It’s a snapshot into the forgotten things that travelers leave behind while they wait to catch their flights: watches, phone chargers, fitbits, belts, umbrellas, even cars abandoned by their owners.
This year, the Allegheny County Airport lost and found Authority counted 17 abandoned vehicles featured at its annual auction of unclaimed items and used airport equipment, held Saturday at Pittsburgh International Airport.
“We do everything we can to find the owners,” said Bob Kerlik, spokesman for the airport authority. “Unfortunately, we can’t always find them, and we can’t afford to store things forever.”
With passenger traffic increasing to more than 8 million in 2015, according to the airport, it’s inevitable that something will be left behind by someone.
At the authority’s heavy equipment building on Saturday morning, trucks and cars lined the walls for inspection by potential bidders. Behind the auctioneer’s stage were rows of boxes filled with unclaimed lost-and-found items, grouped by similarity — sunglasses, clothes, electronics, jewelry, and, oddly, hockey sticks and golf clubs.
About 1,500 people attended last year’s auction, Mr. Kerlik said, adding he expected about the same amount this year.
Some people come looking for used equipment for their businesses. Others, like Tim Schlak, visited with his 5-year-old son Collin, who was eager to see the trucks up close.
“This is the first time I’ve been at this event, and I thought it might be a good father/son thing,” Mr. Schlak, of Moon, said.
“He likes to get in all the trucks.”
Sewickley resident Terry Hailstock said he stopped by to see if he could get a good deal on a used car. He attended with Rich Marrone, who runs a collision repair and restoration shop, R.M. Restorations, in Coraopolis.
Mr. Marrone said he’s a cautious shopper, wary of overpaying on the trucks up for bid.
“If I get lucky, I might get one today,” Mr. Marrone said. “A lot of people will bid over the retail value.”
As for why some cars are abandoned at the airport, there’s a variety of reasons, as well as a lengthy process to find the owners.
“Sometimes, a person will leave their car here, go on a trip, and they might pass away. The family might not be interested in picking up the car,” Mr. Kerlik said. “Other times, people just don’t respond when they’re contacted. Sometimes, we just don’t know why they leave them behind.”
If a car is left for over 45 days, the airport authority contacts the police. The police send a letter to the registered owner. If there’s no response, or the owner says he or she is not going to pick it up, the airport contacts PennDOT, which also sends a letter.
If there’s still no response, the car is eligible for auction, Mr. Kerlik said.
Any money made from the auction on those vehicles goes to paying off any parking fees or towing costs. The balance goes to the state, he said.
As for the other items, revenue from auctioning the airport’s equipment goes back to the general fund. Anything made from lost-and-found items goes to the Allegheny County Airport Authority Charitable Foundation.
Airport spokesman Jeff Martinelli said there were fewer lost-and-found items than last year because the airport authority is improving how it finds the owners. In addition, the airport is considering some software upgrades that could help further.
“We’re doing a better job at returning the items, which is what we want,” Mr. Martinelli said.
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