07 January 2010

Claiming Baggage

Everyone has baggage.  But, if you're like me, I LOATHE claiming that baggage whenever I fly. It's not that I'm worried that the airline will lose or misplace my luggage, or someone will steal my overstuffed suitcase; I just hate waiting around after my flight to wait for my suitcase in a crowded baggage claim area. I much prefer to simply use my carry-on, but that isn't always enough, especially during Christmas time when you fill an entire suitcase with gifts to travel back and forth with.

Luckily, I have never lost my baggage. If I ever did, I would certainly claim it.  What I don't understand is people who don't claim their baggage, for whatever reason.  For those of you people who don't claim your baggage, it's up for grabs by anyone, and the people at the Unclaimed Baggage Center aren't afraid to take advantage.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is located in Scottsboro, Alabama.  It was founded in 1970 by Doyle and Sue Owens as a part-time business, but has now become a full-time venture.

According to the Unclaimed Baggage Center website, "in 1978, the Owens incorporated the company and watched it prosper as one of the great 'hidden' bargain centers for savvy shoppers".

The website also says, "in 1995, Bryan Owens, son of the founder, acquired Unclaimed Baggage and directed the expansion which includes the current contemporary retail store that covers more than a city block. The store has many amenities including a Concierge Desk to help guests and Cups Espresso Café - serving Starbucks Coffee and Dippin Dots".

Sounds like this place is a gold mine, but feels to me like a classier, more vintage thrift store.  Approximately 1 million items pass through this store each and every year.  After at least 90 days of intensive tracking by the airlines, the majority of these items are then claimed, "unclaimed". About 60% of the merchandise is clothing, and the remaining items are cameras, electronics, sporting goods, jewelry, books and not surprising, LUGGAGE.

 It may seem there is a shit ton of unclaimed luggage out there, at least enough for there to be a huge store that covers a city block, but there actually isn't as much lost luggage as you may think.  Airlines use sophisiticated global tracking devices and over 99.9% of checked bags are returned to their rightful owners.

Apparently, Unclaimed Baggage actually donates 1/3 of their items to an extensive list of charities. They donate clothing and other items such as strollers, car seats, and luggage to foster care programs.  Other items donated are wheelchairs,  walking aids, and even eyeglasses to charities not only in the U.S. but worldwide.

Over the years, the Unclaimed Baggage Center has encountered very many odd and unique items.  Some of the items include expensive jewelry such as a 5.8 carat diamond, as well as a 40.95 carat natural emerald.  How can people not know they lost these items, and how can they not claim them? 

Other items include a full suit of armor, which is an exact replica of a 19th century original.  A woman who had bought a Barbie at the center apparently gave it to her daughter, who then promptly pulled the head off (sounds like something I used to do).  If her mother was about to scold her daughter for abusing a brand new Barbie doll, I'm sure the mother kept her mouth shut once she saw $500 in rolled bills fall out of Barbie's thin neck.

Not all items at the Unclaimed Baggage Center are for sale though.  "Hoggle", a dwarf/troll/goblin creature from David Bowie's movie, "Labyrinth" is a permanent fixture at the center. A violin from the 1770's is also not for sale.

The center doesn't always keep the unclaimed items either.  Even if no one claims them and the center sees that an item needs to be returned to its rightful owner, even though the owner didn't claim the item, they will return it.  A guidance system for an F16 fighter jet, valued at $250,000, was found in the unclaimed baggage but the center returned it to the US Navy.  Along with the guidance system, a camera designed for use on a NASA Space Shuttle was also found, but the good people at the center returned it to NASA.

Perhaps two of the most frequently asked questions are if the center can help someone locate their lost baggage, or a shopper can request certain items. The answer to both questions is no; by the time the baggage reaches the center, every effort has been made to find the owners.  The baggage the center receives is anonymous and at least sometimes up to 120 days past the travel date.  The center doesn't fulfill personal requests either because that would require dozens of personal shoppers combing through thousands of items and filling orders.

Ironically, the center's website devotes a section of their report to "Travel Tips" to educate travelers about the Do's and Dont's for baggage.  For their sake, I'm pretty sure they put that up there because they have a good heart; if people actually heeded this advice, nothing cool or unique would show up at this center at all and would just be a warehouse full of clothing.

Would you be willing to travel across the country to check out this local gem? I wouldn't plan a trip around it, but if I happened to be within driving distance, I'd surely check it out. Many people say it's worth the trip.


Alexandra said...

Offtopic: There's a little present for you over at my blog :)

dogimo said...

Great post! What a cool yet melancholy sort of store.

Somewhere close enough to me (as a kid) for the commercials to be all over the tv was a seemingly-similarly-premised business called Unclaimed Freight. They used to run so many corny commercials. All ending with the cry: "Unnnnnnn-Claaaaaaaaimed FREIGHT! It's great!"

I always wondered who was abandoning all that freight.

CelticLady said...

No I have not read any of Queen Elizabeth's speeches, I should though...

determined2fly said...

How bizarre! If it was close by I would visit. I agree with you though, I'd absolutely pick up my baggage if it was unclaimed.

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