America’s Lost Luggage All Ends Up in Alabama

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Aug. 18 2014 11:29 AM

Where America’s Lost Luggage Ends Up

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En route to Alabama

Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

This story originally appeared in Business Insider.

More than 3 billion people flew around the world in 2013. And the airlines that carried them mishandled 21.8 million bags, according to aviation communications and technology company SITA

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U.S.-based airlines try to reunite missing bags with their owners for 90 days. But if they can't, the luggage and all its contents are sent to the sprawling Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, NPR reports.

Only 0.5 percent of all bags on U.S. airlines are not reunited with their owners at airport baggage claims, according to the Unclaimed Baggage Center website. And less than 2.5 percent of those initially mishandled bags remain unclaimed after three months of searching for their owners.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center buys this unclaimed luggage, then sorts and prices it for sale at bargain prices in the organization's 40,000-square-foot store. The location operates like a massive department store slash tourist destination, where a million visitors each year drop by to browse and purchase other people's orphaned stuff. The store contains separate sections for electronics, formalwear, and jewelry—including wedding rings and Rolex watches worth $60,000. Other potentially desirable items include golf clubs and ski equipment. And then there are those things that only vacation travelers would pack, such as straw hats. "The Unclaimed Baggage Center is like the best yard sale you've ever been to—on steroids," NPR reporter Emily Ochsenschlager declared.

Not every lost item is sold in the store. Some valuables end up in the center's small museum, while other things are donated or discarded. Some of the strangest and most valuable things that have ended up at the facility since it opened in the 1970s include a live rattlesnake, a full suit of replica medieval armor, a 40.95-carat natural emerald, an Air Force missile guidance system, a shrunken head, and a 4,000-year-old Egyptian burial mask.

Cory Adwar writes for Business Insider.

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