Unclaimed Baggage Center
Credit: Unclaimed Baggage Center

Salvage meets spectacle in Scottsboro, Alabama, where lost luggage is finally claimed - but not by its original owners.

What? Did you think that lonely bags were left to circle baggage claim in a sort of revolving suitcase purgatory? Nope - they're sold. But before you start packing everything into hand luggage, let's back up for a second. Contrary to popular belief, it's not easy to permanently lose your luggage. The chances are actually quite slim. 

Lost luggage fun facts

suitcasedenboma

  • Of the billion or so passenger bags checked every year, roughly one per cent fail to reunite with their owners at the claim carousel.
  • Within 24 hours, 80-90% of those "lost" bags are found.
  • Within five days, 95-98% of that one percent make their way home.

The remaining luggage waits for a 90-day grace period, during which the airline exhausts all attempts to find the owner with a comprehensive baggage tracing process. More than half of that lonely luggage is reunited with traumatized travellers.

But about the truly lost?  

Unclaimed Baggage CenterUnclaimed Baggage Center

If there's no going home, the left-behind bags are donated, trashed or sold to a third-party. One such retailer is Scottsboro's Unclaimed Baggage Center (UBC), the only store in America that buys and resells lost luggage.

However, most of the cases' contents aren't salvageable. UBC claims only one-third of the items make it onto store shelves. But still, that means a whopping 7,000 new items arrive at their 40,000-sq. ft. store each day

Predictably, clothing makes up the majority of UBC's inventory, but the store also sells electronics, sporting goods, books, household items, jewellery, formal wear, toys and random assorted items you would never expect.

 

How to avoid losing luggage

Hint: it's usually the traveller's fault...

airport

  • Replace old luggage. UBC says that most of the luggage that passes through its doors is in rough shape; it's old and has poorly working clasps and zippers. 
  • Tag your luggage - duh. Unsurprisingly, it's difficult to trace luggage that is not labelled. 
  • Surprise! Your carry-on items are at greater risk. Items that are left behind in overhead compartments are even less likely to be returned. Why? These items - including backpacks, purses, stray books and children's toys - aren't usually labelled.

Unclaimed luggage = tourist attraction?

Unclaimed Baggage CenterUnclaimed Baggage Center

Unclaimed Baggage Center's shopping experience is just as zany as its business model, attracting both thrifters and lookie-loos. In fact, the store garners over one million visitors each year, making it a tourist attraction in its own right.

With 1,168 reviews on TripAdvisor.com at the time of publishing, it's little surprise that UBC ranks as the #1 thing to do in Scottsboro. (The #2 ranking - Goose Pond Colony Resort - boasts just 10 reviews.)

Visitors wanting more of that thrill-of-the-find experience can even unpack a bag that has never been sorted by the airlines. Who knows what you might find?


Stories of weird and whacky luggage

Unclaimed Baggage CenterUnclaimed Baggage CenterUnclaimed Baggage CenterUnclaimed Baggage Center

Lost luggage can contain the rare and unusual.

Less glamourous items UBC has encountered include moldy foods and live snakes (insert Snakes on a Plane reference here), while others are remarkably more lucrative: heirlooms, artifacts, wedding dresses and expensive jewellery. Although these luxury items are not the norm in lost luggage, they do sometimes make it onto store shelves.

Other unique high-dollar items UBC has received include movie props and historical documents. The highest priced item the store ever sold was a men's President Platinum Rolex, valued at $65,000. UBC sold it for $23,000 USD.

To check it out for yourself, visit UBC at:

Unclaimed Baggage Center
509 West Willow Street, Scottsboro, Alabama 35768
Tel: 256-259-1525
unclaimedbaggage.com

 

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