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Don’t leave your stuff at the TSA checkpoint

Resolved to fly more in 2020? How to keep your stuff.  

In 2019, airline passengers tried to take hundreds of thousands of prohibited and banned items through airport security checkpoints in the United States.

Transportation Security Administration officers found hatchets, inert grenades, fireworks, firearms (most of them loaded) and so many knives that the TSA doesn’t even keep a count.

Instead, the agency boxes them up, weighs them and hands pallets of knives and other “voluntarily abandoned” property over to state agencies to be sold as surplus property.

TSA officials say passengers who don’t want to leave a banned item behind at the checkpoint have a few options:

If the item is approved for checked baggage, a passenger can put the item in a carry-on bag and go check it in or ask the airline to retrieve an already checked back and put the item in there.

Another option: Airport Mailers and some other companies have kiosks set up near security checkpoints at many airports where travelers may package up items and pay to mail them home.

But it’s not just items on TSA’s “no fly’ list that get left behind at airports.

Each month, TSA also collects and catalogs 90,000 to 100,000 other items that are perfectly legal to travel with, but which are inadvertently left behind at airport checkpoints by harried and distracted travelers.

Those items range from scarves and sunglasses to laptops, smartphones and some odd “How did they forget THAT?” items such as bowling balls, violins, gold teeth and urns and boxes filled with human cremains.

On a post-holiday tour of TSA’s Lost & Found room at Reagan National Airport, we spotted plenty of those items, as well as multiple bags filled with left behind IDs.

We also saw shelves lined with ballcaps, CPAP breathing machines, winter coats, car key fobs that will cost $200 or more to replace, car seats, canes and fully packed carry-on bags.

It’s easy to see how hats and scarves get left behind in the bins, but what about laptops, entire carry-on bags and other essential items?

Besides the “people are in a rush,” factor, TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein has some theories:

“When it comes to laptops, many brands are grey and the same color as the checkpoint bins, so it can be easy to overlook your laptop,” says Feinstein. “Also, if a bin has an advertisement in the bottom, travelers’ eyes may be drawn to the ad and cause them to miss the driver’s license and keys still in the bin.”

The number of bins people use may also contribute to the pile-up in the Lost & Found. If you’ve scattered your stuff across multiple bins (coats here, electronics there, a flat laptop and an ID in another bin), you may overlook items in the last bin as you rush to take your stuff out and stack up the used bins.

The pile of canes?

“It’s not that we have so many miraculous recoveries at TSA checkpoints,” says Farbstein, “I think attendants and family members helping wheelchair users who also have canes often forget to pick up the canes once they’re through the checkpoint.”

Keeping your stuff out of Lost & Found

TSA keeps items left behind at security checkpoints for a minimum of 30 days and posts phone numbers on its website where travelers can contact the Lost & Found department at each airport.

(Keep in mind that airports and airlines will have their own lost and found procedures for things left in the terminals and on airplanes.)

To improve your chances of getting your stuff back – or not losing it in the first place – Farbstein offers these tips:

  • Tape a business card or some other form of ID to your laptop or smartphone. “So many models are alike, so this can make all the difference in getting yours back,” said Farbstein.
  • Before you get to the checkpoint, or while you’re standing online, take time to consolidate all your miscellaneous items (i.e. scarves, hats, gloves) and take everything out of your pockets (keys, phones, wallets, etc.). Instead of putting small items in a bin, put them in your carry-on in an extra plastic bag you’ve packed just for that purpose. If you don’t put loose items in the bin to begin with, you eliminate the chance of leaving anything in the bin on the other side.
  • Pay attention to everything you put in the bins, including things that may have a high emotional value. “A laptop may cost thousands of dollars, but I can assure you that an old beat-up stuffed animal that a child has left behind is valuable to the parent who is now dealing with a crying child,” says Farbstein.

