My Boston airport lost and found stories: good government, good citizens

Sometimes, Steve Kelman writes, the system works.

steve kelman

Twice in the last 18 months I have arrived from an international trip to Boston’s Logan Airport, hopped into the car I had ordered to pick me up, only to find when I arrived home that there was no briefcase in the trunk along with my luggage.

Twice in the last 18 months, the lost and found at Logan Airport has found my briefcase.

The first time this happened I assumed I must have somehow left my briefcase either in the baggage claim area, or less likely at the immigration kiosk before baggage claim at the airport. Panicked -- the briefcase had my laptop, a bunch of important papers, and maybe $100 in cash -- I asked the driver to take me back to Logan so I could check with the airline on whose flight I had arrived.

It was late, and by the time I arrived, both the immigration and baggage claim areas were empty. I knocked on a bunch of doors to see if anybody, maybe a guard, was there who could take me to the lost and found. I finally found someone, but was told that both the airline office and the baggage claim lost and found were closed.

The next morning, I called the airline office in Boston. They told me there was no briefcase meeting my description in their system from the previous night. I decided to go to Logan to find the airline’s lost and found and look for the briefcase myself. It wasn’t easy to locate the lost and found, but I finally found somebody who answered my knocking. He actually let me come into his area and search. Nothing.

I asked them to keep looking, and said I would call back. If an immigration official had found the briefcase around the kiosk, I thought they would probably turn it in. I didn’t think the immigration and baggage claim area for an international flight would likely be a den of thieves, so I also hoped that anyone who found it there might turn it in. Maybe it was just slow getting it to the lost and found.

I waited the rest of that day. Before I went to bed, my wife said to me I should call Logan lost and found to ask about the item. That didn’t seem like a promising idea, for two reasons. First, I was told that if I had lost the suitcase inside the terminal, which is what I assumed had happened, it would go to the airline, not to the airport lost and found. Second, I had a sense that Logan's general lost and found was likely to be a place that would mechanistically take my request and ignore it. I doubted they would even call back.

But the next morning I did call them. I was not reassured when I got an answering machine and asked to leave a message. I didn’t think much about my message to Logan lost and found, but continuing calling the airline twice a day, hoping, increasingly against hope. By the end of the next day, however, I had more or less given up.

But the day after that, the phone rang -- and it was Logan lost and found. They had found my briefcase, at the pickup area outside the terminal. I had not left the bag at immigration or baggage claim as I had assumed; my driver had left the briefcase in my baggage cart -- a possibility I had not imagined. A police officer checked it for explosives, then brought it to lost and found. So much for the assumption that my message would go down a rathole.

The second incident came when I arrived home earlier this week, with the same car service and a driver again saying there was no briefcase in the trunk. This time, I had a better memory of the sequence of events, since I was carrying both my briefcase and a shoulder bag, so had needed to keep an eye on both through immigration and baggage claim. The driver had again left the briefcase in my baggage cart!

The difference this time is that we called Logan immediately. Again an answering machine.

The next morning, a Logan employee called as I was eating breakfast. A citizen had found the briefcase and turned it over to the police, which, as before, did an explosives check.

When I picked up my briefcase this time, I spoke with the supervisor about their procedures. Police take responsibility for items they find themselves or that citizens turn in. They screen items for explosives before bringing them to the lost and found. The office has just one employee whose job it is to go through voicemails and check for found items. My wife gave me the name of the employee who had called her, and asked me to tell the Logan folks how pleased we had been by her manner.

At the Boston airport, then, lost and found is minding the store. Two out of two times the system worked.

We also should not forget the role of citizens here. Two out of two times nobody stole my briefcase, which in an empty area would have been easy. Instead, two out of two times somebody saw my briefcase and took the trouble to hand it in.

There was significant attention this last month or so to how the public reacted with concern and helpfulness to three crisis situations, the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and the mass shootings in Las Vegas and now near San Antonio. What I’ve experienced with my briefcases is that similar demonstrations of the helpfulness of ordinary citizens in non-crisis situations occur as well.

So maybe our everyday government institutions and everyday citizens aren’t half-bad after all.