Lost in Airplane Mode

My mother taught me to label everything when I traveled, in case it was left somewhere. If she had box of gifts for family, or a bag of craft materials to occupy her time, she would attach a neatly written label with her home address and phone number. And just for good measure, another one inside. Sure, there was the practical reason, but I think it was mostly the ritual of travel, born as she was in a time when people dressed up to get from place to place. 

Either way, it made me “that guy” who’s mildly obsessed about the gathering of items when departing anywhere. Two sweeps under hotel beds. Check all the electrical outlets. Scour the seat back pockets for devices that slipped to the bottom. I can perform all this now without thinking.

Which is why I freaked the morning after a late flight arrival to find that I’d lost my iPad.

Fortunately for me, Apple thinks a lot like my Mom. 

One of the coolest features of the Apple ecosystem is the ability to track and find your devices. Not only that, you can create messages on the lock screen to help someone contact you, or totally disable the device if you think it’s been stolen. Usually, your device is simply misplaced, and being able to see the location on a map or have it play a sound will be enough to get it back in your hands.

When you first set up your iPhone or iPad you will be prompted to sign into iCloud and to enable Find My iPhone. Do it. It’s simple and it’s one of those things that seems like unnecessary oversight at the time, but can be a godsend when you want it. Like digital airbags. 

Once enabled, as long as the iPad or iPhone is powered on and connected to the internet, logging into your iCloud account on another device through the Find My iPhone App or iCloud.com will show its location on a map. You can force it to play a sound if you see it nearby, or you can enable Lost Mode and display a message on the lock screen. If you fear that it is unrecoverable or stolen, you can erase the device altogether. Hopefully the data is backed up to iCloud or to your computer, so although you may have to replace the device, you can get the replacement up and running quickly. 

The tricky thing with air travel is that a device put in Airplane Mode is invisible to iCloud, and Airplane Mode can’t be turned off without unlocking the screen. Find My iPhone can show the last known location, but that’s of little help if you know you had it on the plane anyway. In this case, you’re faced with your device landing in the airline’s lost and found along with a zillion other similar devices. 

In my case, I was pleased to see that my airline had a nice lost and found registry to help them find my iPad and get it to me. I saw that as long as my iPad was in airplane mode, there were four things that they could use to identify it: 

  • The case

  • The device color

  • The Lock Screen picture

  • The serial number


The first three I knew, but the serial number - the final key in the recovery path - was harder. It turns out, though, that your Apple ID page has serial numbers too, for all devices using it. Go to AppleID.apple.com to see your account and update any information about ways to contact, name, devices, and app logins. 

So once I’d checked Find My iPhone, set my Lost iPad screen message, turned on Lost Mode, and registered my loss with the airline lost and found, there was nothing to do but wait. 

And add one more thing to my travel checklist: 

  • Always turn off airplane mode on ALL devices as soon as the plane lands. 

At least I would have known exactly where to look. 

And, as it happened, where I needed to look was on my desk under the in-flight magazine where they both landed during my post-midnight arrival unpacking frenzy. 

iPhonePaul Einarsen