Help is on the way

Looking forward, as part of a $96.8 million contract awarded last year to Smiths Detection, in 2020 most large and major airports in the United States will be getting computed technology 3D X-ray scanners at the checkpoints. This new machinery will allow travelers to keep their electronics in their carry-on bags and reduce the chance of so many laptops and other gadgets getting left behind.

(My story: “How to avoid leaving stuff behind at the TSA checkpoint” first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version)

Tumbleweed invasion

Here’s a crazy travel story for the New Year that’s not about flying, but about driving.

 Truck surrounded by tumbleweeds near Richland Washington. Photo: Washington State Patrol Trooper C. Thorson

On Tuesday night – New Year’s Eve – at least five cars and an eighteen-wheeler truck got trapped in a bizarre, giant pile-up of tumbleweeds on a rural, central Washington State highway.

According to the Washington State Patrol, the tumbleweed invasion was so serious that the highway had to be closed for 10 hours, trapping the drivers inside their cars until 4:30 a.m. New Year’s Day.

Washington State Trooper Chris Thorson told the YakkTriNews that strong winds blew tumbleweeds into an area with berms near the roadway and that caused the tumbleweeds to clog the highway.

There were so many tumbleweeds on the road that when cars stopped to avoid hitting the tumbleweeds they ended up getting buried by them.

How did they get rid of the tumbleweeds?

Snowplows were brought in to clear the tumbleweeds and free the trapped drivers and their vehicles.

According to the State Patrol, the tumbleweed heap reached 30 feet tall and was hundreds of yards long.

The North Pole or the airport? Continued.

Reindeers coming back to SEA airport

Reindeers and gate access

Airports around the country continue to go all out to entertain passengers this holiday season.

Reindeers will return to the light rail station at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) on December 18 and 19.

And the SEA Visitor Pass program piloted last year will now be a permanent airport amenity. The program allows non-ticketed guests the opportunity to enter the secure side of the airport to enjoy shopping, dining, and other amenities.

The gate pass program also means non-ticketed flyers have extra time to spend with friends and family before their flight and to be there at the gate when a flight lands.

More details will be rolled out on Monday,  December 16, when the program officially resumes.

We’re happy to see that gate pass programs are now officially a trend at airports.

Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT), Tampa International Airport (TPA) and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) have gate pass programs at well.

Santa Paws, Teddy Bears and more

Elsewhere, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has some treats in store for holiday week travelers.

LAX has booked nine musical acts and groups, including the popular TSA Choir, to perform at various terminals and the LAX-it pick-up lot throughout December.

On Friday, Dec. 20, LAX employees will host an arts and crafts activity for kids at the Tom Bradley International Terminal Children’s Playground from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Special guests will include “Santa PAWS” from the LAX Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) Program therapy dogs.

And on December 25, Los Angeles Airport Police officers, spouses and family members will be in various locations at LAX handing out teddy bears, candy canes and tree ornaments to children.

Holiday decoration or what?

And here’s a holiday ‘decoration’ we spotted early Friday morning this week at the Geneva Airport in Switzerland.

Not sure if this character just had a really bad night or what…

Santa’s workshop at Heathrow Airport

Stuck at The Airport is continuing coverage of Santa sightings at airports.

We are also sharing updates on what airports are doing this year to make things merry.

So today we bring you this update from London’s Heathrow Airport.

To help parents with kids asking lots of questions about how Santa does what he does, Heathrow has installed “magical” periscopes in Terminals 2 and 5.

The periscopes allow children (and adults) to check in on what Santa is up to as he and his team get ready for the big night.

Heathrow says the periscopes offer a 360-degree view of elves in action at Santa’s the satellite workshop, which is conveniently located right under Heathrow (!).

Scenes include Santa’s Toy Factory, the Department of Wrapping and the Mail Room.

Heathrow Airport is going all out this holiday season to make travelers feel welcome.

The day before Thanksgiving, passengers from a handful of flights arriving at Heathrow from various U.S. cities got a surprise at the baggage claim.

Before checked bags showed up, baskets of fresh-baked pumpkin pie came down the line.

Spot Santa at the airport? Send us a photo.