The Rosett Report

Airport Aftermath - Good Work If You Can Get It

While Pajamas Media has been forging ahead with such headline matters as torture memos, healthcare and the Middle East, I’ve been too much away this past week or so from the blogfront.  So I’ll ease back into this with one of those personal airport tales we all collect. This has to do with options for those sharp objects you forgot to remove from your carry on…

On April 19th, I went to a U.S. airport, to fly to Switzerland and join Pajamas CEO Roger Simon at the UN’s Durban Review Conference in Geneva (you can see some of our coverage on PJTV).

At the security check I was pulled aside. They rummaged in my shoulder bag, and they were right! I had forgotten to take out a very small Swiss Army knife. In this way, since 2001, I have lost an assortment of manicure scissors, a previous pocketknife, and been required to hand over for all time a number of bottles of hand lotion and shampoo. But not this time. There is now a service called Airport Mailers, available — so says their web site — at 22 U.S. airports, so if you forget, you no longer have to render into eternal airport oblivion your “treasured items.”

Instead, you can hand over a stack of cash. Airport Mailers had a man on hand to take my pocket knife, and for $9.95 (the price list is based on weight, and this was a very, very small pocketknife) he would mail it back to me. That seemed a ridiculously high price to mail such a miniature object. But I did the math — the knife was a gift from an old friend, and probably worth at least $10, so under the circumstances, I’d still come out some sentiment and a nickel’s worth ahead. I filled out a form, handed him the money, and went to the plane.

Today, 2-1/2 weeks after I flew out of that airport, my pocketknife finally arrived, wrapped in a copy of the form I filled out, and stuffed inside a bubble-wrap mailing envelope, with a first-class postage label priced at $1.17.  It took more time for the knife to get back to me than it took me to fly to Geneva, spend a week at a UN conference, fly back to the U.S., and wait another week-and-a-half, sort of vaguely wondering now and then if the knife would ever reappear.

Glad to get it back. Glad to have any option at the airport beyond simply losing my treasured items forever. But marveling at the markup. Even assuming the cost of the envelope plus the postage came to a full $2, that still leaves $7.95 as the price of having someone hand me an address form, collect the money, put the pocket-knife put it in an envelope, and drop it in the one-ounce first-class snail-mail slow lane. Maybe that’s a much more labor intensive project than I understand. Maybe the idea is to deter people from using a mailing service as a backstop for trying to deliberately sneak sharp objects onto planes. Maybe to compensate the mail handler for the miseries of going through the airpot security check to get to his job every day, this service has to shell out sums that make its fees look cheap.

But multiply those mailing fees by the number of people who go through airport checks every day and discover they’ve accidentally brought with them Aunt Hattie’s treasured but prohibited hat pin. At busy airports, at these prices, sure sounds like good work if you can get it. Leaves me wondering if someone could make decent money offering the same service, at half the price?