Laptop left on United flight, no cooperation. What are my options?
July 9, 2014 12:57 AM   Subscribe

The short version: Left my laptop on a United flight. Realized it after leaving security and was unable to get anyone to do anything to retrieve it. Went through all official channels. Nothing.

Detailed version: Was on a flight from PVD to ORD. Flight went out to the runway, waited around, went back to the gate, and was later cancelled. Left my Surface Pro 2 (super thin laptop/tablet) in the seatback pocket. Yes, my bad. Here's where it gets infuriating...

I left through security, realized it was gone, went to the United Baggage Services. The plane was one of the last ones out, and instead of going to ORD it ferried (flew without passengers) to EWR. The staff at PVD was unable to communicate with the plane, which was on the runway. The Baggage Services person and I tried about a dozen numbers for EWR, including United lost and found, EWR lost and found, United EWR Baggage services, the United ticketing, and a bunch others. Not a single person ever answered a phone. We waited on hold for over 3 hours - literally from the time the plane was on the runway at PVD until it landed in EWR. The main United customer service people were unable to get anyone at EWR on the phone.

I filed all the appropriate reported (LOB report), which gives you no tracking number. Called all the numbers the next day, left several voicemails, etc. Nothing. The people at PVD looked at me like I was insane when I said, "There's a phone at the gate in EWR. How do you make a call to that phone? Is there a manager, a department, anything?" This whole thing could have been avoided if someone could have just called that phone and had a maintenance person check for it. I also went to physically to the lost and found at PVD and ORD, and a relative went to the lost and found at EWR the next week.

United is obviously trying to avoid any possible paper trail. No calls from them, no emails, no confirmation numbers. I have Prey installed on the laptop and it hasn't been online since it disappeared. The plane was relatively small, I was towards the middle, and the Surface is easily concealed behind the magazines in the pocket, so the chance that another passenger took it is minimal. I'm hoping the laptop is just stuck in the bureaucratic nightmare that is the United lost and found.

It's been 21 days. What are my options? I'm considering a small claims court case in PVD. I have phone records, tickets, report filing browser history (including the confirmed submission page), and names for most people I talked to.
posted by neuroking to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total)
A considered and assertive tweet to United might help.
posted by Mistress at 1:45 AM on July 9, 2014 [16 favorites]

A friend in a similar situation (but not with United) posted on the airline's facebook page, a detailed account of what happened etc., regular updates. He never got his gear back as far as I know but was eventually compensated financially.
posted by 15L06 at 2:05 AM on July 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's insane and infuriating and a Canadian band/singer-songwriter actually made a song/video about someone at United smashing his guitar...they aren't known for their customer service.

Public embarrassment seems to be the only way to go...sadly.
posted by bquarters at 3:42 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I left an iPad on an international flight, filled out the LOB with very specific information and had totally given up on ever seeing it again. Six weeks later I got an email that my item was located and what was the best number for then to call me to arrange delivery? I have no idea how their lost and found process works, but it does work...sometimes...eventually.
posted by wearyaswater at 4:54 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

How did you book your ticket? Your credit card may have insurance for that. Check. And anything you leave is theirs. My sister left a stuffed animal and went back (she didn't even get to the doorway of the gate) and they said it's gone and can't help her. The stuffed animal was something she had since she was 4 and wanted to take it back to our home town to take a photo with it. A fake gold and diamond necklace was on the stuffed animal and I think it was enough to make someone think it was valuable enough to keep.
posted by Yellow at 5:18 AM on July 9, 2014

Yes, I would tweet their official twitterer and (i have no idea what the twitter lingo is for this) also cc: your hometown news channel's twitter if they have a daily or weekly segment on bad customer service. Also cc: Consumerist.

And yes also definitely their facebook page.
posted by elizardbits at 7:03 AM on July 9, 2014

Funny story (sort-of funny, anyway) about lost luggage. A friend of mine was flying home from the Caribbean, and the airline lost his luggage. My friend made multiple trips to their luggage counter. Each time, he would notice a big collection of bags in a room behind the counter, and each time he would ask if his bag might possibly be located in that room. The clerks always told him that it was not possible, that those were bags from other flights, yada yada yada. Finally, because he made a big stink about it, they allowed him to go into the room and search through the bags. He found his bag.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that persistence pays off with airlines, and don't be afraid to be firm with them.
posted by alex1965 at 7:13 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't know how familiar you are with twitter, but be sure and put a dot in front of your tweet so that everyone who follows you can see it, in addition to the account you are addressing.

