Here’s how to avoid leaving things behind at airport security

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Going through airport security this year? Double check that grey bin to make sure you’re hanging onto your things.

Each month, Transportation Security Administration collects and catalogs 90,000 to 100,000 items that are inadvertently left behind at airport checkpoints by harried and distracted travelers.

Those items range from scarves and sunglasses to laptops, smartphones and some odd “How did they forget THAT?” items, such as bowling balls, violins, gold teeth and urns and boxes filled with human remains.

On a post-holiday tour of TSA’s Lost & Found room at Reagan National Airport, we spotted plenty of those items, as well as multiple bags filled with left behind IDs. We also saw shelves lined with ballcaps, CPAP machines used to treat sleep apnea, winter coats, car seats, canes and fully packed carry-on bags.

It’s easy to see how hats and scarves get left behind in the bins, but what about laptops, entire carry-on bags and other essential items?

Besides the “people are in a rush,” factor, TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein has some theories:

“When it comes to laptops, many brands are grey and the same color as the checkpoint bins, so it can be easy to overlook your laptop,” says Feinstein. “Also, if a bin has an advertisement in the bottom, travelers’ eyes may be drawn to the ad and cause them to miss the driver’s license and keys still in the bin.”

ONE TIME H/O: TSA Airport checkpoint items left behind. - 106318707
A collection of laptops and other electronics left at TSA checkpoints.
Source: TSA

The number of bins people use may also contribute to the pile-up in the airport “lost and found.” If you’ve scattered your stuff across multiple bins (coats here, electronics there, a laptop and an ID in another bin), you may overlook items in the last bin as you rush to take your stuff out and stack up the used ones.

Keeping your stuff out of “lost and found”

TSA keeps items left behind at security checkpoints for a minimum of 30 days and posts phone numbers on its website where travelers can contact the lost and found departments at each airport. Keep in mind that airports and airlines will have their own lost and found procedures for things left in the terminals and on airplanes.

And for items like liquids or gels that you may have to leave behind at security checkpoints without a choice, TSA officials say there are a couple of options. If the item is approved for checked baggage, a passenger can put the item in a carry-on bag and go check it in or ask the airline to retrieve an already checked back and put the item in there.

Another option: Airport Mailers and some other companies have kiosks set up near security checkpoints at many airports where travelers may package up items and pay to mail them home.

To improve your chances of getting your stuff back – or not losing it in the first place – Farbstein offers these tips:

Tape a business card or some other form of ID to your laptop or smartphone. “So many models are alike, so this can make all the difference in getting yours back,” said Farbstein.

Before you get to the checkpoint, or while you’re standing online, take time to consolidate all your miscellaneous items (i.e. scarves, hats, gloves) and take everything out of your pockets (keys, phones, wallets, etc.). Instead of putting small items in a bin, put them in your carry-on in an extra plastic bag you’ve packed just for that purpose. If you don’t put loose items in the bin to begin with, you eliminate the chance of leaving anything in the bin on the other side.

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A collection of sunglasses left at TSA checkpoints.
Source: TSA

Pay attention to everything you put in the bins, including things that may have a high emotional value. “A laptop may cost thousands of dollars, but I can assure you that an old beat-up stuffed animal that a child has left behind is valuable to the parent who is now dealing with a crying child,” says Farbstein.

Looking forward, as part of a $96.8 million contract awarded last year to Smiths Detection, in 2020 most large and major airports in the United States will be getting more advanced 3D X-ray scanners at the checkpoints. This new machinery will allow travelers to keep their electronics in their carry-on bags and reduce the chance of so many laptops and other gadgets getting left behind.

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