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Lost in the Airport: Vacation Cash

John Deiner

Here's a lesson for all of you, because we here in the Travel section really do want everyone to arrive safe and sound at their destinations, and with all of their possessions intact.

That last part is pivotal, as I learned last week on vacation. My wife and I flew to San Francisco with my mom on her first trip to the West Coast (and, for that matter, to a time zone where all the news seems three hours old). Because she lives in Jersey, we split the driving difference and flew out of Philadelphia to Oakland, via Southwest.

The terminal that Southwest uses in Philly is just plain nasty -- crowded, dank and far too few seats. We grabbed three spots near the preboarding section of our gate just as the passengers on the flight before ours started to assemble in the A, B and C lines. Surrounded by the (all too typical) Southwest chaos, we saw a few seats open in a less congested area and sprinted to move.

Somewhere along the way, my wife dropped the little woven bag she was clutching that held a chunk of our vacation money -- but no credit cards, thank goodness. It wasn't a ton of money (we usually ATM and charge along the way), but it would have bought a really nice meal for three in San Francisco, and maybe even dessert.

Time between the loss and our discovery of it: Five minutes, tops. Time it took for the money to disappear forever: Seconds, probably.

Yes, we talked to security, the people sitting around us, the folks at the gate and in the check-in area. Nuthin'. Clearly, somebody saw the bag hit the floor and scooped it up, because we know when and where it went missing. We figure that one of the 1,345 people standing around us at the time scooped it up.

Me? When I see someone drop something in an airport, I grab it and give it back or take it to a gate agent. I wish that had happened in the City of Brotherly Love. But it provided a good lesson to us. Here's what we should have done:

1. Split the cash between us, which would have cut the loss.
2. Carried less cash. Even if ATM fees added up to 10 bucks in California, we'd still be ahead today.
3. Put some ID into the bag, so if a Good Samaritan had found it we could have been paged.
4. Surgically attached the bag to one of our hands, or placed a miniature exploding ink pack into it like they do in banks.

Anyone else ever lose something like this in an airport or elsewhere during their travels? I'm pretty sure it won't ever happen again to me. Until the next time, of course.

By John Deiner |  May 18, 2007; 10:11 AM ET  | Category:  John Deiner , Tales from the Road
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Sorry for the loss. But didn't your own behavior (camping out in pre-boarding so early that you were adding to the crush of people there for the previous flight and then sprinting to another set of open seats) (1) make it more likely you'd drop something and (2) actively contribute to the chaos you dislike?

Isn't another lesson that if you're at the airport so early, you should take it easy and not add to the frenzy and - if possible - not crowd your gate until closer to your own flight time?

Posted by: jp-dc | May 18, 2007 11:45 AM

next time put the money on your body--in a pocket, methinks, rather than carry it. you could have lost it during the TSA x-ray also.

Posted by: Phillyfilly | May 18, 2007 11:57 AM

Just wanted to say that the only reason we were at the airport early is because we played it better-safe-than-sorry since we had to drive two hours to get there. But, really, you make some great points. Mom can't stand for long periods, and anywhere we would have chosen to sit in the terminal that morning would be adding to the chaos on some level. Lesson learned though (I hope!).

Posted by: John Deiner | May 18, 2007 12:26 PM

Could have used one of those anti-pickpocket things described a few weeks ago in your paper. The around the neck and down the shirt pouch is probably the least intrusive, and got high ratings from the users.

Posted by: me | May 18, 2007 1:57 PM

I always travel with a Messenger Bag. Strapped across the body and plenty of storage room, I can maneuver and keep everything I need (including some necessary medications) right up against me.

And unless I'm going through security or I'm in the WorldClub where things are a little quieter (I'm a NWA traveler, since I'm based in MSP), that bag doesn't come off my body until I'm in the plane.

But my husband and I always split cash, just in case, as well. Makes sense, I think.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | May 18, 2007 4:29 PM

OK, you screwed up - and you will be chastised by pretty much everyone who comments. I just hate the thought that the finder of your little woven bag would just flat-out keep it. It would be nice to believe that the majority of our fellow citizen of planet earth would try to find the owner, as you said you would and as anyone in my circle of family or friends certainly would. It gets harder and harder to believe the best of people...

Posted by: Karen | May 21, 2007 1:41 PM

My husband got distracted and left his laptop in the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. It was turned in by some Good Samaritan and returned to us within 48 hours. He learned his lesson (keep track of your stuff) and we were reminded that there are still honest people in the world... but we wouldn't want to test that theory too often.

Posted by: mjlowry | May 22, 2007 8:00 PM

I found a cell phone in the ladies room at an airport. Having personally lost prescription sunglasses, I was painfully aware that lost and found did not exist and I didn't trust anyone but myself. Since I have the same type of cell phone, I unlocked the keys, called the last number dialed, reached "Mom," and discovered "daughter's" flight had already departed. Mom gave me an address; I mailed the phone for the price of a padded envelope and $1.11 in postage. A few weeks later, I received a very nice thank you and $20. Next time I'll have ID in my glass case and maybe the favor will be returned.

Posted by: JT | May 23, 2007 2:00 PM

I live in Naples Italy now, and although you want to believe in good samaritans, splitting the cash amongst travel companions is a good idea, as is keeping the cash in a money belt, sock, or even a hidden pocket. I've even kept cash in my bra to prevent theft. I doubt a pickpocket would look there for an easy steal and I can easily retrieve it if need be.

Posted by: Allison | May 23, 2007 2:31 PM

JT, that's so nice! I found a cell phone in a grocery store parking lot recently and tried to do the same, but the battery was so low, I couldn't complete a call. I ended up just turning it in to customer service - I hope the person found it.

Posted by: h3 | May 24, 2007 11:55 AM

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