Delta garage sale attracts aviation superfans hoping to buy plane parts, clothing, cutlery

ATLANTA -- Next to the world’s busiest airport, a line snakes through a parking lot that leads to an unassuming warehouse.

As the clock strikes 9 a.m., Judy Bean proudly waves her arms, proclaiming “Let the games begin, come on in!” Eager shoppers flooded in.

The excitement is over a monthly flea market of sorts. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see the items all have something in common: the branding of Atlanta’s most famous airline.

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Aviation superfans have been flocking to the Delta Surplus Sale since 1995, snagging items ranging from $2 CO2 cartridges to $3 t-shirts, $5 Sam Adams cut-outs and $225 airplane seats. It's a sort of garage sale for airplane parts and proceeds benefit the Delta Flight Museum. Last year, the monthly sales brought in $100,000.

The list of items is endless.

There’s a new quirky item on every shelf – shoppers can choose from soup bowls, pins, antique timetables, food menus from flights, fashion runways, furniture, drink carts and airplane parts – all items retired or deemed as surplus from one of the largest global airlines that sees more than 180 million passengers annually.

“If [Delta] has something they need to get rid of, they contact me,” said event manager, Judy Bean. She told Fox News this sale is one-of-a-kind -- no other U.S.-based airline holds a similar routine sale.

Among the most loyal shoppers is Delta retiree Norbert Raith. “I think I’ve probably missed one sale since they started [in 1995],” he said.

Over the years, he’s acquired thousands of photographs, entire table settings and piles of t-shirts. “Every time I see a different one with a different logo, I have to have it,” Raith said. “It’s just a habit. I’ve always been a collector.”

His devotion to collecting airplane paraphernalia has introduced him to fellow fanatics, developing new friendships with people like Bill Love.

Love has volunteered with the surplus sale since it began as a biannual event, attracting no more than 200 shoppers. Since then, the Delta Surplus Sale has taken off. It is now a monthly event, drawing in more than 700 people per sale. It is held on the second Friday of every month, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

As the event has grown in popularity, Love has taken advantage of one of the job perks: he gets first dibs. He perused the warehouse recently, picking up a Shamoji (an East Asian rice paddle).

“Those are like a plastic spatula, they’re like a soup thing,” Love said to another volunteer. “I told my wife after you do dip or something you can clean it out with that.”

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Volunteers load a set of airplane seats into a shopper's trunk at the Delta Surplus Sale.

Volunteers load a set of airplane seats into a shopper's trunk at the Delta Surplus Sale. (Fox News)

Bean applauded customers’ creativity in repurposing things.

“Our people are very talented,” she said. “They can come in and see something, and just in their brain, they have the idea.”

She has seen drink carts turned into mobile bars, a pressurized airplane door used as the entrance to a wine cellar, and airplane seats repurposed as furniture.

Tiffany Mathison and her son Colin drove several hours to take home a set of airplane seats for Colin’s “man cave.”

Lori Richardson and her son Ryan flew from Minnesota with a similar goal. “We flew in last night, and we’ll be going back home this afternoon, just specifically for here,” the pair explained.

Randy Malamud, nearly a “million miler” with Delta, said it’s fun to have things out of context.

“Whenever I’m getting on a plane and sitting…you get that buzz or rush of traveling,” Malamud explained, “and if you bring this stuff home, you get a little bit of that at home, too.”

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Rayleen Weatherly says her wedding theme, "Love is in the Air," routinely brings her to the Delta Surplus Sale to hunt for thematic decorations for their June celebration.

Rayleen Weatherly says her wedding theme, "Love is in the Air," routinely brings her to the Delta Surplus Sale to hunt for thematic decorations for their June celebration. (Rayleen Weatherly)

While the majority of shoppers are passionate about airplanes, the event also attracts people simply searching for good deals.

Rayleen Weatherly and her fiancé did some wedding shopping at the March 8 sale, purchasing dishes, furniture and small items for guest gift bags.

“From the get-go, from when we got engaged, I knew that we’re going to have a theme that encapsulates the travel and the adventure of life,” Weatherly said, explaining how the Delta branded items fit perfectly into that theme.

Even after running the sale for 14 years, Bean said the array of retired items and how customers repurpose them never cease to surprise her.

“Every sale is different," she said with a smile. "I never know what’s coming.”