Despite living in an age of digital processing and storage, one of the most critical documents we rely on is still primarily in its physical form. Plenty can go wrong during one’s travels, including the loss or theft of belongings. As such, what would happen if your passport went missing when on a flight?

Tough situation

While the loss of a passport on a plane may seem implausible to many, anything can happen. Especially during the tense and complex nature of international travel in the modern era. As a result, there have been cases where passengers have landed in a country without knowing where their passport has gone.

Losing or damaging a passport while abroad is stressful enough. Travelers would usually have to visit their country’s nearest embassy and acquire an Emergency Travel Document (ETD). However, this isn’t an option if you can’t pass your destination’s security gates in the first place.

In most cases, if a passenger lost their passport on an international flight, they will be sent back home on the return. Still, you may be in luck if assistance can find the passport on your incoming airliner.

Heathrow Passport

Photo: Heathrow Airport

Help required

Quora user Josh Lim Explained that following a Delta Air Lines flight from JFK to Toronto, he noticed that he didn’t have his passport with him. At passport control, he explained to the immigration officer that he accidentally left his passport on the aircraft and that he had to go to the airline’s baggage claim counter to work out how to obtain it.


“He took my immigration form, marked it with a pink highlighter (he put a big slash on it, basically) and told me to wait while they get someone from Delta to sort out the passport situation. A few minutes later, they were able to retrieve it from the plane and hand it over to me. I returned in line, handed my passport over to the immigration officer who I talked to earlier, and a few minutes earlier my passport was stamped and I was on my way.”

Quick return

Nonetheless, if no document is discovered, what happens after is dependent upon the passenger’s nationality, immigration status, and authority discretion. For instance, a general citizen would eventually be allowed in, even if it takes some paperwork. Yet, other travelers are likely to be put on the next available route home.

Another Quora user, Chet Dayal, explained that he lost his passport on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Tokyo. After explaining the situation to immigration, he was presented with four options.

In the first instance, United contacted the US Embassy, which said it could sort out an emergency replacement at the embassy location in Tokyo within two hours. However, this wasn’t applicable as Dayal couldn’t enter Japan in the first place. So, option two was to wait airside until the aircraft that returned to SFO was searched. If found, the passport would be delivered on the flight back to Tokyo. Again, this wasn’t a suitable option as it would require an overnight stay in the terminal with no guarantee.

Dayal explained that option three was:

“That I apply for ‘special permission’ to enter Japan without a passport. This application may or may not be granted. Even if it is granted and I am allowed in, my name will forever be on some “Watch List” and every time I return to Japan, I will be subjected to secondary questioning and hassles at immigration.”

Finally, Dayal chose option four – board the next available flight back to San Francisco.

Gatwick Passport

Photo: Gatwick Airport

So, it may be a case-by-case situation, but in all likelihood, the most efficient and smooth conclusion is to head home.

What are your thoughts about these scenarios? Has something like this ever happened to you? Let us know what you think in the comment section.

Source: Quora 1,2


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