DENVER -- Nearly 53 million flyers pass through Denver International Airport every year. And they leave behind lots of stuff. We just had no idea how much stuff.
Tucked in the northwest corner of the main concourse, it takes a full time staff of seven lost and found workers to sort through all the bins and bags and piles of stuff.
“We have a lot of photography equipment ... someone's tripod, various different bags and purses, stuffed animals, yes a lot of toys, many blankets, many travel pillows,” said Stacey Stegman, Director of Communications for DIA, as she showed FOX 31 Denver around the lost and found room.
The room is stacked nearly to the ceiling with lost valuables. And that’s just one month’s worth. Everything from belts and jackets to stacks of iPads and laptops and cellphones. Then there's the two safes full of valuables. Wallets, watches and rings (yes, even wedding rings), all awaiting a reunion with their rightful owners.
“I think sometimes people don't know where to call, they don't know how to find their item,” said Stegman.
That's why so much of it goes unclaimed, despite the meticulous computing and cataloging that goes on here, to process the 43,000 items that wound up at DIA’s lost and found last year. That's nearly 118 items a day. Some a bit more unusual than others.
“Someone's remains in an urn that were lost and left behind,” said Stegman.
That’s right. A cremated body, that sat unclaimed, until the airport staff finally tracked down the family.
On the day we arrived, so did more bins full of forgotten items from airport checkpoints, terminals and shuttle buses.
So what happens to all this stuff? They move heaven and earth to get it back to its owner. But if they can't find who it belongs to, all the clothing is donated to local homeless shelters. The rest is piled high in this nearby storage room, and four times a year it's taken downtown and auctioned off by the city. You could even buy it. And it raises a lot of cash.
A bin full of sunglasses sold for $900 at a recent auction. The money goes into the city of Denver's general fund, to help pay Denver's bills.
Of course what they'd really rather do is help you find whatever you lost. Doesn't always happen. But when it does, it rivals any tearful airport reunion.
Sometimes we'll be down here and you can see someone come to the window and see how excited they are to get their items, and know they get their cell phones back,” said Stegman.
That's what happened with college student Henry Zecca.
“I was sitting waiting for my shuttle to arrive and I just left my phone,” Zecca said.
Thankfully someone turned it in, and by the time he showed up at lost and found, they'd already called his parents to say they had it. Unfortunately, 75 percent of the lost and found items here never get claimed. But Henry is glad to be in the 25 percent.
And every reunion like Henry’s makes it worth all the hard work they do here.
Denver International Airport is making big improvements to its lost and found recovery system this summer that will help customers file claims faster, search among thousands of items in real-time, and hopefully help reunite more owners with their lost items faster than ever and with more efficiency.
If you’ve lost an item at DIA in the last 30 days, and think it may be in lost and found, here’s the number to call: 303-342-4062
For more on the city of Denver auctions, where airport lost and found items are sold, click here (the next auction hasn’t been scheduled yet, so keep checking back).