It’s every traveler’s worst nightmare come true: an airline losing their carefully packed, strategically weighted luggage. But what happens when luggage actually can’t be reunited with its owner? Let’s explore the windy path your suitcase could take as a piece of unclaimed or lost luggage, knowing that if you leave your luggage unclaimed in the U.S., it might end up in the most unlikely of tourist attractions.
Generally, a piece of luggage gets lost due to a misstep or mishandling by the airline. That means it could end up re-routed to Hawaii instead of New York. In these cases, the missing suitcase will typically be found and reunited with its owner within about five days. But what happens when a bag is either abandoned on the carousel or the airline has made every effort to contact its owner with no return communication? In these instances, there are set protocols that help dictate the airlines’ behavior.
Airlines have 90 days to reunite MIA luggage with its rightful owner. If they aren’t able to do so because a suitcase or package is genuinely lost, the traveler can file an insurance claim and be paid to make up for their monetary loss. But, if the baggage or item is found and remains unclaimed after that three month period, that’s when things get interesting.
Unclaimed Baggage Center
In the event that an airline has attempted to get an unclaimed item back to its owner for 90 days with no response, the bag is then sold to a third party. Most often, that third party is the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. This quirky shopping experience boasts the largest dry cleaning operation in Alabama and the world’s one and only lost luggage store. Every year, thousands of unclaimed bags get shipped to the UBC’s door. Shipments are sorted, cleaned, and put out for resale at the travel-funded thrift store.
Goods are placed in separate shopping sections like an organized department store. There’s a women’s area, a kid’s clothes spot, a sporting goods section, a book area, a formal clothing department, an electronics section, and a menswear division among others.
Perhaps the coolest attribute of this unconventional shopping experience is their You Found What? experience. There, the oddest and most unique items unpacked from the lost luggage aren’t actually available to be purchased. Instead, these quirky articles get added to the Unclaimed Baggage Center’s on-site museum. Since the center has been open for over 40 years, this section keeps expanding with curious finds. Some noteworthy displays include a Muppet puppet crafted by the master himself, Jim Henson, a 40+ carat emerald gemstone, and a shrunken head. This museum gets new additions all the time, so visitors won’t know what to expect.
Curious travelers can visit the 40,000-square-foot Unclaimed Baggage Center. Besides the aforementioned shopping experiences and weird and wacky museum, there is also a cafe on site for coffee and sustenance. Just be aware that the UBC is closed each and every Sunday. This odd store must be doing something right, as they were honored as the 2016 Alabama Retailer of the Year in the $5 million to $20 million annual sales category.
Rest assured that lost luggage is generally reunited with its rightful owners, but some unclaimed bags take a more interesting journey that ends in Scottsboro, Alabama.