked, “Why not?” He reiterated, “Sir, you’ll need to go back through security.” Again, I asked, “Why?” His puzzled expression and moment of silence was enough answer – he had no idea. It seemed silly to stop me from simply “doing a 180″ at the door, considering the agent observed the mishap to begin with. I had no opportunity to rendezvous with terrorists, therefore there seemed to be no reason I couldn’t just turn around. But, “it’s policy,” as we’re all too painfully aware. I chuckled at this silly policy and returned to security, knowing that “next time” I wouldn’t repeat the same mistake.

        Consequently, once you’re inside a terminal, you can’t return to the plane. However, passengers often return to the plane while still on the gangway, and I’ve never seen anyone turned away. I have witnessed crew members asking passengers wait, while they retrieve their forgotten items, though.

        Let’s go back to the whining passenger, and assume that she did complain about your size. Having been obese enough to need seat belt extensions, and to purchase a second seat, I can relate. If you’re big enough to overlap onto the seat next to you, the other passenger has every right to complain. After all, she probably paid the same for her seat, which you may have been partially occupying.

        Is it the airlines’ fault that Boeing doesn’t make coach seats for fat people? Is it fair for fat people to expect accommodations? You clearly acknowledge, as I did, that we as fat people impose a greater inconvenience on the passengers and crew. Perhaps this is the reason you asked no questions, and moved when requested.

        Do you really believe that this other passenger demanded that you be relocated, so she could sprawl out her reading materials and a buffet?

        Do you believe that passengers should be entitled to return to a plane and disrupt deboarding, so you can retrieve your forgotten items? As you’re well aware, it’s not that simple. You can’t just walk back on a deboarding plane without stopping everyone from deboarding. Should we, as passengers expect all other passengers to wait patiently while we climb over and around, bump into, and push our way through a crowd of hurried passengers? As you pointed out, connecting flights are closer than ever before. We don’t have time to wait for you to get back on to the plane. Sorry, I’ve got a connecting flight to catch.

        All-in-all, I really think you’re blaming the airline for your own mistake. Granted, no one likes to deal with automated answering systems, and service has certainly declined in the entire industry. It’s unfortunate your Kindle was lost, but there’s no difference leaving it on a plane, a bus, or in a coffee shop. You should not expect a good Samaritan to give it to lost-and-found.

        On one final note, you mentioned that the crews often appear frustrated. I’m sure they are. They’re standing in the same security lines with us, they’re dealing with frustrated passengers all day, and they’re forced to do it with a smile.

        • Steve Silberman says:

          > Unless you deliberately chose to withhold the reason for the other passenger’s request, you apparently do not know why the flight attendants asked you to move.

          Not sure what you’re trying to imply here, Chris. I didn’t “withhold” anything — if anything, this post is tediously explicit.

          > Weren’t you at all curious, or did you just prefer to assume that it was a weight issue? Couldn’t there be another reason this passenger “complained”?

          No, I was not “curious,” since I had only had enough time to sit down and put my Kindle in the seat pocket when she jumped up and talked to the flight attendants. In other words, she might have complained that I look too Jewish, that I use electronic devices for reading, or that I wear New Balance shoes. But all of those seem highly unlikely, while the fact that I am overweight seemed like a likely explanation — though her routine of turning the now vacant seat into her personal cafeteria indicates to me that she might also just do this to spread out across two seats. What kinds of assumptions are YOU making here?

          > Crews do not relocate other passengers simply because someone does not want to be seated near them.

          That’s a pleasant theory. But it doesn’t match the response of the flight attendants to the woman in this case.

          > Is it the airlines’ fault that Boeing doesn’t make coach seats for fat people? Is it fair for fat people to expect accommodations?

          I dunno, Chris — should planes also be forced to accommodate elderly people, whining children, and disabled people in wheelchairs? Surely it would make life easier for the airlines if they only accommodated, say, slim élite-class flyers. Maybe they could even wedge *four* seats into a row that way. But as I made it very, very clear, both with my writing in this post AND with my behavior on the plane, I wasn’t expecting any special accommodation for being overweight — though it’s certainly interesting that that’s how you saw it. Do you often make assumptions about overweight people, despite being one yourself?

          > Perhaps this is the reason you asked no questions, and moved when requested.


