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What Happens to Lost US Airline Luggage?

Most people who fly on passenger planes in the United States do not lose their bags -- called “luggage” or “baggage.” Even if the luggage is lost, usually it only is delayed. Most “lost” luggage is found in a few days. Airlines search for the owners of unclaimed bags for up to three months. But when the owners cannot be found or the bags are not claimed, they are sold to a store in the small city of Scottsboro, in the southern state of Alabama. People who shop there often find good products for low prices.

About one-half of one percent of all luggage passing through U.S. airports is unclaimed. Many of the missing bags, and what is in them, are sold at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. Seven thousand items arrive at the store every day.

VOA spoke to Tom Barnes as he was shopping at the store.

“I can go into any of the large shopping centers, like, like the international malls and that. I can walk through there for an hour and come out with three items. I come in to this store, I come out with my car full of stuff.”

Brenda Cantrell works at the store.

“Well, (the) Unclaimed Baggage Center is the only store in America that buys and resells unclaimed baggage from the airline industry. So you would be surprised at jackets and eyeglasses, neck pillows, blankets, but (also) laptops and Kindles, and iPads and, you know, all kinds of expensive electronics.”

Other items sold by the store include diamond rings, wedding dresses, musical instruments and old typewriters. The store says it once sold a container for flowers for $80 that was found to be worth $18,000. And it says a painting it sold for $25 was later found to be worth $25,000.

The store buys the luggage from the airlines. It does not examine the things inside before buying them. Only about half of the items in the bags are suitable for sale at the store.

The store receives mostly clothing which is cleaned before being sold.

One young lady found some clothing to buy.

“(I’m) buying a black jacket. A ski jacket. (An) Express jacket. North Face fleece. And another black jacket.”

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is a huge store. And it has become one of the top places for travelers to visit in Alabama. More than a million people visit the store from around the world every year.

Elvira Southard has come from Colombia.

“What do you think about this one? Look good?”

Some people say it is not fair to the owners of the lost luggage to sell their goods. Customer Daniel Martin is not one of them.

“I feel like the airport may try to find the, the people that lose the things. So I guess if, if, if they’ve tried and they can’t get a hold of them, I guess it’s better than, like, throwing it away, or just letting it rot in a warehouse somewhere.”

Kayla Wilborn works at the store.

“All right. So this is our unclaimed baggage experience.”

Ms. Wilborn says the store chooses a customer every day to examine a bag and decide what happens to items in it.

“We have a shirt. And we check for condition to see what kind of brand do we have, to see if there’s any rips or holes or stains.”

Since the store opened in the early 1970s, people have come to look for low priced goods and unexpected finds.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu reported this story from Scottsboro, Alabama. Christopher Jones-Cruise wrote it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

luggage – n. the bags and suitcases that a person carries when traveling

baggage – n. the bags, suitcases and personal things that a person carries when traveling (this term is mostly used in the U.S.)

mall – n. a large building or group of buildings that has stores of many different kinds and sizes

expensive – adj. costing a lot of money; costly

suitable – adj. having the qualities that are right, needed or appropriate for something

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