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Lost-Laptop Epidemic at U.S. Airports

I'm a sucker for travel-related stats. Give me a list of load factors, or seat pitches, or mishandled bag stats and I'm happy as a hog in slop (if that's truly what makes hogs smile).

Here's a recent data point that caught my eye: As many as 12,000 laptop computers are lost each week in U.S. airports.

I always travel with a laptop. And I have more than a passing familiarity with airline and travel metrics. But that figure stunned me. Twelve thousand laptops. Every week. Lost. That's a stack of laptops as high as a 10-story building.

We're not talking about sports coats, or eyeglasses, or iPods. These are laptop computers. They're expensive. And they contain all manner of personal and business information that the owners both need and consider proprietary.

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According to the study, conducted by the Ponemon Institute and financed by Dell, between 65 and 70 percent of the lost computers are never reunited with their owners. So the loss, in the great majority of cases, is permanent.

How is it possible that so many travelers manage to lose something as valuable as a laptop computer?

According to the study, most laptops go missing at airport security checkpoints. So at least we know where in the travel process the losses are occurring. Notwithstanding the chaos and confusion of the airport experience, I still find it nearly incomprehensible that flyers walk away from their computers.

Dell, incidentally, is using the study results to promote various data-protection products and services it markets to road warriors. Such services may indeed be appropriate for some travelers.

But Dell's solutions are mostly geared toward data protection and recovery after a laptop has been lost. The real answer is to prevent owners from losing their laptops in the first place.

My modest suggestion: Post a big sign reminding travelers who have cleared security to retrieve their laptops. It's low cost and low tech. And it could make a real dent in that mountain of missing laptops.

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