In the Qantas safety video played at the start of every flight, passengers are told that if they lose their phone they should contact a crew member immediately. “Please avoid moving your seat or trying to retrieve it as phones as tablets may be damaged or destroyed if caught in the seat mechanism,” the safety video says.
Lost phones trapped underneath aircraft seats can also present a fire risk. This is not just a theoretical risk as phone batteries have caught fire on multiple Qantas flights after the phone was crushed by the seat mechanism.
So, if a passenger reports that they’ve lost their iPhone – with it possibly having fallen underneath an Airbus A330 Business Class seat – you would think Qantas would want to investigate it quickly. Or at the very least, send somebody to try to locate the phone so that it can be returned to the passenger.
But that’s not what happened when the wife of AFF member Rugby lost her phone on a Qantas flight from Sydney to Auckland last week. This passenger had been sitting in seat 3E on a Qantas Airbus A330-300.
Mrs Rugby left an iPhone on our SYD-AKL QF143 flight yesterday. We’re assuming it fell into the J seat 3E. We’re tracking it while the battery still lasts and it went back to SYD then flew to HNL and is now back in SYD. We‘ve logged all the relevant lost baggage claims etc with Qantas but can’t get anyone to just go down and get it. We saw it was back at T1 tonight and rang the SYD Flounge to see if they could do anything – no joy. Where will it go tomorrow?
– Rugby, 7 May 2022
The phone was switched to flight mode, so ringing it was not a possibility. But helpfully, Apple smartphones are equipped with a “Find My iPhone” feature which allowed this AFF member to track the location of the phone in real time.
With this information, they knew exactly where it was and could see that the phone had flown back from Auckland to Sydney before completing a round-trip journey to Hawaii. The phone must have still been on board the plane, but in a location where none of the cleaners or other passengers occupying that seat could easily spot it.
After returning from Honolulu, the same aircraft then completed another round-trip from Sydney to Auckland with the missing phone still on board. This prompted a range of comments from AFF members who were following the saga live on our forum, such as this one…
The fact that no one has found it after three international sectors says much about the cleaning after each flight.
– Captain Halliday, 8 May 2022
Over the course of several days, Rugby tried contacting Qantas through all the official “lost property” channels. He even tried calling the Sydney First Lounge, and the Qantas baggage services desk at Auckland Airport when the plane was inbound to Auckland again on a later flight. But nobody wanted to help and the airline made no attempt to retrieve the missing phone for several days. (Sadly, the inability to talk to someone at Qantas is not a new thing.)
Finally, after completing five international flights, a Qantas staff member who had spotted the AFF thread got involved and was able to retrieve the phone in Sydney.
Some positive news – it seems some AUS FF forum angels have provided some assistance and the phone has been retrieved from QF146 in SYD when it landed this afternoon. I received a phone call from a very helpful QF staffer, on said phone, who is taking it to international baggage services. So hopefully we’ll grab in when we land back in SYD next week.
Thank you to the angels and everyone else for their suggestions and help. So stay tuned for a happy ending and I’m glad the phone only made it to silver status and not P1
– Rugby, 8 May 2022
Rugby has since returned to Sydney and was able to collect the lost phone.
While this was a good outcome in the end, it’s somewhat concerning that Qantas failed to provide any assistance through the regular contact channels. The result was that an iPhone was allowed to remain stuck under a Business Class seat, potentially caught in or near a seat mechanism, for five international flights. If an AFF member hadn’t intervened, the phone would probably have flown to Bangkok and Singapore as well over the following days.
As well as being poor customer service, some AFF members are concerned about the safety risk this could have posed. As jb747, a former pilot, wrote on AFF:
I didn’t see this until well after the phone was found. If I had seen it earlier, I’d have gotten hold of the ‘duty Captain’, but that’s not a number ever available to the public.
It’s a sad “feature” of the way that companies isolate themselves from the public that makes it impossible to get hold of someone who actually has some responsibility towards any of these issues.
At this point, I’d have a look at the CASA site. I’m pretty sure you can fill in an online flight safety report.
– jb747, 15 May 2022
This wouldn’t be the first time (and won’t be the last time) that an airline lacked the same urgency to locate a lost item as its owner. When I lost my passport on a KLM flight in 2019, I only got it back after doing my own detective work, physically returning to the airport and pleading with the KLM ground staff for help multiple times. This isn’t dissimilar to the lengths Rugby had to go to.
In my case, I had just left my passport in the seat pocket. But that incident prompted KLM to launch an internal investigation because the seat pockets are apparently supposed to be checked after each flight for security reasons. The plane had already been “cleaned” 3 times before my passport was found.
You can follow the epic journey of Rugby’s missing iPhone here: Where’s Mrs Rugby’s iPhone (VH-QPA) now?