This Is Where Your Luggage Ends Up When Airline Loses It

You arrive at the airport, excited for your upcoming vacation. After checking your bag, you head to the gate, ready to relax before the flight. But as you wait at baggage claim at your destination, your suitcase never appears. Your heart sinks as you realize that the airline has lost your luggage.

This happens to millions of passengers every year. In 2018 alone, airlines mishandled nearly 25 million bags. That’s about 5.7 bags lost or delayed for every 1,000 passengers.

While airlines have made big improvements in recent years, the rate of mishandled baggage seems to have plateaued.

If your bag is lost, it often ends up in a small town in Alabama called Scottsboro. There, a unique business called Unclaimed Baggage buys and resells unclaimed airline luggage and items.

This strange store was started in 1970 by an entrepreneur named Hugo Doyle Owens.

Owens was born and raised in Scottsboro. He was a World War II veteran who sold insurance after returning from the war. But by age 39, he was restless and looking for a new venture.

One day over the radio, he learned that a bus company in Washington D.C. had a huge stack of unclaimed suitcases they wanted to get rid of.

At the time, unclaimed luggage was often discarded or sold for pennies to junk shops. But Owens saw business potential in the lost bags. He borrowed $300 from his father-in-law and bought the entire lot of suitcases.

Owens set up a small storefront in Scottsboro and put the suitcase contents up for sale. Within 24 hours, he had sold out of the luggage inventory and made a tidy profit.

Encouraged by the demand, Owens soon struck deals to buy unclaimed bags from airlines like Eastern, National, and Air Florida. He was acquiring thousands of pieces of lost luggage every month.

The novelty of sifting through lost items and reselling them quickly spread. By the late 1970s, Owens had grown Unclaimed Baggage into a bustling business with six employees.

Today, 50 years after its humble beginnings, Owens’ one-of-a-kind business has become a huge tourist destination, attracting over 1 million visitors annually to its 50,000 square foot store.

Unclaimed Baggage continues to purchase unclaimed luggage and items from airlines and travel companies. As a passenger whose bag is lost, you may find your belongings for sale on the shelves of this bizarre retail store.

Imagine walking into the massive Unclaimed Baggage store and coming across your lost suitcase for sale! This bizarre retail business handles items from lost checked bags to things left behind in plane overhead bins.

Unclaimed Baggage purchases these unclaimed items from airlines and hospitality groups, sight unseen. The store has secretive agreements with certain airlines and travel companies to buy bags and luggage that have been unclaimed for over 90 days.

When your lost bag arrives at their facility, Unclaimed Baggage employees sort through the contents. About one-third of the items are cleaned, priced, and then resold at a discount.

The store has huge sections of clothing, shoes, jewelry, electronics and more – all items from travelers’ lost luggage!

Some of the strangest finds Unclaimed Baggage has come across over the years include ancient artifacts, celebrity clothing, live animals, and much more.

While it may seem unethical, reselling unclaimed bags allows airlines to recoup a small portion of the billions they lose yearly from mishandled luggage.

As a passenger whose bag went missing, it’s certainly frustrating wondering what happened to your belongings. But Unclaimed Baggage views itself as a business, not a lost and found.

The store focuses on profiting from selling unclaimed items, not reuniting them with owners.

The good news is that new tracking technology could dramatically reduce lost luggage going forward. Airlines testing bag tracking systems have already seen rates of mishandled bags drop between 38-66%.

By implementing tracking, especially at key transfer points between flights, the industry hopes to get back on track in reuniting passengers with their bags.

So the next time you fly, cross your fingers that your bag arrives safely. And if you ever find yourself browsing the aisles of Unclaimed Baggage, keep an eye out for your lost items!

The store may one day be stocked with far fewer unclaimed treasures thanks to better luggage tracking.

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