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Lost-and-Found Policies at the Top 5 U.S. Airlines

Lost-and-Found Policies at the Top 5 U.S. Airlines

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This article was last updated Jan 24, 2019. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

No matter how much you travel, there are times in the rush to get off the plane, you leave behind an important item that you want back. The top five U.S. airlines partner with Atlanta-based NetTracer to help you get those items returned as soon as possible.

The sooner you realize an item is missing, the better chance you have of getting it returned.  If you’ve just stepped off the plane, you have about 30 minutes until the plane’s next flight, so ask the gate agent if they or a crew member can check your seat and overhead bin space for the lost item.

If you’ve left your gate, but are still at the airport in the secure area, go to a gate agent or the airline’s customer service center to file a claim in person. A tweet to an airline’s customer service team about your lost item could also be helpful.

Once you leave airport security, you can file a claim at an airline’s baggage office. There’s also the option of checking with an airport’s lost-and-found office. Once you leave the airport, the process to file a lost-and-found claim goes online.

The top items left behind on planes range from smartphones and tablets to passports, according to “Business Traveller” magazine. Below are steps on what it takes to file a claim for your lost item with the top five U.S. carriers.

American Airlines

The carrier has an online form asks a series of questions: type of item lost; airline and flight number; date it was lost; what city it was lost in; what unique identifiers are on the item; and contact information. The airline will search for the item for up to 30 days and will send you email updates on its investigation.

Delta Air Lines

Travelers can go to Delta’s online form to start an investigation of a lost possession. You’ll be asked for a detailed description of the item, your contact and flight information and files or photos that can help in the investigation. Once submitted, Delta’s Lost & Found Central will send you a confirmation email and updates during the search, which lasts for around 14 days. If Delta finds something that matches the description of your lost item, it will send an email with instructions on how to confirm the item is yours. If it doesn’t find the item, it will send an email letting you know.

Read Delta Air Lines Lost and Found: How to File a Claim.


The airline’s lost-and-found website asks travelers if the item was in a checked bag or a carry-on. If it was unchecked, you fill out a lost item report with information including item category and sub-category, color, brand, model, serial number, size, date lost, phone number of the lost phone, a unique identifier or ID number, what makes the item unique, contact information, departure and arrival airport and flight number, along with the ability to upload a photo or document that can help with the investigation. The airline will do a search for approximately 30 days from the date the item is reported missing. If it doesn’t find your item, you’ll be notified by email.

Southwest Airlines

Those who left an item onboard a flight are instructed to contact the airline’s lost and found website. Travelers are asked to provide detailed information on the lost item (i.e. model/serial number, brand, size, color, flight date, flight number, etc.). It also asks for an email address so you can get regular updates on the search for your lost item. If your item hasn’t been located within 30 days from the time it was reported, the investigation ended and was closed. But if an item that matches the description of your lost item, the airline will send an email notification with further instructions on how to confirm it’s yours.

United Airlines

Like other airlines, United starts the investigation process by asking travelers to complete a lost items form. Submitters are encouraged to give a detailed description of the item, including brand, color, size and distinguishing features, along with the flight number and date. After submitting a report, the airline will send a confirmation email with a tracking number and will let you know if an item is found or if it can’t be located. If the item is found, instructions will be sent on how to retrieve it. If the item is cash, the airline may convert it into one or more prepaid cards so it can be returned. The airline actively searches for an item for 30 days and will email you if the item isn’t found.

The bottom line

Before your next trip, do a quick inventory of any valuable items you regularly carry on board your flights. Write down any pertinent information, such as serial numbers for smartphones and tablets.

Take detailed photos of the items and put all of them in a safe place or upload them as an online document so if the worst happens, you’ll already have the information the airlines will need to reunite you with your item. Use your smartphone’s note-taking app to create lists of everything in your carry-on bag.

It may also help to tape a business card to your valuables so they can be recovered more quickly. Make sure the tracking function for your smartphone or tablet — Find My iPhone for iOS and Find My Device for Android — are on and activated so you can get them back more quickly.

When it comes to recovering an item lost on a flight, time is of the essence. The sooner you report a lost item — and the more detail you can provide — the better the chances are of having it recovered.  

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