Last year Dell computers commissioned a study that found that 12,000 laptops are lost each week at U.S. airports. Los Angeles leads the pack with 1,200 laptops reported lost or stolen at LAX weekly. Incredibly, most laptops are left behind at security checkpoints, with only 33 percent ever being recovered (17 percent before the flight, 16 percent after).
Now, part of our shock about these numbers comes from the absent-mindedness of travelers who lose sight of a valuable piece of luggage — and one that they probably need to conduct their business or lives at the other end of their flights. But another thought comes to mind: Why don't the TSA screeners call after people who have left their notebook computers behind — are they themselves too busy? do they assume such left luggage is dangerous and immediately dunk the laptops in a bucket of water?
Calls to LAX and Burbank Airport's TSA offices went unreturned by
posting time, but Sandee McFarland, who works for a private company
that manages Burbank's Bob Hope Airport, says screeners do attempt to
page passengers who become separated from their belongings — then
lists the most-often lost items.
“We get belts,” says McFarland who works in Bob Hope's lost and found
department. “Everyone leave their belts, cell phones, clothing items,
thumb drives, keys, watches. I've read about the laptops, but I don't
get those — TSA has them.”
A newsletter for
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory employees offers some advise for
tech-lugging travelers. Besides geek-squad mantras to encrypt and back
up data, the tips also include some very down-to-earth wisdom: Only
take a laptop if it's really necessary to your trip and give yourself
lots of time “to avoid mistakes made more likely by having to hurry.
Airports are a physical and mental obstacle course.”
One employee who works at a Southern California airport and who did not
wish to be identified, confirmed how spaced-out flyers become —
especially those who show up half an hour before takeoff and think
they can just walk straight on to the plane. This employee noted that
TSA screeners will page travelers by name when their
identities are known. Still, even here, the employee says, travelers
will often later admit they heard their names on the public address
system after leaving the security checkpoint — but somehow didn't make
the connection that they were being asked to recover lost items.
The Livermore Lab newsletter says the best way to ensure that lost laptop gets returned is to leave your
name and phone number in its battery compartment — an area not
available to prying eyes, but one that screeners are trained to quickly
access. Either that, or take the train.