THEY LOST MY
Sometimes I wonder
if there’s anyone who hasn’t lost their luggage while flying.
It’s happened to me just once, but then I don’t have much
opportunity to fly commercially. Having been at airports so
much, I’ve heard countless stories about lost bags. I like to
travel light, keeping all I need in a small carry-on backpack.
That way, I know where it is.
The reality is,
airlines use sophisticated global tracing systems to track your
luggage, and over 99.9% of all bags checked are returned. But
there are far more people traveling and billions of bags are
checked with the airlines every year. Despite those large
numbers, the airlines have dramatically reduced the problem of
Also, many items
like cameras, eye glasses and electronics are simply lost or
left behind without identification, which adds to the unclaimed
When all the tracing
systems fail, and that .1% of luggage that still has not been
reunited with an owner, what happens to it? One place it can
end up is at a giant clearing house that specializes in
purchasing it from the airlines, and then sells to the public.
It’s called the Unclaimed Baggage Center, and is in Scottsboro,
Alabama. Their website touts the merchandise as “lost treasures
from around the world”.
The center has an
exclusive contract with the airlines that allows it to purchase
any bags left unclaimed after 90 days, and it's legal to sell
the items inside at a discounted price. There isn’t much you
won’t find at the UBC. Diamond jewelry, electronics, computers,
personal keepsakes and a whole lot more end up with all the
underwear and clothing.
The UBC has a store
the size of a city block, with thousands of new items added
daily. Shoppers buy it at bargain prices.
In Canada, the two
major airlines, Westjet and Air Canada, say they do their best
to find owners by going through the bags searching for clues.
They seek business cards, receipts, wallets, identification of
any kind. At Air Canada, unclaimed items are held for one year
at the lost & found center in Montreal. After that, they’re
donated to charities. According to officials from both
airlines, it is very rare that an owner can’t be located, and
consequently there would appear to be no need for a giant
clearing center in Canada.
So how does luggage
get lost in the first place? Over half (about 65%) goes missing
during transfers. It’s when you make your connection but your
percent doesn’t get on the plane with you at the original
departure point because you’ve not arrived early enough at the
airport for it to clear security and be loaded. They’re not
kidding when they say show up one to two hours early.
Twelve percent of
delayed luggage can be blamed on a ticketing error or security
delays that keeps your luggage from getting to your plane in
Plain and simple
“human error” results in about seven percent of the bags lost
being loaded or unloaded in the wrong places. Five percent of
lost bags are bumped from the airplane because of weight
To be fair to the
airlines, the amount of luggage that’s permanently lost is less
than one half of one percent of everything people bring along.
That is because there’s no identification on it. The majority
of delayed bags are returned within 48 hours.
Here are some
suggestions which may help you avoid losing your luggage.
Place tags with your
name, address, e-mail address and phone number on and inside
your luggage. Make sure the luggage ID bears your current
address, not where you were living when you bought that
suitcase. Include the number of the cell phone you'll be
carrying on this trip, and a hotel number if you have it.
If your travel agent
tries to assign you an itinerary with a very short connection,
think twice--anything less than an hour connecting time may not
be enough for both you and the checked luggage to make the next
flight. Think closer to 90 minutes.
Know your bag.
Most bags look very similar. Mark yours with a scarf, unique tag
or some other identifying trait so others won't mistake it for
their own at baggage claim. And also, remove the old tags that
may be on the bag.
The stories we’ve
all heard about someone’s luggage going around the world may
have been true in years past. But nowadays, we’re more
likely to hear about how the bags made it back to you after the
delay. Searching for and paying for lost items, simply
costs the airlines too much in the way of money and public
relations to ignore the problem.