Airport Lost and Found: Odd Items Recovered

Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, on the strange items people leave behind.

Nov. 9, 2011— -- I'm no fan of reality shows but since I don't live under a rock, I have heard about the Kardashian divorce. And that provided me with an air travel "aha moment" after a colleague showed me the following news snippet from a Nov. 2 posting on

"After her four-day business trip to Dubai, Kris apparently didn't bother to meet [Kim] at the airport when she landed in New York. A sign, many say, things were already getting chilly."

Can you really lose "true love" at the airport? Why not? People seem to lose much weirder things there. I don't mean the most common lost items such as cell phones and iPods (and I suspect iPads are creeping up on these lists); I'm talking about those lost/found travel items that can only be categorized as truly odd.

Like a Chinese opium pipe. A shrunken head. Bag pipes. A complete Las Vegas showgirl costume. A 5.6 carat diamond hidden in a sock. A stuffed goose.

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Those are just a few of the items that have wound up at a unique store called the Unclaimed Baggage Center of Scottsboro, Ala. The people who run the center buy unclaimed bags that airlines cannot reunite with customers, and while there are very few of these -- less than 1 percent of all "mishandled" luggage is ever lost for good -- it's been enough to keep the store busy for the past 41 years.

The Airline Lost Your Bag: How to Get it Back

By the way, an airline representative who did not wish to be identified once told me carriers are occasionally stuck with lost bags even when they do identify the owners; I guess if enough time passes, some people just say, forget it (but yes, this is rare).

So some unclaimed baggage winds up in Alabama and most of it is humdrum stuff like clothes and toiletries but there is the occasional what-the-heck item, like a set of 50 vacuum-packed frogs. Strange? You be the judge.

A few years back, a woman I know wanted to surprise a bug-collecting beau with a Christmas present of three dried Rhino beetles from Thailand, only, she left them on her plane. Happy ending: the insects eventually arrived in the mail with a note from the airline: "These look dead; sorry for your loss." The woman promptly gave them to her beetle-loving boyfriend who was delighted (he must have been; his Christmas gift to her was a diamond necklace).

I only wish I could report a happy ending for Jack the Cat; the feline was one of the occasional animals that are lost (and sometimes found) in airports, but Jack's saga was especially amazing. The 18-pound cat escaped his carrier at JFK in the American Airlines baggage area; he then spent the next two months on the lam before finally being discovered in a U.S. Customs room. Sadly, he was put down this past weekend, unable to recover from wounds sustained during his lengthy airport adventure.

Someone once asked me if airport lost and found departments ever turn up more "found items" than they receive "lost reports" for, and they do indeed. In 2010, Singapore's Changi Airport received reports of 2,600 lost items but they collected more than 14,000 found items; the weirder ones included portable pianos, TV sets, dentures and a bicycle or two.

Obviously, you can't put a bike in a carryon, but you can and should pack most valuables in luggage that travels with you, or better yet, keep expensive items on your person. Best advice: leave all good stuff at home, so you won't wind up leaving a message on an airport online "lost" site, like this recent plea about a missing bracelet:

"The value is about £225,000 [approximately $360,000], but the emotional value is far greater. If by chance it was handed in, please contact me as soon as possible." --JFK Lost and Found, posted Oct. 25, 2011

I suspect she's still waiting. Note to travelers: never advertise the value of a missing item.

More weird stuff: an acquaintance who works as an aircraft maintenance technician at a sizable airport he prefers not to name says bags of cocaine have been found on planes, as have sex toys (and you thought TSA screeners were the only ones who found these things). The former was reported to the feds; everything else gets turned in to "lost and found." I'm trying to imagine someone asking an airline rep if anyone's found a, uh, well ... you see the dilemma.

I myself once lost an expensive pair of noise-canceling headphones; never got them back. Other flyers are luckier; a regular commuter on Delta once left a paperback on his seat and the following week, the book was handed to him by the flight attendant who merely said, "I marked your place." Nice.

Now if only Ms. Kardashian could find her lost love; but the way those gals travel, who's to say she's not on a flight right now, finding new romance with a special seatmate?