Where does your luggage go when an airline loses it? You might think it simply disappears into a black hole–somewhere akin to the mysterious void where missing socks in the dryer end up–but the truth, you may find, is much more strange.
Lost bags and all of their contents eventually find their way to a retail store/warehouse in Scottsboro, Alabama, called the Unclaimed Baggage Center—a facility so large it’s bigger than a city block. In fact, it is one of Alabama’s top tourist attractions hosting more than one million visitors each year from every state and more than 40 foreign countries. It is the only lost luggage store in the United States. There’s even a museum to house the Center’s most unique finds.
Ninety-nine and a half percent of domestic airlines’ checked bags are picked up at the baggage carousel. The airlines conduct an extensive three-month tracing process with the remaining 0.5% of unclaimed bags in an effort to reunite them with their owners. It is only after claims are paid on these remaining lost bags that the airlines sell them to the Unclaimed Baggage Center.
So what can you find there? The short answer: everything. The store stocks more than 7,000 new items daily. And if you’re imagining a cluttered store full of worn clothing and junk, think again. The staff sorts out only the best items for the retail floor. All of the clothing is professionally cleaned and laundered, which is why they also boast the largest dry cleaning facility in the state, laundering approximately 50,000 items each month. Fine jewelry is cleaned and appraised, and all electronic items have their memories cleared of personal data and are tested to make sure they work. Prices are comparable to what you’d find at a thrift store, often coming in less expensive than market value.
By now you may be wondering if you might find your long-lost luggage at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. It’s certainly possible, but even if you find it, it’s not yours anymore. And you’ll have to buy it back.
Friendly reminder: Always label your luggage in multiple areas.