Travel

Where does lost airline luggage go?

Abandoned bags all go to the same place: a 40,000-square-foot thrift store called the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Hundreds of Southwest Airlines checked bags are piled together at baggage.
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Losing your luggage while traveling can be frustrating at best and heartbreaking at worst. 

As awful as it can be, however, it's actually a largely uncommon occurrence that the luggage won't find its way back to you. In fact, according to Thrillist, a whopping 99.5% of all luggage ends up back with its rightful owner. Even if luggage doesn't initially come out on the proper carousel, airlines go to great lengths to return bags to owners. 

But there is that other 0.5% of bags that never find their people. So, what happens to those lost items?

Welcome to Unclaimed Baggage Center

If the airlines can’t match lost luggage with its original owner, it gets shipped off to the 40,000-square-foot Unclaimed Baggage Center — a store in Scottsboro, Alabama, 45 miles east of Huntsville, that's been around since 1970.

At the store, lost bags are purchased sight-unseen from airlines, bus and train lines. Once it’s decided what is destined for resale, the cleansing process goes into effect. Electronics are wiped clean. Jewelry is cleaned and appraised. Clothing is dry-cleaned and laundered at an in-house facility — the largest in Alabama.

According to the Unclaimed Baggage Center's website, only the best items are selected for resale, making it a destination for those looking to score bargains.

And with 40,000 square feet of items found in unclaimed luggage, shoppers are likely to find quite the array of items, even ski gear and expensive jewelry. Plus, plenty of new items are added to the store’s inventory every day.

After the UBC decides what it wants to resell — about a third of the take at most times — another third gets recycled, and the rest goes to the UBC’s charity, Reclaimed for Good. Everything that gets sold is 20% to 80% off the retail price of items — items many people thought to be so important that they brought them with them on a trip.

But if you can’t get to Scottsboro anytime soon, the Unclaimed Baggage Center also offers the chance to shop online. There’s something for everyone, including a “luxe finds” section with not-so-low prices on high-end items.

One way to avoid luggage mix-ups in the first place

Another luggage-related headache is identifying your bag in baggage claim. So many suitcases look like the same black, rectangular box, and grabbing the correct bag can feel like finding Waldo in a sea of red-and-white striped shirts.

But if your suitcase is too generic-looking, have you considered emblazoning it with a giant personal photo? A personalized luggage cover has become a baggage claim game-changer.

Thanks to the Luggage Pros website, you can purchase an actual suitcase printed with a photo of your choosing, or get really creative with a luggage tag.

Another smart option for ensuring your bag will always find its way back to you is to slip an AirTag into your luggage. 

There are a variety of uses for AirTags beyond luggage tracking, but at their core, they allow owners to attach them to items they'd like to track. If you lose the item that has the small, relatively inexpensive device attached to it, you can go into the Find My app on your Apple device and track it down.

Here’s to avoiding luggage mix-ups and mysteries from this day forward! And if you do lose your luggage, take heart in knowing  that there may be somebody out there who paid money to wear your clothes and enjoy your personal items.

This story was originally published by Brinke Guthrie on Simplemost.