Lost and Found

Denver Airport saves Princess Kitty

DENVER Airport kitty

An almost-too-cute story about how the Lost & Found department at Denver International Airport rescued a stuffed animal named Princess Kitty is making the rounds.

Both Sonja Wieck and her 9-year-old daughter, Annie, were devasted when they realized Annie had left the beloved and well-traveled Princess Kitty on a DEN Airport tram.

Wieck sent a tweet to the airport asking for help and the airport staff not only found the stuffed animal but gave it a tour of the airport and the attention that a princess deserves.

Denver airport kitty 2

Denver airport kitty 3

Denver airport kitty 4

Denver Airport kitty 5

Denver airport kitty 6

(All photos courtesy Denver International Airport)

Airports & airlines work hard to return lost items

As a recent NerdWallet study points out, the amount of luggage lost by airlines spikes during the holiday travel season.

But passengers do their fair share of losing things on airplanes and in airports year-round.

In 2011, for example, the lost-and-found department at Portland International Airport (PDX) logged nearly 16,000 misplaced objects. So far this year, passengers have left behind almost as many items, and the hectic holiday travel season hasn’t even begun.

And it’s not just cell phones, chargers, laptops and eyeglasses that distracted and exhausted travelers leave behind.

“We’ve had dentures, a spare tire, a live fish – in water – and a Crock-Pot with food still inside” turned in, airport spokesperson Kama Simonds told NBC News.

A quick review of the searchable database at San Diego International shows a colander, a piñata, a poster of a U-boat, handcuffs and scented, colored pencils among the items waiting for their owners’ retrieval.

At Denver International, items left behind have included chainsaws, a 60-inch flat screen TV and the back seat of a passenger van, spokesperson Laura Coale said.

“We do everything in our power to locate the person and connect them with their lost item,” Coale said. “If the item has a name or state listed on it, we will conduct a search for them. If cell phones are unlocked, we will call the last number and also look for an ICE [In case of emergency] contact,” she said.

Airports and airlines typically have a set time limit for how long an item will be retained. Southwest Airlines states that it will spend 30 days looking for a passenger’s lost item and once all efforts have been exhausted to find the owner of a found item, the item will be “salvaged” and all proceeds donated to charity.

Denver International stores items for 30 days. Beyond that, clothing is donated to Denver Human Services; everything else becomes surplus and goes to auction.

The Transportation Security Agency also has a 30-day time limit for items left at airport security checkpoints. After that, items are shipped to a state-by-state designated collection facility and “are considered nonreturnable,” said spokesperson David Castelveter. Travelers who have left something behind should “contact the lost-and-found number for the respective airport.” Start by calling TSA (866-289-9673) or looking for a specific lost-and-found contact on its website.

Acting fast is essential, but figuring out where you may have lost something and where to file a claim can be confusing. Items lost on airplanes (and sometimes in gate hold areas) are delivered to the airlines. In some airports, such as PDX, items left at TSA checkpoints and on shuttle buses are brought to a central office; in other airports everything is kept separate. Some large airports have sophisticated, searchable databases; others require that you file a claim with a phone call or e-mail, and keep calling back to see if your item has been found.

Websites such as AirportLostandFound.com – which currently displays details for several lost Kindles, a pair of customized earplugs and more than 200 other lost items – promises to search for matches in the lost-and-found databases of multiple airports and airlines as well as those of food and retail outlets within airports. If they find your item, the site will try to organize a reunion, but there may be a fee.

As the busy holiday travel season approaches, here are a few basics for finding your stuff – and not losing it in the first place.

  • Identify cell phones, laptops, books, raincoats and other items with information (phone number, address sticker) that will help someone return a found item.
  • Don’t put anything in the seatback pocket of an airplane. It’s just too easy to leave something behind.
  • If you lose something, act fast. Retrace your steps, call in or log a claim with the airport and the airline as soon as possible.
  • Don’t give up hope. It may take a few days for an item to be found, turned-in and logged into a database.

(My article: Airports & Airlines work hard to return your lost items first appeared on NBC NEW Travel)


What happens to items left at airport checkpoints?

Each Friday on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin, I track down the answer to a reader’s question. This week’s question was: What happens to all that stuff ‘surrendered’ at airport security checkpoints?

Betty Spencer doesn’t travel much, but she’s curious about what happens to items confiscated or surrendered at airport security checkpoints. “There are so many stories of people having to give up items,” Spencer, a patient accounts counselor in Spokane, Wash., wrote to Overhead Bin. “I wondered if any of the items could be donated or recycled. I would hate to think of so much waste.”

The Transportation Security Administration does indeed end up with a lot of stuff: Since 9/11, the TSA has detected approximately 50 million prohibited items, including 4,600 firearms, during airport checkpoint screening.

Hazardous materials are disposed of, and dangerous or illegal items such as guns and explosives are turned over to law enforcement. But travelers do have some say in what happens to other items.

“TSA offers passengers multiple options at the checkpoint for prohibited items that are less dangerous and not illegal,” said TSA spokesperson Greg Soule. “Passengers can return them to their cars, pack them in checked baggage, or at some airports, mail them home to themselves.”

More often than not, travelers end up surrendering their items at the checkpoint. After that, Soule says, the items end up being donated to state governments “to be auctioned off or sold as revenue. TSA in no way profits from surrendered or lost items at the checkpoint.”

Some states, such as Pennsylvania, operate a brisk and profitable business selling items left behind at airports in the state – and beyond.

“Not all states have a program that’s large enough to accept all the items left at airports,” said Troy Thompson, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of General Services. “But we do. And we receive pallets of items from New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports and from some airports in Ohio and Maryland.”

Thompson said all the items Pennsylvania gathers end up at a warehouse, where it’s sorted.

“We get a lot of pocketknives, scissors and corkscrews,” said Thompson, “but also frying pans and other cookware, and tools such as drills, saws, hatchets and machetes. Some of it makes you scratch your head and wonder how people thought they’d get those things on the plane.”

A sampling of the items are put out in a store at the state warehouse in Harrisburg, but most of the items get sold in lots, by weight, online at auction. Since 2004, Pennsylvania has earned about $700,000 from auctions held for many years on eBay and, soon, on govdeals.com.

Lost and found at Frankfurt Airport

I’m tickled to be one of Lufthansa’s guests for a ride on the Airbus A380 airplane traveling from Frankfurt Airport to San Francisco International Airport on May 10th, the first day the giant airplane begins regular service to SFO.

Airbus A380 at Frankfurt

I’ll have lots of photos and details to share after my 10-hour ride, which comes after many hours spent touring Frankfurt Airport.

Among my stops today was the airport’s Lost and Found department, where Mr. Wallrodt (pictured below) was kind enough to take a moment away from his task of trying to find the rightful owner of this backpack.

Wallrodt told me that the airport’s Lost and Found department receives about 80,000 lost items a year, and an average of 300 lost laptops each month. Many of the items do end up being returned to their owners, but every three months the airport holds an auction to get rid of unclaimed items.

The strangest item Wollrodt remembers being turned into his office? A parrot that didn’t say too much and was quickly reunited with its owner.

Lost and found at the airport

2,500 canceled American Airline flights means that a lot of people are spending a lot of time stuck at airports this week. It also means that a lot more stuff is going to end up getting misplaced or lost at airports this week.

So maybe it’s a very good thing that this week my Well-Mannered Traveler column on MSNBC.com offers tips on how to improve your odds of finding what you’ve lost at the airport.