MILWAUKEE — From cell phones to prosthetic limbs, passengers have a habit of leaving an assortment of belongings behind on airplanes and at airports, prompting some airports and airlines to put systems in place to try to reunite lost items with their owners.
Last year, the situation became so unmanageable for Southwest Airlines that the airline started its own computer software to match travelers with their wayward belongings.
“It really is mind-boggling the amount of things that are coming through,” said Robert Lehr, manager of central baggage services for Southwest.
“The volumes are just staggering. Basically, if you can carry it on a plane, it’s been left on a plane.”
And during the holidays — the busiest travel time of the year, when airports and airplanes are packed with stressed people — it stands to reason that even more stuff shows up on the lost-and-found pile.
But it’s not just air travel. People tend to lose more items in December than at any other time of the year, according to survey numbers released recently by electronic data backup firm Mozy.
“The times when people are busy and moving around a lot cause peaks in loss, so it may come as no surprise that 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in December are relatively disastrous when it comes to hanging on to your things,” Mozy said in a statement announcing the survey results.
Anecdotal evidence would seem to back that up.
On Dec. 14, a Friday, Southwest had 28 Apple iPad tablet computers that were turned in to lost and found across its flight system, Mr. Lehr said. It flies about 3,800 flights a day in the United States.
The Mozy survey showed 39.5 percent of Americans lose two or more belongings a year. The survey also showed the average person in the United States misplaced almost $250 worth of possessions in the past 12 months. That adds up to more than $30 billion of lost property in the country in one year.
Although December is ground zero, the tendency to lose things is year-round.
For Southwest, 10,000 to 13,000 items typically are turned in to lost and found every month. That’s 120,000 to 156,000 items a year. The airline has a warehouse devoted to nothing but storing and cataloging things that have been left on its airplanes.
“By and large, it’s mostly electronic items,” Mr. Lehr said. “We get tons of cell phones.”
It’s not just high-end electronics that are left behind, though.
“Reading glasses we just get thousands of, just crazy amounts,” Mr. Lehr said.
Seat-back pockets are the black holes of aircraft. All sorts of things are left behind there. It’s so bad that Southwest has adopted see-through plastic mesh for seat-back pockets as part of the redesign of its aircraft interiors, Mr. Lehr said.