Lost & Unclaimed Luggage Tips

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Want to go to an unclaimed luggage sale?

Buy Unclaimed Luggage

Airports are entitled to sell off unclaimed baggage, but many instead wholesale it to a one-of-a-kind shop, the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Ala. Workers there once found an emerald that was almost 41 carats!

Items on sale include clothes, jewelry, fine art, electronics, books, sporting goods, video games and even rugs. Some fascinating unclaimed items they've had over the years include a full suit of armor, special camera designed for NASA's Space Shuttle (government property—it had to be returned), a 5.8-carat diamond ring (seems small next to the emerald!), guidance system for an F-16 fighter jet valued at a quarter of a million dollars (again, government property that was returned).

One shopper bought her little girl a Barbie doll at the store. The girl pulled the head off and would have gotten a time-out that day, but $500 cash was rolled up inside so she probably got a reprieve.

What should I do to avoid lost luggage?

Lost Luggage

Before you depart on a trip, make a list of all valuables you're taking with you, and leave it at home in case it's needed. Take pictures of important items. Keep receipts handy if you need to show them later.

On short trips, avoid lost luggage by carrying all your belongings on board with you, if they fit into your carry-on bag and your personal item. Some travelers take the additional step of sending bags via overnight mail, scheduled to arrive in their destination city on the same day they do. This option probably makes the most sense when traveling with mission-critical items, like business samples.

Make sure your identification information is inside the bag—how you can be reached, your permanent address, your itinerary, etc.

Many people think it is okay to pack digital cameras or other electronics in checked luggage. If your bag is lost, you cannot claim these items. Always keep them in your carry-on.

How many bags are lost a year?

Lost Luggage Statistics

For the first six months of 2006, airlines posted a 5.86 percent rate of mishandled baggage, well below the 6.20 rate for January through June 2005.

Reasons for lost and mishandled luggage include cheaper fares that result in more travel, heavier bags, overbooked flights and weather delays.

Changes to Transportation Security Agency rules on baggage often complicate baggage departments' jobs and drive up the rates of mishandled luggage. Once everyone gets used to the new system, things tend to get better.

What happens to unclaimed luggage? Why would people not pick up their valuables? What kinds of items do people lose? Believe it or not, people sometimes end up in a situation in which they do not claim their luggage. While that seems odd, it isn’t entirely unusual. Perhaps the traveler has taken a t

Unclaimed Luggage

Why would people not pick up their valuables? Believe it or not, people sometimes end up in a situation in which they do not claim their luggage. Airlines spend 90 days trying to track down the owner's luggage before selling or discarding it. If your luggage goes astray and you do not contact the airline within that time, they may be unable to find you and get it back to you.

What if my bag is delayed?

Delayed Baggage

If your suitcase does not make it on the baggage carousel, don't lose heart, or your temper. It is probably not gone forever, just delayed.

When this happens, airlines do everything they can to locate your bag and get it to you within 24 hours. They want to do this for obvious reasons, but also because if you are without your bag for 24 hours, you get to go shopping for items you would need to get through your day (some night apparel, hygiene products, etc.) on the airline's dime.

Some airlines will reimburse you for the inconvenience, but just make sure you know their rules and save all your receipts if you end up in this situation.

Domestic flights are generally going to be less complicated when it comes to delayed luggage. If you are traveling internationally, and/or on a few different airlines, it may take longer and the rules may vary depending on the airline.

When the plane has been unloaded and your luggage has not appeared, immediately head to the baggage department for that airline. It is best if you can do this in person, but if not, call as soon as you can. You will be given a claim number, most likely, as well as a copy of the airline's rules and information about the process.

The more details you can provide about your luggage, the better. What is the color, brand, approximate size? What was inside your bag? Stay in touch with the airline and in most cases, they will find your bag.

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Guru Spotlight
Lynne Christen