          > Do you really believe that this other passenger demanded that you be relocated, so she could sprawl out her reading materials and a buffet?

          I dunno Chris, I “knew” the woman for all of two minutes. Do you have any alternate suggestions, since you seem quite keen on implying that she must have had other reasons?

          > Do you believe that passengers should be entitled to return to a plane and disrupt deboarding, so you can retrieve your forgotten items? As you’re well aware, it’s not that simple. You can’t just walk back on a deboarding plane without stopping everyone from deboarding.

          Yes, in fact, I am so “well aware” that I waited until nearly all of the passengers had deboarded before asking. I’m not the kind of person who barges through a line of people moving in the opposite direction to get what I want.

          > You should not expect a good Samaritan to give it to lost-and-found.

          No? You really have that dim a view of people? So I assume that if you ever find a Kindle left behind on a plane, your first thought will be deregistering it as quickly as possible so you can make it your own or resell it online? OK — but that’s just not the way I think.

          I don’t expect “good Samaritans” to be cleaning airplanes between turnarounds either. I expect United employees to be doing that. I used to be a waiter; and believe me, I used to find credit cards, wallets, briefcases, keys, and many other personal items that my customers had left behind. I used to take special pride in alerting the owners and returning the items. I even traveled out to their homes to do that sometimes if they were desperate. I certainly never thought of keeping those items for my own use.

          • Chris Ford says:

            You’re missing my point, Steve. Entirely.

            Simply stated, I’m suggesting that you made assumptions regarding this person’s complaint. I made no assumptions and asked if there could be other reasons.

            Accommodations within reason should be expected of any airline. The crew should seek to quiet a screaming child for the benefit of all on the plane. They should accommodate the elderly for their safety, and they should absolutely assist the handicapped, and obese people. Accommodations are for the benefit of all on board.

            And, I’m suggesting that is precisely what the crew was doing on your flight. If you overlapped onto her seat, the crew should have been expected to accommodate her, and find a reasonable solution for everyone. I’m not assuming you did overlap onto her real estate – you may very well NOT have, and there very well may be other reasons for the request. You’ve acknowledged that you don’t know the answer, either. Therefore, my point still stands: a crew will attempt to relocate someone if they are unhappy with their seating, but they don’t relocate everyone around them. I agree with you, then. The most-likely reason you were asked to move is your weight – you probably overlapped the seat, making the other passenger uncomfortable, and she complained. But I can’t assume that. Regardless, they compensated you for the inconvenience, and you graciously accepted.

            I’m a good Samaritan. I’ve gone to great efforts to return lost items, myself, but I wouldn’t expect a good Samaritan to find my lost items and “do the right thing” with them. I never suggested I have a dim view – only a realistic one that doesn’t impose expectations on the public at large. Of course, I’d love to believe that I’m sitting next to someone who’d watch my back, if I were to drop my wallet, but reality tells me that I’d be viewing the world through rose-colored glasses. I’ve lost personal belongings in the past, as everyone has. When I’ve lost wallets or cell phones filled with contact information, I’ve never received a call. I hoped, but knew I couldn’t expect, just as when I lost a pair of sun glasses, I knew I’d never see them again.

            By the way, I’m no longer obese. Throughout my travels, I continued to become larger. First, it was just an inconvenience, then it became embarrassing, and finally, intolerable. It became increasingly difficult standing in the long lines and maneuvering through the plane, then I became larger and needed the seat belt extension, then I needed to buy two seats, and eventually it became so uncomfortable, I could no longer travel. The company I worked for accommodated me with a heavy-duty desk chair that could support 500 lbs after my chair broke from under me. Believe me, I remember quite well exactly what it’s like to travel when fat.

            I never expected anything special; I just felt bad that I inconvenienced so many people. I’m not even suggesting that you don’t feel awkward when you travel.

            My point is that you lost your Kindle, and you’re blaming the airline. Your making it a customer service issue, but it was clearly your mistake.

            You’re suggesting it’s poor customer service, because UA uses an automated response system for lost and found. And, you seem to blame them that it wasn’t returned.

