HEBRON, Ky. -- Only a few days into October, Penny Kramer had been working as if it were mid-December and she was Santa Claus amid lost and forgotten toys.
Kramer, a department assistant for the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport Police, is largely in charge of the lost-and-found program, which has been increasingly -- and sometimes, interestingly -- bursting at the seams. Given that CVG is back in favor, it's been a nearly full-time job just to manage the intake.
"We're not even a full week in yet, and I've already gotten 100 items," she said, rummaging through bins filled with forgotten wallets, baby items, gadgets and more.
Hurried travelers likely misplace millions of items at U.S. airports each year, but at CVG, there's been a noticeable spike.
Since 2012, more than 29,000 items have been "found." In 2016, that number topped 7,672 -- a 76 percent increase over 2014, the first year it included TSA-recovered goods in that data.
This year, through early October, the airport is on pace to obliterate those gains with 6,652 lost items thus far. It already had a record June, and the holidays are upcoming. The Thanksgiving span is considered the busiest here by far.
CVG served more than 6.8 million passengers overall last year -- an 8-percent bump -- and wants to increase that number to 9 million by 2021.
"We're up well above average across the board," Kramer said. "As passenger volume goes up, so does lost and found."
So what exactly gets left behind? There's the usual: bags, laptops, belts, jewelry, cell phones and keys. Over 300 of the latter have been collected to date. But there are also oddities: surf boards, children's Big Wheels, a wall vent, hula hoops, a single flip-flop – even underwear.
"You never know what you're going to get," Kramer said.
Each item, no matter how big or small, finds its way to the police department, where it's logged and tagged -- the date it was found, where it was discovered and a description. Everything is stored in a large, oversized closet on site, which is often overflowing.
"It's a daily rearranging job in there," Kramer said.
Anything lost can be recovered at the police department -- it's located near the terminal garage -- during normal business hours, and there's a section on the CVG website where owners can file a report. Per state law, anything left after 60 days is shipped over to the Boone County Sheriff's Department, where it's auctioned. Items like eyeglasses are donated to a charity.
While the airport is recovering more items than ever, it's proving increasingly difficult to match forgotten goods with rightful owners. Only about 26 percent of items lost in 2016 were claimed, a number that's fallen steadily. In 2013, it was almost 50 percent.
In 2014, it was 34 percent, and in 2015, 31.5 percent -- all despite efforts that often go above and beyond to track them down.
"A lot of times people don’t want to pay to ship it back," Kramer said. "When it's a driver's license or credit card, it's just easier for them to get a new one.
"But I think a lot of people don’t know where to look, or who to call, or where to even start," she added.
So far, the extra workload is manageable, but CVG Police Chief Shawn Ward said he's constantly studying ways to better manage department resources. Not just when it comes to lost and found, but overall, since the airport is on an upward trajectory.
The growth of ultra-low cost carriers Frontier and Allegiant has helped drive records. CVG will add new trans-Atlantic service with WOW Air in 2018, and Southwest is considering additional routes after its launch in June.
"It is a challenge sometimes," Ward said. "A lot of this increase comes with the transition from a (Delta) hub airport to (a multicarrier one), when you have a lot of people flying for the first time -- and this is the result. The upside is the customer service aspect, which we're so heavily steeped in, and is important to us. We just want to make sure we reach some type of balance so it doesn't overwhelm us."