Weirdest Lost & Found Items – And How to Get Your Stuff Back

Ever lose a suit of armor or an embalmed baby shark while traveling? Someone did. Someone’s always losing something odd on a plane or at the airport. What to do? Here are some answers but first, the fun stuff (and don’t miss the video below).

LISTEN: Travel expert Rick Seaney has fun with this. He also has some ideas you might not have thought of. 

Read Podcast Transcript here.

Weirdest Losses

Some of the stranger things people have lost while traveling either in suitcases or just stray items include the following:

  • Shrunken heads
  • 40 carat emerald
  • Various reptiles, live and stuffed
  • Ancient mummified hawk (2000 B.C.)
  • About a gazillion smartphones and tablets

That last figure may be a slight exaggeration, but plenty of them do wind up in the lost & found.

Where Lost Stuff Ends Up

Most lost items are held for anywhere from 30 to 90 days while airlines, airports and security try to reunite you with your belongings. If that fails, one of three things usually happens (as best as we can figure out):

  • Items are donated to charity
  • Items are destroyed
  • Items are sold (keep reading)

The Amazing Unclaimed Baggage Center

The Unclaimed Baggage Center of Scottsboro, Alabama, is where a lot of lost & found items wind up and a lot of them are pretty unusual as you’ll see in the video below. Not all the inventory comes from airlines; the store’s owners buy unclaimed bags and other items from rental car agencies and buses, too, and sell them to the general public. The store itself has become an attraction of sorts, luring visitors from across the country who are looking for bargains or just an unusual experience.

Loss Prevention

There are a few things you can do ahead of time to make it easier for airlines and others to reunite you with lost belongings.

  • Electronic device serial numbers: Most of us don’t know these, but with so many of these similar-looking devices going missing, matching serial numbers is one of the best ways to get these back.  Write yours down before you travel.
  • Label all valuables: A business card or initials and a contact number can be  helpful. Note: If your child can’t live without that favorite stuffed animal, label that too.
  • Know your belongings: Be prepared to identify the manufacturer, color, size, shape or anything else regarding your lost item that will make for a more precise identification.
  • Report lost items immediately: Keep reading for contact info.

Lost & Found Contacts

Airports: If an item goes missing in an airport public space, most facilities will keep it for a set period of time which varies from airport to airport. After that, the item might be auctioned off or donated to charity. If you’re at the airport, ask an airline rep for help or go to the airport’s website and search “lost and found” or just Google the phrase with the airport’s name.

Airlines: If you lost something on a plane, don’t leave the airport without contacting an airline representative and the sooner the better – someone might be able to go onboard and grab your iPad for you (but this is not always possible). Usually, though, a verbal message isn’t enough; ask your airline rep to provide whatever forms are required to document your loss and fill them out before you head home. If you’re already home, go to the airline website and search “lost and found.”

Lost Bags: Contact your airline before leaving the airport, and this is true for damaged bags, too.

TSA Checkpoints: Most items are kept for 30 days (though truly valuable items may be kept longer); after that, items are donated – perhaps to a government agency for surplus property – or destroyed. Click here for contact info for TSA checkpoint losses only.

Items Missing from Checked-Baggage: Contact the TSA (see link above).

VIDEO: What can you find at the Unclaimed Baggage Center? We think you’ll be surprised.

Read more about Lost and Found in Rick’s latest column for ABCNews.com and see more columns here.

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Published: May 19, 2014