            Perhaps United is partially at fault, because the request to move to another seat distracted you, and you therefore left the Kindle behind. After all, if they hadn’t asked you to move, you may not have left the Kindle on the plane. But, what’s to say you wouldn’t have forgotten it when you deboarded, had you not relocated? I dunno – I can’t assume you’d remember to pack it when the plane landed, either.

            The bottom line is

            1. A passenger appeared to complain.
            2. UA crew asked you to move, and reasonably compensated you.
            3. You left your Kindle on the plane, and didn’t get it back.

            If anyone was rude or disrespectful, UA should address this. Otherwise, I can’t say that I see anything that indicates poor customer service on UA’s part at all.

            • Steve Silberman says:

              Chris, you’re obsessing on the image of me “overlapping her seat” to the point of skimming over all the other issues I raised — the sudden cancellation of flights, the missed connections, the decline in courtesy at the gate, and the numerous lost items and other problems that have now become routine, which many other readers here have mentioned. (I assume they’re not ALL fat guys trying to rationalize their self-humiliation by mentioning other problems.)

              But I can understand why. You tackled your own health problem, which makes you a little impatient with people who haven’t yet done the same. I congratulate you and now hopefully we can move on and look at the central point of the piece, which is how easy it is for valuable electronic devices to be lost when lost-and-found practices at the airport have become so shoddy.

              • Chris Ford says:

                Still missing my point, so we’ll just have to agree to disagree. You make so many assumptions, it’s impossible to have a discussion.

                My points were simple, but you continually read between the lines, making off-base assumptions. Bottom line is you’re still wrong, in my opinion.

                Nice chatting with you.

                Chris Ford

  71. John says:

    Sorry to hear about your experience!

    I’m a flight attendant myself and I regularly remind passengers who I’ve seen putting their devices in the seat pocket to take them out and stow them in their bags while doing the pre-landing cabin check.

    Also have run to customs to hand back a passport I found of one passenger so he could continue his journey.

    In one week I have found an iPad and two passports. The airline I work for has very strict rules and regulations as to what to do with them so the chances of the items being reunited with their owners are maximised.

    I have my iPad with me on all my private travels, stick it in the seat pocket and as soon as my ears indicate the descent has started I place the thing back in my bag.

    But I can surely understand how, in all the unfortunate consternation, you forgot all about the Kindle.

    When I find something in the cabin during the post-disembarking cabin check I think about how happy I would be if the item would be returned to me through lost and found.

    PS It’s not an US airline I work for…

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  73. Jessica says:

    I recently flew with United to give a talk that I didn’t end up giving. I boarded a plane, placed my iPad in the seatback pocket, settled in, and then were told we were switching planes. I left my iPad in the pocket, realized it while still at the gate, and needless to say, have never seen it again despite multiple phone calls and emails. I actually wasn’t even supposed to be at that airport at all; I was booked on a non-stop flight and they changed my itinerary to include a 3.5 hour layover with a final arrival time 6 hours later than originally booked- and didn’t even tell me until I checked my bag. They credited me 3K miles, like that was supposed to make up for the “schedule inconveniences” and the iPad.

  74. Xue says:

    Key points——” the major airlines — with rare exception — have stopped wooing customers by trying to make them happy, at least in coach. Instead, they reliably make them miserable, and then “up-sell” them ways of becoming slightly less miserable, such as Economy Plus seating, snack boxes

    Maybe get Biz RU 😉

  75. SamW says:

    A family member recently flew short distance in Europe with one of those cheap airlines that make you pay extra for baggage. The bag turned up three weeks later with around 300 Euros worth of things missing, including a GPS for the car, a suit (it was my graduation, so it was all brand new outfits for the family), food (brands from home you can’t get here) and other clothes, including underwear. Who’d do that?

    Although from reading other comments, I probably shouldn’t be surprised.

    Hope all your data’s backed up! I’d wish you luck in getting it back but I unfortunately don’t believe you actually will.

