Where does your luggage go when an airline loses it? You might imagine that it simply disappears into a black hole behind the conveyer-belt curtain, somewhere akin to the mysterious void where all of your missing socks end up when they disappear from the dryer.
But the truth, of course, is much stranger.
Lost bags and all of their contents eventually find their way to a retail store/warehouse in Scottsboro, Alabama, called the Unclaimed Baggage Center—a facility so large that it's bigger than a city block. All are welcome to peruse and shop a wide selection of goods culled from unclaimed luggage and cargo delivered from commercial airlines, buses, trains, trucks, and other transportation venues. The Unclaimed Baggage Center is open Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Saturdays.
What You Can Buy There
So what can you find there? The short answer: everything. "If it's packed in a suitcase or left on a plane," notes the facility's website, "it could wind up for sale at Unclaimed Baggage." Think: clothes, books, cameras, electronics, jewelry, and sports equipment. The store stocks more than 7,000 new items daily.
And if you're imagining a filthy thrift store crawling with bedbugs, think again. All of the clothing is professionally cleaned before being put on the sales floor; electronics items have their memories wiped and are tested to make sure they work.
Keep an eye on the upcoming events page for special themed promotions such as the annual ski sale. The Etc. building, located next to the warehouse, stocks household goods, beauty supplies, and more.
Where It All Comes From
If an airline or other transportation provider can't track down the owner of a bag, it sells the contents to the Unclaimed Baggage Center. Airlines work for 90 days to find someone to claim lost items before turning them over. (Friendly reminder: Always label your luggage in multiple places.)
By now you're likely wondering if you might find any of your long-lost luggage at the Unclaimed Baggage Center. The answer: Maybe, but it's not yours anymore. Sure, you can comb the shelves for something that once belonged to you, but even if you find it, you'll have to buy it back. According to the Huffington Post, this sometimes happens: A man once unwittingly bought back his wife's ski boots after she lost them on a ski trip years prior.
Best and Weirdest Finds
People pack (and lose) almost everything imaginable. Some of the good: a Versace gown, an $18,000 Limoges vase (sold at the center for $80), a 5.8-carat diamond ring, and a 40.95-carat emerald.
The weird: 50 vacuum-packed frogs, a full suit of armor, a camera from a space shuttle (returned to NASA), a missile-guidance system for a fighter jet (returned to the Air Force), a shrunken head, someone's ashes, and an engraved headstone (which someone actually bought and turned into a macabre coffee table).
You can view some of these bizarre items at the Unclaimed Baggage Center's museum, located inside the store.
Trash or Treasure?
Only the best stuff is put out on the floor, and anything that doesn't sell is either tossed or donated. Eyeglasses are donated to the Lions Clubs International's SightFirst program, broken wheelchairs are rebuilt for charity, medical supplies are given to developing countries, and suitcases are hand-painted and turned into "Luv Luggage" and given to children who are moving to foster homes.
So the next time you're in Scottsboro, Alabama, why not pay a visit to the Unclaimed Baggage Center? You never know what you might find!
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Land of the Lost: This is Where Unclaimed Luggage Gets Sold. Follow Caroline Morse on Google+ or email her at email@example.com.