When a little boy left his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, at the Tampa International Airport, employees took the toy on adventure. They documented the journey in a photo book before the boy returned to pick up his stuffed animal. (Photo: Tampa International Airport).
A little boy who left his favorite stuffed animal at the Tampa Bay International Airport before leaving for a family vacation returned to an unexpected surprise: not only did he get his toy back, but employees had taken it on an airport adventure, and documented the escapades in a photo book.
Six-year-old Owen Lake was already aboard a flight to Houston earlier this month when he realized he left his favorite stuffed tiger, Hobbes, behind. His mother, Amanda Lake, immediately called the airport in hopes of rescuing her son’s toy. “We got a call from Amanda Lake who was distraught that her son realized just after getting on the plane that he had lost his Hobbes,” airport operations center manager Tony D’Aiuto tells Yahoo Parenting. “The dispatcher reached out to housekeeping and they found the doll. We weren’t able to get it to Owen before the flight departed, but we were able to reassure Amanda that he was safe and we’d keep him until the family returned.”
Hobbes checks in with an airport ticketing agent. (Photo: Tampa International Airport)
Hobbes meets a Southwest Airlines baggage handler. (Photo: Tampa International Airport)
After Hobbes was safely in his office, D’Aiuto remembered a story he’d seen on Reddit a few months earlier. “It was about a museum in England and they had found a child’s stuff lion and had the staff take pictures with the lion all over the museum before sending it back to the child owner,” he says. “One of the things that we do at my office is handle the lost and found for the airport, and I thought that would be a great way to connect with a kid who was distraught about leaving their item.”
Now that he had Hobbes in his possession, D’Aiuto was excited to try a similar stunt at the airport. “I had my lunch break coming up and thought this would be a great opportunity to take some pictures,” he says. “We knew they would be back in a few days for Hobbes, and I could put together a little photo book for Owen.”
Hobbes gets in a quick workout at the employee fitness center. (Photo: Tampa International Airport)
Hobbes checking out the FAA Air Traffic Control Tower. (Photo: Tampa International Airport)
Hobbes takes a quick snack break for some gelato. (Photo: Tampa International Airport)
D’Aiuto teamed up with an airport police lieutenant, and the two took Hobbes all over the airport, even to places that D’Aiuto had never been in his three years on the job. “The lieutenant got me access to areas I can’t go on my own, like the ramp side near the airplanes where we got the picture of Hobbes with the Southwest Baggage handler,” he says. “We went from the airsides to the fire station to the Marriott hotel on the property. It was fun being creative and thinking of situations for him and taking the photos.”
Hobbes’ adventure took him from the Air Traffic Control tower to the employee gym to a gelato shop, and every stop was documented on camera. And while the project was for a 6 year old, D’Aiuto says it was a lot of fun for all the adults involved. “People’s faces lit up when I told them what we were doing, and they came up with ideas for Hobbes that were better than anything I could imagine,” he says. “It was very much an adventure for me, too.”
Hobbes helps deliver luggage at the Tampa Airport Marriott. (Photo: Tampa International Airport)
After a few days, Hobbes was returned to his owner, Owen Lake, with a picture book documenting his airport adventure. (Photo: Tampa International Airport)
Five days later, Owen returned home from his trip. D’Aiuto had put all the photos he took into a photo book, which airport staff presented to the little boy since D’Aiuto was out of town that day. “It sounds like he was surprised and his mom was a little bit overwhelmed by the gesture,” D’Aiuto says. “Their reaction made it all worth it.”
It’s harder to connect toys with owners than it is cell phones or computers, D’Aiuto says. But he suggests that anyone who loses something at the airport call the lost and found department, as well as that of the airline. “People would be surprised [by] how many valuable items get taken to us,” he says. “If we find other toys in the future that we can match up with owners, I look forward to spending other lunch breaks on a similar adventure.”