  76. Kathy says:

    My son, who is an MBA student at Wharton just learned that if you make a reservation online and don’t check that your flight has to be on a specific date or time, even if it really does, you will pay less for your ticket. I fly Delta exclusively now because I got a SkyMiles credit card which gives me all kinds of perks, including free checked bag and priority boarding. I am off and on disabled (I just had back surgery, so for now I am fine), but when I was using a Segway or a walker or a wheelchair, I was always treated with dignity and respect.
    As far as your weight is concerned, yes, airlines need to make the seats wider to accommodate our ever burgeoning population, but until it does, as long as you don’t overflow onto my space or force me to sit with the armrest down because you are too big, I don’t complain. If you do, you need to buy a first class ticket. Your rights end where mine begin.
    Apple products have alarm apps and there are alarms you can buy that protect laptops from being stolen. Maybe it can be adapted for a Kindle. I think I would have stood by the door until they let me back on the plane or found a way to sneak back on.

  77. Dave says:

    Keep up the great writing. To this day I dont understand how us the consumer continues to put up with the the airlines. They frankly steal from us whenever they get a chance.

  78. Robert says:

    Left my first iPad on a United Flight to London in business class. Realized it when I was at baggage claim. A helpful gate agent boarded the plane while it was being serviced and brought it back down to me 15 minutes later.

  79. TonyC says:

    I had a similar experience recently when my wife left her iPhone on the plane after a flight from Australia to the USA.
    Airline was no help at all. iPhone never appeared on their lost property system.

    The fun then began with our travel insurance company when I made a claim for the lost iPhone..
    The claim was quickly DECLINED due to the fact that their fine print says that they won’t cover items lost or stolen when left unattended in a public place.

    Their definition of a public place includes aircraft, airports, hotels, theme parks and many other places.

    I kindly explained that therefore my entire vacation was spent in “public places”.

    I also highlighted that as an airline passenger I submit to the most stringent security processes most humans are likely to encounter in order to board a plane which they believe to be a “public place”.

    Still, no cigar…..

    Travel insurance – Don’t expect them to cover any lost items.
    (Unless you lose the item in your friend’s living room…….sigh)

  80. ch says:

    Of course, you’ll remember to write a review of the Kindle, so that future buyers can consider if they want to buy something that is so easily wiped for thieves and the like?

  81. Separator says:

    I feel for you for this crappy experience, but didn’t care for the insinuation that caring about Constitutional rights is somehow something only Fox News viewers do. The logic of what you said after didn’t quite add up either- because the passengers AND agents don’t like it, passengers who fight it are misguided? The policy is clearly the problem. I don’t watch Fox so I’m unaware if this is a trendy topic for their programmers to pretend to care about at the moment. I do care about these violations the TSA performs, and I cared when Fox News cheered every time their guy Bush used the PATRIOT Act (which Obama extended, btw…) to wipe his butt with the Constitution. Sorry, a bit of the rant there, I guess my point is please don’t fall into the Ds vs Rs divide and conquer trap that out current media gives us, let’s all fight against being treated like animals on every front…

  82. Gary says:

    Next time, just tell them it is electronic property of the US government and you will have to open a case with the TSA. I guarantee they will let you back on the plane and fast.

  83. Chris Adams says:

    Read the fine print on the ticket and you’ll find that most carriers make an effort to pay nothing for anything electronic which their employees steal from your checked baggage and they’ll try to sharply depreciate everything else. If you fight, they’ll pay closer to fair market – at least if your state has a consumer friendly AG – but the entire experience left me convinced the system was designed to make people give up rather than prevent crime.

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  86. MCB says:

    I’ll leave the general comments to others, but have a couple of practical points of advice: (1) On UA, *always* check in on the Internet in advance. You will have a boarding pass and (a) can skip the long line, and (b) your aisle seat will not mysteriously disappear. (2) If you can afford to, buy the per-flight elite services if you don’t get them already; they’re worth it. (3) In the case of the uncomfortable-seatmate issue, if you are able to fasten your seatbelt without an extension, you are by UA’s rules not overweight and can politely insist that the uncomfortable person be re-seated, rather than you. (4) On the occasion that I left a book on a plane, I just went back for it – forgiveness being easier than permission. (No one stopped me.) And on United Express (SkyWest), a gate attendant retrieved my jacket that was left in the overhead compartment, without complaint, for which I thanked her profusely.

