Cape Breton Post April 16, 2011 Saturday
BY SCOTT MAYEROWITZ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Land of the lost: Warehouse in Alabama is final destination for misplaced bags
- Welcome to the final resting place for lost luggage.
The Associated Press
Auburn University student Ryan Jordan gets a laugh from his girl
friend Haden Little as he tries on a Hanshin Tigers "gi" that he
found in the clothing aisles at Unclaimed Baggage Center in
Scottsboro, Ala. (Photo)
Along a country road next to a muffler shop and a cemetery is a
3,700-square-metre store filled with all the items that never made it
home from vacation. Shoes, samurai swords, iPods, even lingerie, all
available for 20 to 80 per cent off.
When airlines can't determine who owns a bag, they sell it for a few
bucks to the Unclaimed Baggage Center, a warehouse sized facility
that would put your local PTA garage sale to shame.
Past an entranceway of world clocks and columns decorated with
foreign currency, one traveller's misfortune turns into a
" You never know what you may find," says Clayton Grider, a
Scottsboro youth minister who often starts his day at the store. "It
is a sport."
More than two million of the roughly 700 million suitcases checked
on U.S. airlines last year Plenty of belongings are left in didn't
arrive with their owners. seat back pockets. The vast majority were
returned "It's kind of an archeological within 24 hours, typically on
the snapshot of popular culture," says next flight. But 68,000 never
Bryan Owens, son of the store's made it. After 90 days unsuccessfully
founder and its owner since 1995. trying to reunite passenger
Regulars line up each morning and parcel, most airlines sell the to
get first crack at the goods. bags here. Others, like Trykoski, who
Shoppers seem to have no driving home to Illinois after a qualms
about buying what was Florida vacation, stop out of once a child's
favourite stuffed curiosity. Local and regional animal or a wedding
dress that church groups come by the busload. didn't get to the
church on time. Most people hear about the
"I feel sorry for the guy who store through media reports and lost
it," says Chuck Trykoski, who ads in the state's vacation guide.
bought a digital camera for $21. "I It's "an adventure" for the mean,
I've lost stuff on the airlines, 830,000 shoppers a year, says too."
Owens, who wears a Tag Heuer
Each day, the store sets out watch once found in a suitcase. 7,000
new items, including There have been some surprising sweaters, jeans,
golf clubs, books discoveries over the years, and noise-cancelling
headphones. And it's not just luggage. including moose antlers, a
parachute, a medieval suit of armour, even a shrunken head. Just
don't come here expecting to find your lost all-white juries. How did
it become the end of the line for lost suitcases?
Unclaimed Baggage was started in 1970 by Doyle Owens, a part-time
insurance salesman in Scottsboro who had a friend working at a bus
line in Washington. One day the friend asked if he wanted to buy lost
luggage from buses. Four years later airline luggage was added. Since
then, the store has expanded to car rental companies, commuter trains
and is eyeing cruises.
The airlines don't like to discuss how their customers' belongings
end up here. American, Delta and United refused interviews. US
Airways, JetBlue and AirTran acknowledged they sell items in bulk -
sight unseen - to the store but wouldn't say how much they are paid,
citing confidentiality clauses in their contracts.
" It's not something that we make money off," says Bill Race, who
oversees luggage for JetBlue. "It's probably less than what you paid
New York's Metro-North Railroad is paid $25 for each suitcase-size
box of lost property. Bigticket goods such as electronics or jewelry
are sold for 30 per cent of their value. Last year, Unclaimed Baggage
paid MetroNorth about $38,000 for about 5,000 items.
Other airlines - Alaska, Frontier, Hawaiian, Southwest, Spirit and
Virgin America - donate luggage to charities such as the Salvation
Worldwide, almost 2.5 billion bags are checked each year, and
850,000 are never seen again by their owner, says Nick Gates, who
oversees baggage products for SITA, an aviation technology provider.
In the U.S., those passengers are paid up to $3,300 by the airlines.
Most claims are smaller. Airlines don't consider how much it costs to
replace a passenger's wares, but how much they'd be worth used.
Airlines vary in their records for losing bags. Southwest says one
of every 67,000 bags checked is never reunited with its owner. Delta
loses bags 13 times as often. Since the introduction of baggage fees,
they're all doing better. The rate at which bags are delayed or
mishandled is now half what it was in 2007. Experts say the fees -
airlines collect more than $3.3 billion a year - deter passengers
from checking bags, easing strains on the system.
Still, some suitcases remain a mystery. The bags lack identification
tags, which can be ripped off during conveyor belt jams. Airlines
inventory the luggage and use a database to match the contents with
owners' descriptions. Investigators also look for other clues.
" They don surgical gloves and then do an autopsy of the bags," says
Jan Fogelberg, Frontier's vice-president of customer experience.
Sometimes, it's as simple as a name on a prescription bottle. Other
times, they track owners through store receipts left in pockets.
JetBlue once reunited two newlyweds with their bag after finding a
photo inside of their wedding cake. The couple's first names were
inscribed on the icing. In the background were palm trees and a pool.
The airline guessed the couple had a destination wedding in Florida
and matched the names on the cake with flight manifests.
Bags that reach the Alabama store are opened and the contents are
prepared for sale. Laptop and iPod memories are wiped clean and
40,000 pieces of clothing are laundered each month.
Then the wet suits, rifles, coats, diamond earring and dresses are
put out for shoppers.
While the store might be an addiction for some bargainhunters,
others come just for the kitsch factor. After rummaging through the
shelves, Auburn University students Ryan Little and Jordan Haden
walked out with a Will Smith CD, a Destiny's Child greatest-hits
album and a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen hair dryer. The total cost:
"It's a last chance," Little says, " for somebody to make a profit
off impulse buys and bad Christmas presents."