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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. 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 with owners.
But there is that other 0.5% of bags that never find their people. So, what happens to those lost items?
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.
This place has been around since 1970. Lost bags are purchased — sight unseen — via 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. This place is, as you might imagine, a destination for those looking to score bargains.
Forty-thousand square feet of items found in unclaimed luggage means you’re likely to find quite the array of items — even ski gear. And plenty of new items are added to the store’s inventory every day.
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Once the UBC decides what it wants — about a third of the take at any point — another third gets recycled, and the rest goes to the UBC’s charity, Reclaimed for Good. Everything that gets sold is 20%-80% off the retail price. Remember, these are quality items — people wanted to take this stuff with them, not toss it out!
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 Clever Way To Avoid Luggage Mix-Ups
Another luggage-related headache: Identifying your bag in baggage claim. So many suitcases look the same (read: black and rectangular), grabbing the correct bag can feel like finding Waldo in a sea of red-and-white striped shirts.
Well, not anymore. If your suitcase is too generic-looking, have you tried emblazoning it with a giant personal photo? A personalized luggage cover is 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 — you know, something a little more standout than the sad little ribbon that’s tied on there now.
Another smart option for ensuring your bag will always find its way back to you is to slip an AirTag into your luggage. An Apple AirTag is a device that you can you attach to an item you’d like to track. If you lose the item that has an AirTag attached to it, you can go into the Find My app on your Apple device and track it down.
There are a variety of uses for AirTags beyond luggage tracking, and the little gadgets are relatively inexpensive for the peace of mind they provide.
Here’s to avoiding luggage mix-ups and mysteries from this day forward! And if you do lose your luggage, take heart in the idea that there may be somebody out there who paid money to wear your clothes and enjoy your personal items.
Kate Emswiler contributed to this report.