  87. Several years ago my wife left her mobile on a train (going into London Waterloo). She phoned me from work to tell me she’d lost it but wouldn’t have time to deal with it until on her way home that evening. I offered to help so I rang Lost Property at Waterloo station. They told me to ring back at least three days after the loss, and that he has hundreds of “lost” mobiles in the office anyway. I explained that if I waited three days only to find that it hadn’t been handed in, and had in fact been stolen, I would be liable for the calls made, and if I put a block on the phone and it has been handed in, it would be difficult to unblock. I said to him “Look, why can’t I just come and have a look for it at lunchtime?”. “Oh no, you can’t do that!” he happily replied. So I said “hang on just a minute will you? Just one minute” and quickly put him on hold, rang my wife’s mobile and switched back to the call. “listen, I can hear it ringing!” I said. And so he broke the rules of the lost property office and actually let me come and pick up the phone later that day. This was a triumph of reason over bureaucracy.

  88. Steve says:

    Years ago I left my game machine on an AA plane. Realized it once I left the door of the gate. They wouldn’t let me reboard. I filled out a claim at the gate. I screamed loudly enough that they finally let me back on after the plane was cleaned. Guess what? Nothing was there. I can only blame the poorly paid cleaning crews on these planes. Any follow-up from AA from my complaints? Not even an acknowledgment.

    There are two companies that I will not be associated with for both work and business due to customer service issues not related this complaint. American Airline and UPS. In my line of work, it has probably cost them tens of thousands of dollars each. That’s nothing on their bottom line and they obviously don’t care about it. However, it’s my only source of comfort in the harm and poor business practices I’ve received.

  89. Frelkins says:

    Steve, here’s your start-up idea: Find my iPhone but for Kindles. Do you need a VC? 😉

  90. I had my very nice camera taken out if my checked suitcase on American Airlines 1-1/2 years ago with barely an I’m sorry from them. I now bring it in my carry on every time, nut between the camera, laptop and iPad that I no longer trust to checked, that bag is getting pretty heavy! Sorry for your loss. And you’re right, what used to be fun now sucks.

  91. ultrarunnergirl says:

    Flying certainly has gone from exciting transportation to dreaded submission. My father used to work for United, so I hate to say it, but in the last few years of my flying experiences they have been the biggest offenders in terms of canceled and overbooked flights, and long tarmac delays after everyone has boarded (perhaps so one is unable to stand in line to complain?).

  92. JP says:

    My condolences for your loss, but what’s to say that the smarmy woman who had you moved to another seat pocketed the Kindle? Or any other sharp-eyed, scrupleless passengers?

  93. Similar experiences with United. Very brusque, almost bitter.

    But not all carriers are the same. My teenage daughter flew cross-country on Southwest. She had to change planes twice. (Because I’m a cheapskate) She left her purse at the gate in Chicago. The purse had her learner’s permit and passport, cell phone charger and $200 in cash. (Not the biggest cheapskate, though) Two days after arriving, she finally confessed that she had lost these items, and needed them replaced. I called Southwest’s lost-and-found and told them to look for her purse in Philly, where she thought they lost it. They told me they would try, but I shouldn’t expect much. But, the next day, a Southwest employee at O’Hare who found her purse managed to piece together the puzzle, called me, and told me to save me hassle, he’d just take a little of the cash out of the purse to pay to Fed-Ex it to my office. Problem solved. Unbelievably lucky!

  94. Chandra Greer says:

    Not to diminish your experience but I left a $1000 camera on an airplane, under the seat in front of me, a crazy oversight to be sure, and it was returned to me within 10 minutes of reporting I had left it on the plane.

  95. Mark says:

    While it isn’t pleasant to lose things and I see no reason why you couldn’t have re-boarded to retrieve it, the rest of this article is needless whining. The average U.S. airfare in 1995 was $297, now it’s $227. What other industry could you buy their product for 26% less now than 16 years ago. Also, I happen to know that 100% of UAL’s flights to JFK have 100% Economy Plus seating so the whining about the cramped seating rings false. Almost all of the other inconveniences that you mention have nothing to do with the airline and everything to do with the TSA. People want dirt cheap airfares, and when they get them they complain about the service. You can’t have it both ways. Oh and by the way, the US airlines and UAL in particular still provide the safest transportation system in human history, even at the current bargain basement prices.

    • Steve Silberman says:

      Not sure you read very carefully, Mark. $1334 for round trip to the East Coast with one stop in the middle is hardly a “bargain basement” price. And I’m not sure where you’re seeing all this “whining” about “cramped seating,” other than in the mind of the woman who asked the flight attendants to move me. Cramped seating is not the primary, or even secondary, issue in this post.

