Unclaimed Baggage, a private company, buys unclaimed lost luggage from major airlines. Then, it’s resold to new owners. Is this a second chance at its finest?
A lost suitcase can be a lot of different things: Massively inconvenient, mildly irritating, heartbreaking. From losing souvenirs to wedding dresses to prosthetics and ashes of loved ones, a lot of folks are experiencing the loss right now.
Due to the increases in delayed and canceled flights this year, more and more people are arriving at their destinations without their checked luggage. Travelers have seen a whopping 67 percent increase in lost and mishandled luggage since last year. In July, Delta flew a luggage-only plane filled with 1,000 lost bags from the UK to its hub in Detroit. NBC has gone as far as to dub summer 2022 as the “Summer of Lost Luggage.”
And, for some reason, airlines aren’t adjusting how they handle customers’ possessions. From their perspective, the rules around lost luggage are pretty simple: For 90 days, airlines have to try to reunite the bag with its owner. (Unfortunately, some airlines are not making good on their attempts to reunite baggage with its owners. Case in point: Sky Handling being caught red-handed throwing traveler’s luggage into the dumpster at an Irish airport.) If the bag remains unclaimed for more than that—something that happens with less than one percent of lost bags—they’re put up for sale.
That’s the end of the story for some lost luggage, as it doesn’t sell and is instead shipped to the landfill. But not all of it.
In 1970, Alabaman entrepreneur Doyle Owens decided all those suitcases lost by airlines looked like a business opportunity. He started buying lost luggage and selling its contents, an enterprise that grew into Unclaimed Baggage, a company with contracts with eight major airlines.
Most of the unclaimed bags in the US end up at their store, which covers a full city block of Scottsboro, Alabama. There, workers unpack the bags and sort through what they find inside to be sold, donated, or recycled. In addition to keeping as much as they possibly can out of the landfill, Unclaimed Baggage has created a pretty unique shopping experience.
“At a thrift store, people are getting rid of items they no longer want,” Sonni Hood, a brand ambassador for the company, told Travel Awaits. “Our store has things that people love so much they took them on vacation with them!”
This summer, to celebrate its 50th anniversary (a couple of years late, because of the pandemic) Unclaimed Baggage is opening pop-up shops in all 50 states. Working their way west from Washington, D.C. (where Owens bought his first batch of unclaimed luggage), the company is setting up miniature versions of their massive Scottsboro store. It’s complete with a display of some of their best items from the Museum of Found Treasures that Doyle Owens’ son added when he took over the business in 1995.
In addition to sifting through clothes, accessories, and souvenirs that never arrived at their intended destination, visitors can use a QR code to access items in the online store available only to pop-up visitors.
The roadshow is still only around halfway done, so keep an eye out. Who knows what you could find among all those items that have been redirected from the landfill to live a second life? Brand-new clothes (the Unclaimed Baggage online store says around one in 10 pieces of clothing they get still have the tags attached), a family heirloom, a Statue of Liberty keychain… Hell, you might even rediscover your favorite dress—you know, the one in that bag that never showed up after your last flight.