When a piece of luggage gets lost in the United States, the airline keeps it for 90 days, as they try to find out who it belongs to. That’s why it’s important to have multiple name tags with your name on your checked luggage. The percentage of luggage that gets permanently lost is low, but with over 600 million passengers a year, that works out to a lot of luggage. So, what do the airlines do with the stuff?
They sell it all to this store. The Unclaimed Baggage Center buys it by weight, picks it up at airports around the country, and brings it back here to Scottsboro, Alabama. About 7,000 new items arrive everyday! Roughly a third is thrown in the garbage, another third given to charities or recycled and the remaining good stuff is retailed. The store is enormous, occupying an entire city block.
This is about a quarter of the entire store. Clothes comprise 60% of the offerings, but the diversity of the rest is incredible; hundreds of cameras, books, sunglasses, pieces of jewellery, sports equipment. I saw horse saddles, collections of VHS tapes and a diving dry suit. I was shocked to see underwear for sale, until I realized it was the lost cargo section; new products lost on their way to retail outlets across the country. Depending on the type of products, they are sold at 20-80% of retail value. This was my loot:
– 2 short sleeve shirts (what I most commonly wear while travelling);
– 2 polo shirts;
– Jared Diamond’s The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, 2012, Hardcover;
– Lonelyplanet’s Korea (North and South), 2013 edition; and
– A new wallet large enough to fit bills bigger than Canadian and US $, like 50 euro notes.
Total damage, with tax: $28! Saving me enough money to be able to afford the steep ticket price to Tennessee’s star attraction: