Did you forget something?

A funny thing happened on my way to San Jose this week. Well actually the last thing I was thinking about on Saturday was laughing. I left for Detroit Metro Airport early Saturday morning. I got to the airport with my usual two bags. My suitcase and my large laptop bag. Since I planed on doing some shooting once I arrived in San Jose that afternoon I also had a fair amount of camera gear too.
I’m no stranger to TSA "bag checks". In other words I have a lot of electronic gear, batteries, etc. that sometimes triggers the x-ray person to call for a "bag check." Normally I can predict which items are going to cause problems and I take them out ahead of time and put them in a bin. So I had two bins. One with my jacket and misc. electronic gadgets and one with my laptop all by itself. Well apparently I didn’t take out enough stuff and I got pulled aside while they performed a detailed search of my laptop bag. So this meant gathering up my two bins and walking over to the TSA desk. Since I didn’t have enough free hands to carry the bins separately, I stacked them on top of each other.



Red Alert!

You know how they swab your bag/items with the little cloth and put it in the machine to check for explosive residue and other elements? Well mine turned red and the alarm went off! I just knew it would be a matter of moments before two guys came up and hauled me off to some dark room. However, that didn’t happen. I did get a pat down and continued checks on my bag. The TSA guy was nice but a little freaked out and even went to his supervisor for advice. They tried another machine and everything came up green and I was on my way. So I put all the stuff back in my bag from the bin.


Nice flight

The flight was uneventful and I just watched a movie on my iPhone, read a magazine and listened to music. Once I got to San Francisco I used my regular car service to get me to downtown San Jose.


That sinking feeling – 40 minutes of panic!

Once I got to my room (about 5 1/2 hours later from leaving Detroit Metro). I decided to pull out my MacBook Pro and do some testing with my lighting while shooting tethered. I unzipped it and looked down and didn’t see my MacBook Pro. My immediate thought was, "oh I must have taken it out already and it’s on the desk behind me – right?" So I slowly turned around to see that it wasn’t there! Then I thought, "oh it’s on the bed behind the bag!" It wasn’t there either. My heart sank! I started freaking out wondering if at any time did I not have control of my bag. Then it hit me that I never put my laptop back in my bag at the TSA desk 5 1/2 hours ago! OMG! It was in the second bin on the bottom of the first one.
I pulled out my iPhone and called information frantically seeking the number for the Detroit Metro Airport. I got the number and of course NO ONE ANSWERED! No recording, no busy signal, just NO ANSWER! I called back 3 times and it just rang! Then I called information again and asked if they had a different number. They did, I called it and got a FAX tone! GREAAAAAAT! WTF! I called and asked for the number to TSA. "What’s TSA?" OMG! You’re kidding me right? I was really freaking out at this point! So now I called Northwest Airlines and begged for them to either give me a number for the airport that someone would answer or call them for me. Luckily I got a NWA rep that felt my pain and went out of her way to try to get a human being at the airport. She did reach one person who informed her that when items like laptops are left at the security check points, they are turned over to the police. She then found the number to lost and found. I thanked her and called that number only to hear and I kid you not – "our office hours are Monday through Friday from 9AM-5PM, please call back during those hours!" I was dying at this point! So I remembered what she told me about the police and I called and got the number to Michigan State Police and called them. Mike answered the phone and checked his computer log and yes someone turned in an Apple laptop around 8:30AM that morning!!! I had already asked my wife to head to the airport because I wasn’t getting anywhere on the phone. So I called her and had her head to the police station instead.


A happy ending

My wife picked up my MacBook Pro that evening from the Michigan State Police station. One of my colleagues was heading to San Jose the next day for the same conference I’m attending and he met with her to pick it up so that he could bring it out to me. I’m typing this blog entry on it and all is well. However, besides actually forgetting to put it back in my bag, it really reminded about some common sense things that we should all do:


What you should do besides not being forgetful

First and foremost I had done a complete backup the night before I left. So I had a backup at home. However, now I’m thinking I should also travel with a backup drive too. Even if I had lost my laptop for good and was willing to go out and buy a brand new one that day, my backup would have been at home (on my Time Capsule) and I would not have been able to restore until I returned home days later, which would have meant a very unproductive week! Also before I leave the house I just close the lid and let my MacBook go to sleep. So if someone had stolen it, all they would have had to do is simply OPEN THE LID and they would have access to everything! I do have a password set for login/boot up, but I didn’t have the feature enabled that requires a password upon waking from sleep/screen saver (I do now!).
Lastly, I plan to tape my business card to the bottom of it. The police had no way to know who was the owner and who to call? There was nothing on the outside of the laptop itself that identified the owner! Mike from the Michigan State Police told me that they get 3-4 laptops a day! – WOW!

Lesson learned and it will NEVER happen again!

  • Wow great story and super ending.

    good point about taping a biz card to the bottom. Used todo that a while back, but then realized it didn’t look cool on a PowerBook. Not anymore, taping my card after I hit submit on this comment.

  • Good tip about taping a business card to the bottom *does the same* Very fortunate that your laptop was safe after all and I can really imagine your feeling, almost been there but with another thing and another way.

  • Andrew

    In addition to taping a business card to the bottom, it is also a good idea to conceal a label with your name and address in the memory compartment or other concealed location. If someone had stolen the laptop, they can tear off the business card easily, but when making a police report, you can inform them of the location and hope that the the thief didn’t find it first. That makes easy proof that the laptop is yours (even if the hard drive is reformatted, etc).

  • Wow! I did that in Las Vegas last year, but remembered before getting on the plane.

