12,000 Laptops Lost In Airports Every Week? Hmmm…

The Ponemon Institute claims that over 12,000 laptops are lost every week in US airports, two-thirds of which are never recovered.  In research sponsored by Dell Computer, which used the study’s findings as a key selling point for their new laptop tracking and recovery service, Ponemon surveyed airport officials at 106 major airports to come up with this headline-producing number.  LAX tops the list with 1,200 misplaced laptops a week; Miami is second with 1,000.  Extrapolating the study’s findings (12,255 laptops lost/week * 67% never recovered * 52 weeks/year) says that over 425,000 laptops are lost in US airports every year.  With these numbers, you’d think that someone would’ve noticed the growing stack of laptops a bit sooner.

The second phase of the study surveyed 864 business travelers in “the airport environment”.   Only 1% of these travelers had ever lost a laptop.  You’d think with 425,000 of them lost every year, the surveyors would have a better hit rate.  I’ve never lost a laptop and I don’t know anyone who has lost one in an airport.  I know people who’ve had them stolen out of rental cars, who’ve left them in a plane’s overhead bin, but no one who has lost one in an airport.

One thing I have seen is people picking up the wrong laptop.  At the back end of security screening, it can be a race to grab your PC before it gets pushed off the conveyor and onto the floor by the constant stream of gray bins burping out the TSA’s x-ray machine.  More than a few times, I’ve seen someone grab a ThinkPad that doesn’t belong to them.  Personalizing that black matte finish with a business card or a sticker or even a large gouge can help prevent a mistaken adoption.  Of course, not having to pull your laptop out of your briefcase would be an even easier solution.  Of the 864 business traveler surveyed, only 12% of them agreed that “checking my laptop or notebook computer separately from other carry-on tems increases passenger safety and security”.

Leave a comment

10 Comments.

  1. At Heathrow Airport, they don’t require you to take the laptop out of the luggage. I wonder what’s different about their screening x-ray?

    Makes things move much more smoothly.

  2. An article in today’s USAToday describes a TSA program to eliminate the need to remove laptops from their cases. Unfortunately, it will require you to buy a new “checkpoint-friendly” computer case. How about instead the TSA buys the same x-ray machines they’re using at London-Heathrow?

  3. I haven’t lost my laptop but I grabbed the wrong one out of the overhead bin once, this was resolved just outside the gate fortunately. Another time I was waiting for a plane and they switched the gate two times. On the second switch I ran to the gate and completely forgot my laptop. Fortunately no one noticed it and it was waiting for me upon my return.

  4. I now have stickers all over mine, no one would dare mistake it for theirs.
    Last year one of the guys I work with left theirs at TSA security. All of us were wondering how he didn’t notice that his laptop bag was suddenly 7lbs lighter. He didn’t find out till he checked into the hotel that night, he did manage to get his laptop back.

  5. On a tech gadget side note if you are ever in a hotel and get caught without a cell phone or laptop charger just go down to the front desk and say “Last week when I was here I think I left my phone charger in the room” they will pull out a box of tangled mess of Motorola, Kyocera, & ThinkPad chargers. Grab one that works and return it to the front desk in the morning.
    You have to remember to return it cause anything else would definitely be classified as stealing…….

  6. Lost track of you and this blog until you popped up on my linkedin page this morning. Go back to when you were starting TravelCommons posdcast. Check out this link http://adeona.cs.washington.edu/index.html. I actually tested this and it is works well. Will definitely add your feed going forward.

  7. I have never forgotten my laptop and don’t know anyone that has. It would be tough to do, but suppose I could see it if you’re in a huge hurry and not thinking clearly.

    @ Frick, in fact, some hotels will just GIVE you stray chargers. I once forgot my BB charger and the front desk told me to just take one of the dozens they had as the supply would be more than replenished by the end of the week. =)

  8. Arnoud Heijnis

    Hey Steven, one of the smaller reasons, by far not the only one, is because of some elaborate theft scheme that had been running at Heathrow. At extremely busy moments at the security line people would send their laptops (when you still had to take them out) through the x-ray machine. Whilst they had to wait in line to go through the gate someone else on the other end would pickup their laptop from the tray and just walk off. About 4 people were hit by that method in one week. Luckily I wasn’t one of them. After having enquired with BAA they confirmed it had been an issue but that the gang had been apprehended. No sign of the laptops though.

    Apparantly they were entering the terminal on cheap tickets and somehow exiting with suitcases full of laptop.

  9. Mark,

    I just received a twit with the following link that I think you should see.

    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/08/laptop_with_tru.html

  10. Here we go, the TSA has solved our problem — all it requires is for us to buy new laptop bags. If you look at the bottom of this TSA announcement, you’ll see a nice disclaimer — “Given TSA’s use of random screening protocols, TSA reserves the right to re-screen any bag or laptop regardless of the design of the bag.” Kinda like the Registered Traveler program — you can pay some money and hope to avoid the hassles, but odds are, you won’t