      • Mark says:

        I read it pretty carefully I think. $1334 for three segments is about $444 per flight. I’m assuming that it wasn’t round trip just to give you the benefit of the doubt. This is for an economy plus seat on one of the most expensive corridors in the U.S. The average domestic fare out of SFO in 2001 (which is the furthest back that I could find data) was about $465. So again we have a situation where you are paying less than 10 years ago even in unadjusted dollars. I’m only bringing all this up because I’m sooooo tired of continuing complaints about the airlines when the fares people are paying are lower than they have ever been. Apparently nobody realizes this.

        • Gill says:

          Clearly you’re either an airline employee or think everything is perfect in the airline industry. Either way, I think you’re in a bit of denial, man. I do suggest you re-read the article. Steve deserves his Kindle back.

        • tim says:

          Ok, so the fares are lower – but at what price? all of the ‘whining’ you lament is really customers providing feedback to the industry – an industry that isn’t listening to its customers very well.

          And let’s take a little look at why the fares are lower – the airlines did it to themselves. They started selling of excess capacity (aka unsold seats) at bargain-basement rates at the last minute. Why? getting a few dollars for that seat is better than no dollars for the seat. What was the effect? the airlines themselves trained passengers to wait until the last minute and look for the reduced rate seats. Heck they even encouraged an entire industry (price line et al) to come on line. The long term effect is that the airlines killed their own margins themselves in an effort to boost margin.

          I would gladly – eagerly even – pay more to be treated like a valued customer instead of freight. So while the industry continues to focus on cheap fares, it’s missing the big picture. Remember that you’re a service industry. Stop nickel-an-diming you customers to cover expenses. Charge what you need to charge to succeed and make the experience worth the cost.

          Until that happens, there will continue to be travelers complaining about the crappy service from an industry that has all but abandoned service.

        • Chris says:

          While you may have had nothing but good experiences on airlines, the sad truth is that customer service has plummeted across the board in the last few years. Also, don’t complain about others mentioning high ticket prices. Seats have gotten smaller, service has gone down the toilet, security has gotten tighter, and meals have gotten a heck of a lot staler. Lastly, you misunderstand the point of this article. Steve brilliantly retells his story of incredibly unhelpful airline service to warn others about the dangers of traveling with gadgets on a modern day flight. He is in no way simply complaining about the airlines in general. From here on out, I advise you to simply take your comments, and then don’t share them.

        • drhuss says:

          mark do you work for the airline industry? There is no winning in this article. Yes US based airlines treat customers like trash. I fly a lot and airlines outside of the US have so much more respect to customers jt puts our airlines to shame… But why would I tell you this. Going by your attitude and logic I doubt you listen to reason.

    • Not sure about how things are in the US, but here in Canada the low fares are made up for by 7 or 8 fees, taxes, surcharges, etc. That’s in addition to the lack of amenities one could have expected for free in the last century, such as meals, drinks, movies, and a baggage allowance of more than a single 30 lb bag.

  96. Anne Boyd says:

    I flew United recently. I could a tale for you unfold about how disastrously United handles the needs of disabled passengers. From the chaos at check-in being directed a different way by every harried employee to find the wheelchair service; from the complete bewilderment evidenced by everyone about how to check the bag of a disabled person; to the jam-packed gate area where no effort whatever is made to stop non-disabled people from planting themselves in the “disabled” seating section at the gate and glaring defiantly at a person approaching with a cane; to having “medical needs” passengers called to the front AFTER the fifty different categories of “elite” flyers have been directed to line up; to having the gate agent disappear by the time I had physically pushed my way to the front of the crowd, letting me stand and sway there with no place to sit until he reappeared (I guess he didn’t look to see if anyone with medical needs actually was trying to force their way through the crowd); to struggling my way to the “disabled” seating which is at the very back of the plane for some inexplicable reason…it was one of the worst, most chaotic, most painful flying experiences I’ve ever had; and every United employee I saw or dealt with was cranky to hostile, and many gave conflicting information when asked the same question.

