May 22, 2007

Madrid Airport Auctions Lost Items

MADRID, Spain - Things people left on planes and at airports - more than 20,000 of them, including a wedding dress and a pair of rudimentary stilts - were auctioned off Tuesday in a big clear out of Madrid airport's lost-and-found department.

The sale was organized by national flagship carrier Iberia, but it involved unclaimed items found on any plane operated by any carrier in Spain or at any Spanish airport over the past six months, Iberia said.

The objects were divided up into nine lots - clothes in one, jewelry in another, and so forth - that ended up going for prices ranging from euro641 ($862) for the cheapest to euro18,340 ($24,674) for the most expensive.

There was no frantic bidding; rather, auctioneers simply opened up sealed offers that potential buyers had submitted over a one-week period that ended Monday. Iberia said most are merchants who run second-hand stores.

The tokens of travelers' forgetfulness included 6,330 books, 664 toys, 1,570 audio or video gadgets, 38 cartons of cigarettes, several surf boards, a bass guitar, a wedding dress and a pair of crudely made stilts with sneakers at the bottom, said an Iberia official speaking on condition of anonymity.

These twice-yearly auctions have been held in Spain since 1942, when the government started them. Then state-owned Iberia was Spain's only airline at the time, so it got the honors. It has continued to stage the sales simply out of tradition.

Proceeds - minus the cost of hiring the auctioneers and Iberia's costs in storing mountains of lost possessions - go to the government's Development Ministry.

Neither Iberia nor the ministry had a figure for how much money was raised in total.