    If the Michigan State Police gets 3-4 laptops a day, and no one claims them;

    I wonder what they do with them?

    I would purchase a few of them at an auction or something.

    Congrats on happy ending!

  • Lynn Grillo

    I have my card taped on inside, left of the track pad where it takes less abuse. Good idea about marking inside the battery case.

  • mrichman

    That can happen to anyone, Terry, but i’m sooooo OCD in line at airport security that i’ve done the opposite:

    My laptop bag is a backpack and I’ve actually pulled it off the rollers, post x-ray, put it over my shoulder, proceeded to grab the bin with the laptop, stacked it with the bin holding my jacket, etc. and then started yelling that someone had stolen my backpack! Until some TSA person calmly asked me if I was yelling about the bag on my shoulder.
    I wiped the egg from my face and walked off.

  • Ajay Jhaveri

    What a story. Glad it all ended so well.

  • Donna

    I left my laptop in the security bin in the Amsterdam airport last summer. I forgot to put it back in my packpack. What a hassle. I must say, they are very well organized as to lost items at that airport’s website, though. Dropdown menus in the language of your choice. What did you lose? Computer? What kind? What color? Where were you in the airport? It did cost me about $150 US to have it shipped via DSL courier to where I was in another country. I had an address label stuck to the outside as well as another pasted INSIDE the battery well. I have since read what I colnsider a very good suggestion. If you have multiple bins put your one shoe in the first one, put your other shoe in the bin with your laptop, which you should ALWAYS put last in line onto the conveyer belt for scanning (so it is the closest to you as you are going through the scanner. That way maybe you won’t leave solmething behind, because, hopefully, you have to put a show on each foot before you leave. Of course, that may bepend upon how jet-lagged your are. : )

  • Matt J

    My bag has set off the explosive detector before. It detects nitrogen compounds, so I would assume farmers would have a bit of a hassle if they got picked for a search.

  • Terry: My heart was pounding as I read this. I could feel your pain. Something similar happened to me at LAX last year, and like you, I was rebuffed by everyone except one great LA policeman, who found my bag and returned it to me. Hard lesson learned, isn’t it? I’m so glad it turned out OK for you.

  • OUCH Terry!

    I haven’t done anything like this yet, but I know that it can happen to me and I’m paranoid about losing something like the laptop, the VPN Key, phone, wallet, keys! This kind of stuff can unnerve anyone and I’m so glad it worked out for you.

  • wow! amazing story, good thing you got your laptop back! whew! πŸ™‚

  • Decent review of “LoJack” for stolen/lost laptops.


  • Kevan O’Brien

    Well I have similar experiences with the TSA all the time, just don’t get the SSSS on your boarding pass as that is bad.
    Glad they were honest enough to turn a laptop in, I have all my work partitions password protected for such a reason.
    Glad you came through it un-scared and happy to fly once more.

  • From now on, I’m getting behind Terry White while in line at the airport. There’s no telling what kind of technology you can pick up:)

  • Great blog! My first-time commenting….

    I haven’t flown anywhere in 10 years, and back then I didn’t have a laptop… But I know how it feels to leave expensive equipment somewhere because your mind was sidetracked…

    I forgot one of my cameras at an event, and didn’t realize it until a few days later when I went to get a spare memory card from it’s bag.

    It’s very hard to retrace your steps if it’s been any length of time, not to mention it doesn’t help you are freaking out! πŸ˜‰

    Anyway, you (and your readers) might want to look into buying some StuffBak labels / tags:


    They have unique ID numbers, so you don’t have to give away any of your private information (which may be listed on a business card, or address label).

    I looked into such labels and tags, when I lost my keys on a day-long shopping trip (I of course being the “bag carrier”).

    I have no ties to Stuffbak, other than being a customer. There are other similar companies: http://www.boomerangit.com/ & http://www.trackitback.com/portal/

    Every piece of technology, bags, keys, etc. I own now have either a StuffBak label or tag on it.

    People have the incentive to call the phone number listed, since they say “Reward for return”. StuffBak gives them some free labels, and I can set any $ amount I feel it’s worth to get my item(s) back.

    By the way, I did get my keys back. There were at the last place I was at, and the first place I called… Turns out the pizza delivery guy noticed the keys at the far side of the parking lot (we got carryout). He picked them up and forgot to turn them in until the next day he worked.

    The manager said he ONLY remembered my call, because I begged him to take my number with a description of the keys. πŸ™‚

    Also for Macs, I suggest you read up on the program “Undercover”:


    In the event your laptop is lost or stolen, you can go online (assuming you have access to another computer) and report it.

    Hidden software pings the Orbicule servers every-time the computer connects to a network. If it’s reported missing/stolen it can track IP addresses, take screenshots, and take photos via the built in iSight.

    I’m very protective of my gear, and got this right away when a friends laptop was stolen.

    And one last thing.

    Mac users should set an Open Firmware or EFI password. That way people can’t boot off a CD or removable drive and gain access to your files. That wont stop them from yanking the hard drive and connecting it to another machine… but it’s better than not having it.

    More info: http://www.orbicule.com/blog/2007/05/what-you-need-to-know-about-apple.html

  • You mention a few thing that you do to help identify your Mac should it be lost. One of my favorites is part of the Onyx utility app – http://www.titanium.free.fr/pgs/english/apps.html. In it’s “Parameters / Login” tab it allows you to insert a message that will display in the login window. I use this to add an “if found, contact…” line right on the login window. While not as comprehensive as some of the other things that can be done, it’s a good way to make sure your contact info is on the computer.