Google “what to do if you leave your laptop at an international airport” and hardly any real advice will turn up. Whether or not this is because not many people are careless enough to do so, the information would have certainly helped me. But it all worked out. Kind of. Let’s rewind.
After three days of nonstop espresso, Prosecco, and pasta in Milan, I settled into my airplane seat, ready to relax and jot down a few notes on the laptop I hadn’t used all trip.
I reached into my brown leather J.Crew bag, which I use to carry approximately 100 pounds of unessential travel necessities, and my heart stopped. I didn’t feel the slick neoprene sleeve or the cool metal of my MacBook inside the depths of my bag. I padded around frantically, tossing out melted chapsticks and several meal receipts, but it wasn’t there. Heavy with European chocolate bars, chargers, hair tools, and who knows what else, I didn’t realize the computer hadn’t made it back into my overstuffed bag. I froze.
I envisioned my laptop sitting in a cold plastic bucket — with three years of work on my novel and countless articles and photos of trips all over the world — wasting away post-security at Malpensa International Airport. That is, if it wasn’t already stolen.
Less than an hour before this, I had run through Italian security, and in that rush, had removed my laptop from my bag and left it there. Full disclosure: I learned from Carrie Bradshaw and had backed up my computer before I left, but still, this was not good.
As we buckled our seatbelts, I flagged down a Swissair flight attendant to explain my situation. Was there any possible way they could contact airport security? Could she call the gate and put my computer on the next flight?
“I cannot help you with this,” she said, as I blinked away tears. My laptop was gone forever and soon we were about to fly even farther away from it. The woman in the middle seat comforted me, reminding me that I still had an iPad (it belonged to my employer, actually). But that wasn’t what I needed to hear — I was in crisis.
A 55-minute flight from Milan to Zurich felt far longer. Not only did I miss having my laptop as a distraction, I felt ashamed, guilty, and stupid for leaving it behind. I pleaded with the flight attendant to try and call the airport, at least to confirm they had my laptop, but no, they don’t do that. At least it wasn’t a sentimental object, I tried to tell myself, like my 18-year-old stuffed dog that was safely tucked in my purse.
At the Zurich airport, I approached the transfer desk, which a kinder flight attendant had instructed me to do as I exited the plane. I explained what had happened, yet no sympathy arose from the woman, who had a very nice desktop in front of her and probably a personal computer safely stowed at home.
“I do not work in a lost and found department,” she said.
“But you have a phone,” I said, motioning to her landline.
“I cannot help you with this,” she said, repeating what seemed like the national motto of Switzerland.
Thanks to the country’s free WiFi, I logged on to Malpensa’s website to discover that there was no lost and found number to call (do Europeans not lose things?), but there was an online form I could submit with my claim. Done.
I calmed myself with an $11 iced latte from Swiss Starbucks and hopped on my flight to Newark. I spent the next eight-plus in-flight hours weeping and watching “Still Alice.” Obviously my forgetfulness was a sign of early onset Alzheimer’s, I thought.
Upon arriving back in New York, Malpensa emailed me to confirm the airport had my laptop and that I could pick it up there. I had no plans to return to Milan and, unfortunately, another round-trip ticket wouldn’t be a great return on investment. An email from the Lost Property Unit informed me that I could send a proxy to pick it up, so I immediately reached out to a friend who I knew would be flying through Malpensa that same week.
Unfortunately, the office was only open about seven hours a day, five days a week, with an hour or so break for lunch. When I discovered my friend’s flight schedule wouldn’t coincide with the eating habits of Italian security professionals, I realized I needed another proxy. Both FedEx and UPS in New York refused to help and the hotel I stayed at in Milan ignored my pleas.
I even reached out to every group that I was a part of on Facebook and had my girlfriend and friends do the same. Thanks to 2015’s Expo Milano, plenty of people were traveling through Italy that summer and many in my network knew someone who knew someone who may be able to help. Of course, organizing all of this without a laptop also made the process trickier.
Every time I emailed the Lost Property Unit to request help (sitcom forthcoming), or arrange to ship me my property for a fee, I received the same response: “We wish to inform you that your object has been found and now it is stored in our offices with the file reference number: 43750/MXP.”
Throughout the frustrating process, I was amazed by how many near-strangers were willing to try and help. I hadn’t lost anything sentimental, nor was I in any real danger, so I was calmed by the extensive network worldwide open to aiding me.
Eventually, I connected with my girlfriend’s high school friend’s college exchange student friend (or something like that), Andrea, who lived in Milan. Not only could he travel to the airport during business hours, he could actually speak Italian. We exchanged information and set up a time that he would pick up my laptop at the airport, per their instructions.
Two weeks after I had departed Milan, Andrea took public transit to Malpensa to reclaim my laptop. But the saga still wasn’t over. It was the middle of the night in New York, so I missed his messages and phone calls alerting me that the airport wouldn’t hand over my property because they did not have my explicit permission on file. (They did). When I woke up to find that Andrea had spent 18 euros and, not to mention, hours of his time and still had not retrieved the laptop, I was disappointed.
Thanks to his Italian, however, Andrea was able to speak with the airport officials who told him a local courier service could pick up, package, and ship my laptop to New York. It was perplexing that they hadn’t included this information in their emails. I immediately reached out to the courier service and scheduled a pick-up. The laptop arrived just days later in New York, fully functional and undamaged. And, it only cost $150.
Andrea, who did not have PayPal or Venmo for me to reimburse him, decided on another way to thank him: An ongoing succession of good deeds and selfless acts, suggesting that maybe my helpful actions would one day get back to him.
“This way we will make the world a better place,” he wrote me via Facebook. And, by helping each other out in these minor emergencies, we completely are.
What to Do If You Lose Something Abroad:
1. Don’t panic and stay calm.
No one likes dealing with a crazed foreigner. Take a deep breath and try to remember where you last left your forgotten possession.
2. Hit all your bases.
Contact the place where you left your property immediately. Plus, reach out to anyone else who may be able to help, including the hotel you stayed at, a tour guide you had, or even someone you met on the trip.
3. Be nice and patient.
Time zones, cultural differences, and language barriers may make reclaiming your lost item much slower than you anticipated. Being kind and grateful helped me reclaim my laptop and will certainly make people more apt to help you.
4. Reach out to your networks.
As embarrassed as I was about leaving my laptop at an airport, I only reclaimed it through connecting with my extended network. In this globally connected society, we’re lucky to have access to people all over the world. Get creative with who you can ask to help. Just be sure to thank them appropriately.
5. Reach out to the local mail services.
Be sure to reach out to a local courier and shipping service, if you need help claiming your item. Had I known to do this, I would have saved a few weeks of stress. While UPS and FedEx couldn’t help me, Milan’s mail service was ready to come to my rescue. Though the website was in Italian, Google Translate helped me figure out what to do.
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