Published June 27, 2012
Remember that trip you went on when the airline lost your bag?
Most likely, they eventually found it and shipped it to you. But if not, it probably ended up in the land of lost luggage, where your bag and everything inside is on sale at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Ala.
“We buy lost or unclaimed baggage from the airlines and bring them back to our store where we unpack the bags, sort through the items, and literally sell those items from the bags,” explains Brenda Cantrell, brand ambassador for the Unclaimed Baggage Center.
The new iPhone you took on vacation, the souvenirs you bought on your holiday escape, and that expensive jewelry you placed in your checked luggage for safe keeping, all of them, and everything else in your bag are sold at the UBC for 20 to 80 percent off of retail value.
The little-known-world of what happens to unclaimed luggage has recently become the focus of a new Travel Channel reality TV show, "Baggage Battles," which is an inside look at the drama of bidding, buying and reselling these items. UBC has nothing to do with the program, but a quick look at the treasures -- and flocks of people -- in its massive 40,000 square foot Scottsboro warehouse and you can see why this would be perfect fodder for television.
"You might get a designer purse for just near about nothing, or a leather jacket for $7. I mean you just don't know what you going to get," said Mary Cooke-Hite, who traveled from her home in Virginia to shop at the UBC.
"You'd be shocked at the quality of jewelry and the quality of clothing that comes out of those bags," Cantrell said. “When you just look at the diamonds, and the gold, and the Rolexes. I mean it’s not uncommon to see those things.”
By law, the airlines are required to spend 90 days trying to reunite bags with their owners. More than 99 percent of the time they're successful, but that less than one-percent is sold exclusively to the Unclaimed Baggage Center.
“The carriers have said they’d rather deal with one entity, than a bunch of entities,” explains travel lawyer Al Anolik. “ (UBC) buys everything sight unseen for about twenty dollars a kilo, about ten something a pound.”
The retail side of UBC stocks about 7,000 new items each day. That could be anything from surfboards, golf clubs, and skis, to digital cameras and the latest Apple products. There’s even a section for wedding dresses.
“We don’t know if they were on their way to the wedding or after the wedding,” Cantrell said with a laugh.
Other surprising items out of people’s luggage include a 15th century replica full suit of armor, a Chinese opium scale, Scottish bagpipes, a 10 foot-long Tibetan horn, a 40-karat emerald, and even a live rattlesnake.
Trucks from across the country bring in loads of lost luggage daily for workers to unpack. Most of the items never make it onto shelves, and are either thrown away or donated to charity.
"The better quality items that just look like they're in good, sellable condition will make it on through where they'll price it, they research it, they tag it,” Cantrell explains. “We're only going to put out the very nicer items that are in excellent condition."
This bargain hunter’s paradise is also one of Alabama’s top tourist attractions. More than a million visitors make their way to the small town of Scottsboro each year from all 50 states and more than 40 countries.
“Whether they’re purchasing from us to help their daily budget, or they’ve never been to the store before and they come in from California and buy a $10,000 ring while they’re there. It’s happened, you just never know what’s going to happen there,” Cantrell said.