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Fliers Can’t Seem To Find Lost And Found

Mon., Jan. 29, 1996

As more people take advantage of discount airfares, airports are turning into the nation’s stuffed couches. Lift up a cushion and find just about anything - from junk to jewelry.

For proof, check out the lost-and-found areas at Spokane’s airport after the winter holidays, when families and kids lose or misplace more items than at any other time of the year.

Enough eyeglasses and gloves show up to stock a Post Falls outlet store, said an airport baggage checker.

The lost items come mostly from passengers leaving belongings on planes as well as checked bags never picked up.

“I’ve seen just about everything show up, from a bag of groceries to Louis Vuitton luggage” worth more than $1,000, said Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Beth Harbin.

Southwest, which flies about 25 percent of Spokane’s air passengers, sees a lost item as a chance to earn more customer loyalty.

“We even have our workers drive something to a person’s house on their way home,” Harbin said.

But some items are easier to match than others, said Dave Richardson of Alaska Airlines.

“We’ve never had a laptop computer turned in that wasn’t claimed,” he said.

All airlines assume that if the owner doesn’t come calling in three months, it’s time to move it.

They treat the items left on board a plane - LOBs different from unclaimed checked baggage.

LOBs outnumber unclaimed bags about 50 to 1 at Spokane International. They run the gamut from T-shirts, single shoes, CD players to cellular telephones.

“The two strangest items we’ve had lately are probably a pair of dentures and a sanitized bag holding an artificial hip,” said Sue Warner-Bean, a spokeswoman for Horizon Air.

Unclaimed bags usually have tags identifying an owner, or at least giving clues, she added. To help find owners, airlines place a listing for each unclaimed bag in a computer system used by airline employees around the world.

Alaska Airlines sees about three to five unclaimed bags a day at its 44 airports. That number increased to about 10 per day during the holidays, said Richardson.

Both unclaimed bags and the left-on-boards tend to be held at the airport for about a week. If they’re not claimed, the airlines then ship them to a central gathering spot.

Unclaimed bags usually are sold to one of several salvage firms that resell them later.

Alaska Airlines is one of a few that gives its unclaimed baggage to the Federal Aviation Agency, which sells it and uses the money for airline safety training.

LOBs, on the other hand, are divided into low-end and higher-quality items. The low-ends are items most often found at Spokane’s airport: T-shirts, baseball caps, books and kids’ toys. The airlines either donate those to charities or let scavengers buy them at minimal cost.

The better items - the occasional cell telephone, CD player or hand-held computer game - often end up in airline employee garage sales.

Some items stay around longer - that artificial hip, for instance.

“We kept it longer than a year,” said Horizon’s Warner-Bean. “We kept thinking someone needed it and would come get it.”

No one ever did. So airline workers decided to do place the hip with a state agency that provides medical services for low-income residents.

“We’re glad, at last, that someone will use it,” said Warner-Bean.

, DataTimes


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