In 2012, 25.8 million bags were mishandled according to the SITA baggage report.
SITA is the developer behind WorldTracer and reports that of all lost luggage, less than half a percent is lost for good.
The Association of European Airlines subsequently reported 85 per cent are returned to customers within 48 hours and while most bags can be traced through their electronic tags, an incorrect letter code can result in the loss of baggage permanently. Although it can seem like a positive if you’re heading home to be relieved of the burden of a suitcase full of dirty clothes, it can be hugely inconvenient to reach your destination sans luggage and having to re wear your plane outfit. Plan for the worst: have some essentials like a spare pair of undies in your hand luggage!
A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic explains: “When a customer identifies their bag as missing, a report is made into a system which searches bags found with similar criteria. Bags found at an airport without a customer attached or missing a tag are also logged into this system with any details that can be established. The system works 24/7 searching for matches between the delayed bag reports the customer has made, and the found bag reports that the airline has made, and it makes suggestions for matches based on the criteria in the files. Our baggage-tracing team continuously look at these matches, liaise with the airports and the customers, identify the right bag and owner, and facilitate the return of the bag.
“If a bag is missing, it could be due to belt or infrastructure failures, the bag may have become tagless, or short connection times may prevent bags getting from one aircraft to another. Usually a bag would be somewhere between check-in and the aircraft in a designated baggage area. If a bag is found later on, we will return it to the customer regardless of whether they’ve had compensation or not.”
After 21 days, according to most airlines, luggage is declared irretrievably lost. Airlines continue tracking the bag for 90 days, at which point compensation is given to the passenger and the bag is lost for good.
So what happens to the luggage that has never been claimed?
This is where lost luggage gets fascinating. If, after 90 days, your luggage remains unclaimed, it may just end up in an an auction site. In the UK, Greasbys in Tooting sells unclaimed baggage every other Tuesday. These bags are collected from various London airports, from Stanstead to Heathrow, with airlines including British Airways and Emirates.
It’s often just dirty clothing and bags, although diamond rings, skis and vintage couture have also been reported and resold at bargain prices.
There are many places like this throughout the world, with the USA having a major site, the Unclaimed Baggage Centre in Arizona. Covering the area of a city block, the site attracts more than a million visitors each year from over 40 countries and receives over 7000 new items daily. They actually have contracts with all the major US airlines such as American Airlines to buy lost cases, sift through for treasures, and sell them on to bargain hunters. If it’s left on a plane or lost in luggage, it’s destined to end up here.
The Unclaimed Baggage Centre has found many items over the years and prides itself on not only reselling things deemed suitable, but also donating a multitude of items to charities around the world. Hundreds of thousands of eyeglasses have been donated to The Lions Club Sight First program, broken wheelchairs have been rebuilt for people worldwide, millions of dollars worth of medical supplies have been donated to developing countries, millions of dollars in clothing has been donated and “Luv Luggage” has been developed – hand-painted suitcases given to children moving to foster homes.
Owner Bryan Owens says of the company, “It is our mission to ‘reclaim for good’ what was once unclaimed.” Some fascinating things that have been found include a camera from a space shuttle (they gave it back to NASA), a couture Versace gown, a platinum Rolex valued at over $60,000 as well as the slightly weirder – moose antlers, a zebra skin and even 50 vacuum-packed frogs.
So while it’s incredibly rare to lose your luggage, these auction houses might be the place to visit to grab a bargain and explore what people like to travel with… – Benedicte Earl
Top photo from Black-Powder’s Flickr photostream.