July 6, 2013

Many items are lost at airport, some are found and reunited with owners

There's one place in Sacramento where you can find nunchucks piled on top of brass knuckles, just across the room from plastic tubs full of belts, wallets and laptops.

There's one place in Sacramento where you can find nunchucks piled on top of brass knuckles, just across the room from plastic tubs full of belts, wallets and laptops.

It's a place where precious jewelry shares shelf space with tacky artwork from Las Vegas, where iPhones rub shoulders with baby strollers and Rolex watches get cozy with bullets.

It's the lost and found storage room at the Sacramento International Airport.

The people responsible for managing the treasure trove, the employees of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, dutifully record every lost wallet, key ring and passport discovered in the terminal by airport custodians, then slide them into plastic bags for future reference.

They search their cache for any identifying marks that might reveal the item's true owner – a name, a specific design or an image.

All told, about 700 lost items are turned in per month, and only about 30 percent of them are reunited with their owners, said Harryette Philpott, who manages the lost and found.

Philpott, an archivist and sleuth of lost items, has seen many strange things come through the storage room during her tenure. She's tracked down a man who left a wallet containing $900 in cash at the airport, and sympathized with a mother who lost a cross necklace containing the ashes of her son.

She reunited a woman with jewelry that belonged to her deceased mother and delivered it to her when she arrived.

"She just bawled," Philpott said. "She was so happy she got it back."

Philpott chats with international travelers through thick accents and deals with the occasional outraged customer who blames the airport for any misfortune. And when she is able to identify an owner for a wayward item, she mails it back at the expense of the person who lost it.

"I feel like a mailroom half the time," Philpott said.

Over time, the lost and found has expanded to accommodate a growing number of items. After the new Terminal B opened in 2011, the amount of items turned in nearly doubled, Philpott said.

The possessions turned in remain diverse. In a room full of identical gunmetal gray tubs bearing fading JetBlue labels, the shelves are distinguished only by the type of property they carry.

There's a contraband bin full of bullets, cap guns, brass knuckles and knives that won't be returned to their owners. There are wallets and electronics galore. And there's the occasional article of clothing that was taken off and forgotten by a hurried traveler.

"I get a lot of single shoes," Philpott said, gesturing at a tub full of discarded footwear. "I don't know why."

The eventual destination of the items whose owners aren't found is uncertain. If an owner can't be found after a few weeks, Philpott sends the items to the county's property warehouse, where they sit for about three months.

If items aren't claimed during that time, the county turns them over to, an auction website that works with police departments nationwide. There, the possessions are auctioned off, with bids starting at $1, said PJ Bellomo, CEO of

The website has auctioned off a variety of unusual items culled from city and county storage facilities nationwide, including a coffin, a 7-foot fiberglass shark, a laser telescope and a Bentley luxury car.

"We auction off everyday treasures and a treasure every day," Bellomo said.

The proceeds of the auction are given back to the organization that gave the item to, and the website collects a sales fee, Bellomo said. The more expensive the item is, the higher proportion of money the original organization gets to keep. Since began its online auction business, it has given $50 million back to its clients.

Travelers who are interested in holding onto their possessions can follow three rules, Philpott said:

Put your name on everything.

Call the airport as soon as you realize you've lost something.

Get to the airport early so you don't forget something in your hurry to board your plane.

Travelers who lose their items in spite of these warnings can take solace in the fact that there's someone in the airport trying to help.

"At the end of the day, I love returning people to their property," Philpott said.

Call The Bee's Benjamin Mullin, (916) 321-1034.

Related content




Editor's Choice Videos