Orlando airport auctions off lost and found items

Somebody's loss might be your gain, or vice versa

ORLANDO, Fla. – Somebody's loss could be your gain. Or vice versa.

Keep that in mind the next time you're at Orlando International Airport.

The airport's Lost and Found department receives approximately 3,200 items a month, according to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. Many of those items will auctioned off for pennies on the dollar. If you need, for example, a box of belts of assorted sizes, you're in luck.

According to Patricia Echevarria, supervisor of OIA's Lost and Found, belts, sunglasses, ID's, and wallets are the most common items turned in to Lost and Found. Not surprising when you consider those items are typical of what we remove from our bodies before entering the gauntlet of TSA security checkpoints.

TSA officers from each checkpoint show up at Lost and Found at least twice a day with bins full of, well, everything.

Three matching sombreros? How do you lose three sombreros? How do you lose one sombrero?

Nothing surprises the staff at Lost and Found. "We can get everything from a driver's license to laptops to telephones to gigantic suitcases," says Echevarria. "Quite a few years ago someone left their artificial leg at the security checkpoint."

Security checkpoints are not the only sources of Lost and Found items. Items are turned in from airport stores, restaurants, and restrooms.

Her staff of eight logs and tags all the items. Staff members will search each item for any kind of identifying information, and, if possible, call the owner or send an email or letter. Phones and computers, if unlocked, will be searched for contact information. Other items might be traced to their manufacturers and then linked to their rightful owners.

Most of the jewelry that comes through Lost and Found has no identification, nor do most of the sunglasses, belts, hats and clothes. Some clothing and other family goods are donated to charity.

About 50 percent of the goods received by Lost and Found are reunited with their owners. By law GOAA has to retain the items for 30 days; the majority of goods remain in airport custody for 60 days before going to auction.

"About five years ago we had a full-length sable coat," says auctioneer George Gideon whose Zellwood auction house is contracted to sell the leftovers from the airport's Lost and Found.

At his most recent auction, people bid on canes, walkers, a CPAP machine for sleep apnea, boxes of sunglasses, hats, belts, clothes, and baby strollers.

"I'm a deal seeker," says Daphne Ford, a Gideon auction regular. Like many regulars, Ford buys the merchandise for personal use and for resale.

She doesn't need five strollers, two suitcases, and two bicycle tires, but she bought the whole lot for $7. Then she struck gold on a box of 20 theme park water bottles. "Go to Disney and pay $29 for one. I bought the whole box for five bucks!"

Like GOAA, Gideon has the discretion to donate some goods to charity. Higher end goods like designer sunglasses, watches, cameras, and laptops are limited to online bidding, which Gideon opens a week prior to each live auction of Lost and Found merchandise.

According to GOAA, last year's auctions netted more than $11,000 for the authority's general fund. Live auctions are held on the third Saturday of every month. Check this site for more information.