SPOKANE, Wash. - Millions of Americans will head out on holiday vacations in the next several months, moving through our nation's airports. That means millions of items will be left behind, never making it to their final destination. So, where do they go? They end up at public auctions.
In the years since 9/11, flying has become anything but relaxing and serene. Much of the headaches start in the TSA security line. Take off your coat, take off your shoes, shove your bag on the conveyer belt - and, take off your own belt, too. In many cases, say goodbye to your stuff.
A tiny closet in Spokane Airport Police Department serves as the starting point for items left behind. Coats, jackets, laptops, cellphones, books - everything you can imagine that someone may put down and forget to pick up. Most are forgotten, some are confiscated - though, lately, the stun gun box is empty.
"Since January, we've collected about 2,250 items," says airport spokesman Todd Woodard. "About 200-250 items a month are returned to the airport."
In Spokane, the airport holds onto items for about 90 days. A quarter of what's lost gets back to its rightful owner. Everything else is auctioned off through a company in Post Falls with the money going back to the city of Spokane. Statewide, lost and confiscated items end up in a much more exotic place: Tumwater.
Tumwater is home to the Washington Surplus Store. It's a 55,000 square foot warehouse, where the general public can buy items state agencies don't need anymore. Nearly every airport in the state sends its discarded items there, leaving bins of TSA castoffs, scattered throughout.
"The majority of stuff that comes through is just pocket knives and corkscrew-type things," explained Surplus Operations manager David Baker. That has led to a table full of hundreds of knives, left behind at security checkpoints. Some are engraved, some are unique, most are never returned to their rightful owner, no matter how hard they try.
"I have bins of stuff with full names on it," says Shelly Swetlow, who looks through the items and tries to track down the owners. "But, if your last name is Smith, Johnson, Jackson, if it's not unique... unless you call in, you're not gonna get your knife back. I can't email every Smith, Jackson, Johnson."
More surprising than knives? Corkscrews. They get so many from TSA, corkscrews occupy their own aisle of the store.
The surplus store is open to the public and, nearly every day, there's a line of people outside. Most make a beeline for the knife table, as they are collectors who try and sell the items online. But, not everything TSA ends up with can go up for sale. Those items end up in a bin labeled "No No Bucket."
"These are things we can't sell in our store," explained Baker. "We have to contact law enforcement."
This bin contains items that leave you asking, "How in the world did someone think they could get this on a plane?" Things like nunchucks, throwing stars, daggers covered in jewels. Baker points out a straight razor, about which he responds, "Yeah, I always want to shave when I'm flying."
For the most part, TSA, Spokane's airport and the surplus store want to reunite people with their lost items. Lose something? Call and ask. And, when it comes to deciding what to bring on board, make sure you don't leave your common sense at home.
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