Lost Items Keep the Travel Industry Busy

People lose lots of belongings while traveling. Electronics, animals, money and toys. Countless items are left every year in airplanes, hotels and cabs. How the travel industry handles these loses may surprise you.

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This holiday season, travelers will re-unite with loved ones, and get separated from their possessions. NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports on how your luggage may be spending the holidays.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH: When you've been in the travel business, as long as Dave Castleveter has, almost nothing surprises you. That includes the variety of items people will carry on to planes and leave behind in overhead bins.

Mr. DAVE CASTELVETER (Spokesman, Air Transport Association): One was a prosthetic.

SCHALCH: An artificial leg.

Mr. CASTLEVETER: And the other one was literally a kitchen sink.

SCHALCH: Traveler sometimes leave strange things in restaurants, too. Brian Kent manages a restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Mr. BRIAN KENT (Restaurant Manager): And the most amazing thing I found in my restaurant while working, was a briefcase with a Russian passport, filled with $18,175 cash.

SCHALCH: Hotel workers find valuables, too: clothes, jewelry, and in at least one case, a family pet. The travel and hospitality industries would like you to know that, regardless of what you might think, they really do care about re-uniting people with their lost possessions. Dave Castleveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, says employees catalog everything.

Mr. CASTLEVETER: And we'll inventory the bag right down to the color of your socks, the size of a shirt, you know, whether it has stripes.

SCHALCH: And use an industry-wide computer network to find a match. Hotel chains, too, say they work hard to return things.

Mr. JOHN WOLF (Senior Spokesman, Marriott International): And so many people booking online these days, we have both telephone, address, e-mail, can write a letter, things like that.

SCHALCH: John Wolf, senior spokesman for Marriott International, says one Marriott Hotel in Orlando, Florida, even returned items it couldn't find: a little girl's new stuffed toys. The manager went to Disney World and SeaWorld, bought replacements and sent them with a note written in crayon that said...

Mr. WOLF: We missed you a lot and are glad to be home with you again. Love, Mickey and Shamu.

SCHALCH: But the prize may have to go to the Homewood Suites Hotel in Malvern, Pennsylvania, where Jen Luvquist(ph), Andrew Lee, their daughter, and their cats stayed this Thanksgiving. One cat vanished.

Ms. JEN LUVQUIST (Lodger, Homewood Suites Hotel): She was just nowhere to be found. We...

Mr. ANDREW LEE (Lodger, Homewood Suites Hotel): We ransacked the...

Ms. LUVQUIST: ...ransacked the whole room.

Mr. LEE: The staff was leaving treats out by the external doors to the hotel.

SCHALCH: Four days later, the staff found the cat, stuck in the arm of the sofa bed.

Mr. LEE: They trashed the couch.

Ms. LUVQUIST: Yeah, they had to saw into the couch to get her out, because there was no other way. The manager rushed Gumi(ph) to the nearest vet.

SCHALCH: Who re-hydrated the cat and all was well.

Not everything gets returned, of course. This year, for instance, 257 airline passengers have complained to the Department of Transportation, about items stolen from checked bags. That's 50 percent more than last year. Even found things may never reach their owners. Frequent traveler Michael Blazec(ph) left an expensive pair of headphones in the seat's back pocket. The airline radioed the pilot, who went back to Blazec's seat.

Mr. MICHAEL BLAZEC (Frequent Traveler): And he came forward, opened the window in the jet cockpit, and dropped the headphones, in their case, down to an individual waiting below.

SCHALCH: Blazec was ecstatic, until the agent handed him the case.

Mr. BLAZEC: I looked inside and the headphones themself were missing.

SCHALCH: Restaurant manager Brian Kent, turned the briefcase he found stuffed with cash in to police. After a month, no one had claimed it, so they gave it back.

Mr. KENT: I kept it. Bought a car, paid off some credit cards, I had a great vacation.

SCHALCH: Presumably, a better one than the man who had left the briefcase behind.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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