- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES From her office behind baggage claim No. 1 at Washington Dulles International Airport, Joyce Bergin catalogs the flotsam and jetsam of travelers’ lives.

Ms. Bergin is the lost-and-found technician for the airport. Leave an umbrella on a bench or your wallet near the Starbucks in Terminal B? It will find its way to her. Forget your Christmas presents on the shuttle or your laptop near Gate 38A? They likely are hanging out here.

About 23 million travelers passed through Dulles last year, says Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority spokeswoman Courtney Prebich. There is a good chance something was left behind.

“We get about 300 items here a month,” Ms. Bergin says. “That’s not including keys and glasses.”

The keys and glasses have shelves unto themselves in the storage area. There’s a full bin for April and one for May. June is filling up fast.

Usually, there is no way to track down owners because keys, though very personal items — think about how only you know how your house key bends a bit to the right or that your remote car-door opener needs a new battery — are hardly ever marked with name tags.

Items that end up in the general lost and found are left behind in common areas of the airport, such as waiting areas, the parking lot and restaurants. The Transportation Security Administration has its own lost and found, as do individual airlines, so contact them if you leave something on a plane.

If the lost items could talk, they might have a story to tell. Ms. Bergin pulls a cute stuffed bunny off the shelf.

“He’s been here since Easter,” she says, hugging the toy. Is there a child somewhere mourning its loss? Probably, but no one has called to claim it.

No one ever came for the full-size toilet that was left on the curb a few years back, says John Jackson, Dulles’ manager of materials.

“Someone was going to take it overseas,” he says. “It weighed too much, so he left it on the curb.”

No one ever came back for the envelope with $5,000 that made its way to the holding room. Or the two sets of adoption papers that were left behind. Or the samurai sword.

“I had a suitcase once that was entirely full of jewelry,” Ms. Bergin says. “The owner did not have her name on it, so I could not find her.”

A big part of the job is detective work. Finding owners is sometimes easy — just read the name tag and dial the phone number. Often, it is more complicated. Ms. Bergin will open a cell phone and call an emergency number or home number if one is programmed into it. Sometimes there is a name, but no contact number. It takes some creativity — online searches or following up on some other identifying clue, such as a company name.

Lost items almost assuredly will be reunited with their owners if they are marked with a name, Ms. Bergin says. She suggests putting a business card or a return address sticker on everything.

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