    Southwest, by the way, handles disabled passengers beautifully. No muss, no fuss, and no rugby scrum at the gate: just a blue card that lets you get on before the orderly, lined-up people start. And the employees are cheerful and accommodating.

  97. Jon F says:

    Man, that’s pretty horrible, especially the part about the woman who had you moved. I recently flew from Atlanta (on Delta, of course) to Boston first-class courtesy of amassing enough Sky Miles for the upgrade. I was gobsmacked at how “First Class” on a domestic flight basically means “coach, 30 years ago” these days. I’m also a pretty big guy so the extra leg-room means a lot to me. The really sad thing is how it seems like these horror stories are abundant for every major carrier.

    I’d suggest there are two possible places your Kindle wound up. One is most assuredly in the possession of your misanthropic former aisle-mate. The other is at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. I went there a couple of months ago and they had maybe 20 Kindles in-stock along with a wide array of other electronics that got left in seat-backs. Most domestic major air carriers have exclusive contracts for “lost” items with them (in the UBC’s defense, they purchase everything sight-unseen and it’s the airlines’ responsibility to decide when something is well and truly lost, not theirs) and so ground crew taking items out of seat-backs for their own purposes is pretty unlikely since it’s tantamount to theft from their employer. Impossible? No, but I’d say quite unlikely, at least at a major airport like JFK where there are bound to be many eyes on everyone much of the time.

  98. meoskop says:

    Anything left on a plane is now lost. Recently I forgot a piece of hand baggage and I refused to clear the doorway of the plane until it was retrieved. Since lost luggage became profitable, there is no hope of getting your items back. Witness the Spohr’s story –

    And the warm (cough) response of others –

  99. David B says:

    While this is a tragic tale of loss (and I don’t mean that with as much irony as it sounds), this was, partially, your fault.

    But if you’d have told me that you packed a Kindle in your checked baggage and it had gone missing, I’d have been even less surprised.

  100. Josh says:

    I’ve never left anything of value in the cabin.

    Once, on one red-eye flight from Jackson MS to Albany, NY, myself and the other passengers arrived at the small Baggage Claim area at Albany International, found the carousel with our flight number on it, and waited. We were the only people in the airport at this time. The light on the carousel flashed, and it started moving.

    We all eagerly anticipated the arrival of our checked bags down the chute.

    One bag appeared.

    And that was it.

    Apparently, the bag didn’t belong to any of the passengers on my flight, as nobody grabbed it. After about two minutes of all looking at each-other with that “WTF” look in our eyes, we orderly formed a queue outside the lost baggage window.

    JetBlue returned my lost bag some weeks later, but I’m still trying to figure out how they lost an entire flights’ baggage.

  101. Darin Morgan says:

    Steve, Sorry to hear about your lost Kindle, but I think the loss of dignity at the hands (literally) of the TSA is far worse.
    I have been a frequent business traveler for the last 6 years, so I never had the experience of ‘the good ole days’ of US airlines when they actually understood that they were operating a service business. Fortunately, I’ve only lost an inexpensive ($25) item on a Delta flight. I realized at the gate but was stopped from returning to the plane. The gate agent was kind enough to check my seat area after the flight was empty, but to no avail. I’m a little shocked that the gate agent stonewalled you, perhaps it is a United policy and they were “just following orders”. Which makes me wonder what ever happened to a basic level of human empathy? The agent aparently did not have enough human compassion to cause her to personally supercede the airline rule. Sad.
    My pre-landing routine is now to pack everything into my laptop backpack when the final announcement for landing is made. I check and double check for my book (no e-reader for me, yet), cellphone, MP3 player and noise cancelling headphones, laptop and any paperwork that I may have used.

  102. Nicole says:

    I bought branded souvenir sunglasses at the Rose Bowl last year. They fell out of my bag under my seat on a flight from LAX to Atlanta. I realized it pretty soon after de-boarding. I went back to the gate and said I left something on board. They’d already started to flip the plane and the gate agent put me off and to the side while she dealt with other people, saying someone would help me in a few minutes. 10 minutes later I was still standing there with no end in sight and the original gate agent was busy, so I took one look around, walked down the jetway, grabbed my glasses from under the seat and walked back out. She never even saw me.

  103. Mary says:

    Oh, dear, that really bites. I’ve just recently made the switch to kindle, and hadn’t done the math on leaving that vs. leaving an old paperback or a pile of journal articles….hmmm….