For example (incorporating elizardbits' suggestions):
.@united You lost my laptop at ORD and you aren't helping me after repeated phone calls & visits. Obviously you don't care. (cc @consumerist @fox6news)
(Replace @fox6news with your local station.) The more traction you can get online with people retweeting, etc, the more likely they are to respond to you. If you don't have twitter (it's not in your profile) then use Facebook and find a friend of yours who has a lot of followers (1000+) on Twitter. Then she or he can tweet something like
.@united You lost my friend Joe's laptop at ORD and you aren't helping him after repeated phone calls & visits. Obviously you don't care. (cc @consumerist @fox6news)
posted by desjardins at 7:36 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I left a notebook in the seatback pocket of an American flight. I didn't get the notebook back, but I did pay a visit to the AA baggage office at SFO, and they have tons of stuff people left on planes, all organized by what flight it was found on. Lots of phones and laptops. I'll bet your laptop is at the equivalent United place at EWR.

My memory, though, is that this place was indeed kind of hard to call on the phone. Do you have a really good friend in New Jersey who owes you a solid....?
posted by escabeche at 8:23 AM on July 9, 2014

THis is a longshot, but there is an unclaimed luggage store where it may eventually end up. I'd send a certified letter to them.
posted by Sophont at 11:25 AM on July 9, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies. I'll take to Twitter and Facebook later today. The most frustrating part was that I was literally watching the plane sit on the runway and sat on the phone the entire duration of the flight and never got through to anyone. Total helplessness and a total lack of concern on United's part. If anything, they prevented me from retrieving it.

@Yellow - Booked with a credit card, but really, the money is not a big deal. I just don't like all that information floating around out there. I took most precautions (except, of course, putting my contact info on the outside), but I know there are ways around all of it. Already changed most vulnerable passwords, but who knows what I missed?

@alex1965 - My flight was cancelled twice, so I went to the PVD baggage services 3 times total. We're now best friends. Nothing turned in. My mom is a *whatever super premier flyer club* member and demanded to see the laptops at ORD and EWR, which they finally did after arguing with them for an hour. No dice. There's a good chance that it was totally overlooked and the plane not cleaned in EWR, so it might have made another hop to LAX, which I also left a message at lost and found for. Of course, who knows what else wasn't shown to us, though.

@escabeche - See my response to alex (physically went to EWR, PVD, and ORD lost and founds to no avail). Just so everyone knows, EWR is the most messed up place on the planet. You will never speak to a person there. At least no until someone files a class action suit and they lose millions of dollars or a tragedy happens. Thanks for the suggestion, though. I was lucky enough that this was possible, but Newark is beyond help.

@Sophont - Hadn't thought of that. I did call the big lost and found center in Houston that all United stuff goes to after 7 days. Of course, never spoke to a human. None of the lost and found numbers go to actual people. They either go directly to voicemail and put you on hold indefinitely. The LAX one actually tells you they don't both to check the voicemail even.
posted by neuroking at 2:12 PM on July 9, 2014 is always looking for stories. Email them.

And, every reader of this, use your business card and clear packing tape or get a labeler and put your phone# and email address on the exterior of your phone, laptop, and other stuff.
posted by theora55 at 4:35 PM on July 9, 2014

You might also try The Haggler at the New York Times. Long shot, of course .. he has 1 weekly column, and there's a lot of competition for his attention .. but he loves this kind of story, and the NYT has a certain weight.

Still, Consumerist, Haggler, even a kind & clever luggage agent .. these knights on horseback can directly help only a few. The airline's refusal to even engage with you -- to not even acknowledge you -- this the future of all commerce. It reminds me of the true law of the sea: When great oil tankers encounter small boats, they often don't even communicate with them at all, right-of-way be damned: "Yield or be crushed."

Under these circumstances, if it happened to me -- unless the laptop held the Coke formula, unencrypted -- I'd cut losses, change passwords, and move on. Believe me, this hits home for many MeFites. Good luck to you.
posted by LonnieK at 7:50 PM on July 10, 2014

When I had my major war with an airline, twitter was the way to get their attention.

MULTIPLE tweets didn't hurt.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:25 PM on July 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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