Amazing Places

This Is Where Most of the Lost Luggage in the US Ends Up

One of the most common fears when it comes to air travel is losing your luggage. Unless you carry your bags onto the plane religiously, you've likely experienced this setback at one time or another. After a few inconvenient phone calls and some extra time in the same underwear, your missing bag is usually returned within 24 hours, crisis averted. But what about when things go wrong? What happens to the small percentage of bags that go unclaimed, abandoned by their owners after a lengthy misroute to the wrong city? Believe it or not, most of this orphaned baggage ends up in one very unlikely place: a massive thrift store in small-town Alabama.

He's Got Baggage

The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama is a thrift shopper's dream. In 1970, a man named Doyle Owens headed to Washington, D.C. with a borrowed pickup truck, $300 in cash, and an ingenious idea. Doyle picked up his first load of unclaimed luggage from a Greyhound bus station and brought it home to sell on card tables in an old rented house. The venture was an instant success and Doyle, his wife, and his two sons soon became the owners of what is still today the only lost luggage store in the United States.

It didn't take long for the media and airports to catch wind of the store. Over the course of almost five decades, Doyle has formed loyal relationships with airlines and other transportation companies around the country as objects from every walk of life have landed on the shelves of his one-of-a-kind thrift store.

Don't be mistaken, though: Airlines aren't jumping at the chance to sell your misrouted luggage. They have an extensive and lengthy process in place to reunite misplaced bags with their rightful owners. After a three-month tracing process, only about seven percent of originally misplaced bags remain unclaimed. At that point, the airline pays passengers an insurance claim on their lost bags — which, wherever they are, are eventually sold to the Unclaimed Baggage Center to give the contents inside a second chance at life.

Who Doesn't Travel With Ancient Artifacts?

Since they acquire the luggage sight unseen, the diversity of treasures the Doyles and their staff have inadvertently procured over the years is astounding. Some objects are so valuable that it's sad to imagine them abandoned, like the 40.95-carat natural emerald or the box of human ashes (we'd rather not think too hard about that one). On the other hand, some trinkets are so wacky it's a mystery they made it onto an airplane in the first place. Fancy an ancient Egyptian burial mask? Or a 4,000-year-old mummified hawk? How about that full suit of armor you've been looking to buy?

Today, the 40,000-square-foot (3,700-square-meter) Unclaimed Baggage Center is run by Doyle's son Bryan and stretches for more than a city block. This popular tourist attraction hosts millions of visitors a year from every U.S. state and dozens of countries around the globe. Next time you're in Alabama, make a visit to this glorified thrift store and remember that one man's trash (or abandoned baggage) is another man's treasure.

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For more behind-the-scenes air travel tips, check out "Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections" by Patrick Smith. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro

Written by Ashley Gabriel May 8, 2018

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