    I am about to run over and tape my biz card to the back of it right now though. And maybe sharpie my name on it in a geeky manner that would embarrass thieves. Probably neither would matter, though.

  104. David Dobbs says:

    I can relate. Last April and May I made several research trips. I would use the long flights to write down copious notes and book and article plans in a large moleskine notebook; I found writing them in longhand on these long flights a good way to sink way into the material. I generated a lot of great material in that notebook.

    Then on that last flight, sleepy, I put it in the seat pocket in front of me. I forgot it as I left the plane. I remembered it within minutes, while they were still cleaning the plane. Please, PLEASE find it, I told them, giving seat number. I’d been off the plane 5 or 6 minutes, they were still cleaning it, but they said it couldn’t be found. It was obviously still on the plane somewhere. I offered an award. They said they’d look; went on the plane; came back; nothing.

    They gave me a number to call. I called. They didn’t.

  105. Mary Shafer says:

    Steve, thanks for this thoughtful piece on a sadly all-too-familiar experience for many of us. I’m sorry you lost your Kindle, not just because it’s costly and inconvenient to have to replace, but because clearly it was more than a digital reading device to you. Fellow authors can relate to such a concrete example of the kinds of relatively small but critically significant moral support we receive from our partners, friends and family. It pains me to think of how the bottom of your stomach must have fallen out when you realized you’d left it on the plane. I’ve been told by a flight attendant that any items found on the plane, although supposed to be turned in to the airlines’ lost-and-found department, are considered fair game in personal enrichment for those whose job it is to clean up after each flight. Indeed, those cleanups do happen, which is why you’ll never see your Kindle again. Sad, but true. May I recommend your next gift be a ScottEvest that will keep all your digital devices near and safe on your person when you travel? And the best part? They make them in plus size for those of us “refugees from Weight Watchers.” LOL — loved that part. I’m with ya, buddy. Hang in there.

  106. Oh, that hurts! I have lost only an old-fashioned paper book on an airplane – one that turned back to the gate after lining up for take-off, kicked passengers off “temporarily” and then canceled the flight.

    In lieu of a link to my site, the Website I include there is to the story of a passenger subjected to a humiliating search for reading a book about 2oth century aircraft. Apparently the flight attendants took him for a terrorist. United Airlines again.

  107. Nancy Shute says:

    What really steams me about this is not the dear departed Kindle but the fact that United allowed itself to be buffaloed by the woman who didn’t want to sit next to the Slightly Round Steve. Her, I hope she’ll be trapped in the middle seat in purgatory!

  108. Steve, this is despicable behavior on the part of United. I feel terrible that this happened to as nice a person as you.

    And while I make zero apologies and have even less sympathy for the airlines, might part of the problem be that we now expect to get across the country for 200$ and decent service cannot possibly be provided at that price point? Or is that an issue the airlines have also brought upon themselves?

  109. Jonah Lehrer says:

    A beautifully told story of woe. This line in particular precisely summarizes the problem of aviation:

    “Airlines…have propped up their bottom lines in a free-fall economy by calculating precisely how little service they can provide to their customers in coach, and how much frustration, humiliation, and disappointment those customers will endure before they stop buying tickets.”

    Sadly, the industry has a near monopoly on long-distance travel. It almost makes me wish videoconferencing was a better substitute.

    • Jonah: the problem is actually that people only rarely choose one airline over another because of service. It’s not that you need another industry so people stop trying, it’s that (partly because of Orbitz and Expedia) not many people choose Delta over United because of the quality of service. Really, it doesn’t seem that airlines can charge a premium for service. So why would they provide anything but the bare minimum?

  110. kmsqrd says:

    I left an old green iPod nano on a Delta flight to Houston Hobby about a year ago. I was able to retrieve it the next morning when I headed back out again. I don’t know if I’d have been so lucky with a gadget that was more ubiquitous.

  111. Lisa R. says:

    Aw! That sucks all around. If your original seatmate didn’t know how good she had it sitting next to a guy who was (I’m sure) reasonably quiet, professionally dressed, and not flailing his elbows about…then she clearly doesn’t travel much.

    And BOOOOO to United. They break guitars, and now this.

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