Every Year millions of pieces of luggage are transported by airlines across the world. Most items are successfully reunited with their owners on arrival at their destinations but inevitably some pieces are lost in the system and despite great efforts to trace the rightful owners they end up languishing in storage. The airlines are in the business of transport, not storage and second hand goods, so what happens to the bags that remain unclaimed?


Any luggage which remains unclaimed in the UK usually ends up at auction houses where the bags and their contents go under the hammer and are snapped up by enterprising individuals looking for a bargain. Lost luggage from Heathrow, the country’s largest Airport, is auctioned every Tuesday at Greasby’s in Tooting, South London. Prospective buyers can view the lots the previous afternoon. Before being entered into sale the bags are opened by the auctioneers and any obviously valuable pieces are removed and sold separately. Any personal documents or hazardous goods are also taken out and so the remainder are simply bags of clothes and small items. The luggage is sold closed and so buyers have no sight of the contents before purchasing and are relying on good fortune to snaffle a bargain. The auctioneers are also given to mixing the contents of the bags so even taking the logical step of bidding on a piece of premium luggage may result in finding you have purchased a case load of uninteresting dirty washing rather than a haul of designer clothes.


Despite the obvious pitfalls there is no shortage of buyers for the goods who then generally sell on their purchases on ebay, market stalls and in shops specialising in second hand items. Many individuals attend the auctions every week and have done for years, accepting the ups and downs of the business. The pieces of luggage usually sell for between £20 and £50 and the cases and bags themselves often realise a good price even if the contents are of no value. Purchasers often report selling the goods for 5 to 6 times what they paid for them and sometimes make lucky finds like cash in garment pockets and good quality items that have been overlooked by the auctioneers.


In America a well-known and hugely success business was founded on selling lost luggage. In 1970 Doyle Owens rented a van and filled it with luggage purchased from an airline. When he started selling the items he realised what a good business he had stumbled upon and started a full time operation. Over the years deals were done with airlines and transportation companies and now the Unclaimed Baggage Centre occupies 40,000 square feet of retail space and attracts 800,000 visitors each year. The outlet is now a bit of a national institution and ironically has become the biggest tourist attraction in the state of Alabama!

A New Home

It turns out that luggage is not so much lost as misplaced and then goes on to find a new home. The practice of selling off the material for profit has enraged some but the fact is Airlines make no money out of the procedure and indeed spend a lot of time and money trying to reunite bags with their owners and paying compensation when they fail. The bags that are left unclaimed have to go somewhere and at least selling them on will ensure that wastage is minimised and at least someone benefits from the situation.

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Sally S is a frequent traveller and has in the past experienced the aftermath of lost luggage. Sally writes on a large range of subjects including travel, music and technology. You can find out more about Sally Stacey via her Google+ profile.

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