July 3, 2012 at 2:53 PM ET
For travelers, it’s hard to beat the convenience and compact size of a smartphone or tablet — which, unfortunately, may also explain why more of them are going missing at the nation’s airports. From Miami to San Francisco, it seems people are boarding flights but leaving their personal electronics behind.
That’s according to a survey by Credant Technologies, a data-protection company in Addison, Texas. Released on Tuesday, the survey queried airports on the number of laptops, smartphone/tablets and USB sticks that were left behind, what various airports did with them and the percentage that were successfully reunited with their owners.
The results covered seven airports — Charlotte, Chicago-O’Hare, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orlando and San Francisco — and found that travelers left behind 8,016 devices between July 2011 and June 2012. Of those, 45 percent were laptops, 43 percent were smartphones or tablets and 12 percent were USB sticks.
“Laptops are still a big loss vector but smartphones and tablets are becoming more of an issue,” said Sean Glynn, vice president of marketing. “More people are carrying them and more organizations are realizing that this BYOD phenomenon — bring your own device — means that a lot of data, both personal and professional, is now sitting on these devices.”
Although the survey didn’t analyze the number of lost items in relation to passenger volumes, it did reveal variations by location. Denver reported the most lost devices (3,240), followed by O’Hare (1,320) and Charlotte (1,200).
In Denver, laptops were far and away the most-often misplaced — 2,400 vs. 240 smartphone/tablets during the 12-month period — with most being left behind at security. In Chicago, however, lost smartphones and tablets topped laptops by a factor of 20:1 (1,200 vs. 60) with most being found in airport bathrooms.
As for getting your lost electronics back, your odds are slightly better than 50-50, said Glynn, with 52 percent of items, on average, getting returned to travelers. The numbers were significantly higher in San Francisco (80 percent) and Miami, where 90 percent of laptops and slightly more than 50 percent of smartphones and tablets made it back to their owners.
“We go to every length we can to locate the owners,” said Greg Chin, spokesman at Miami International Airport. “We’ll go in and look for IDs and contact information.”
And if they can’t find anything? In Miami, the items are held for 60 days and then sold at public auction, although most airports simply donate the items to charity. Either way, the end result is that devices that may contain personal and/or confidential business information end up in the hands of strangers, which is why it’s important to take precautions to keep them safe and facilitate the process of getting them back.
“Be mindful that you may be carrying more than one device and, at the minimum, make sure they’re password-protected,” said Glynn. He also recommends labeling your devices with your contact information, affixing a business card to them or their cases and, if possible, offering a reward for their safe return.
“If you can afford $20 or $50,” he told msnbc.com, “it can be worth it to get it back.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.
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