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Travel Channel’s Baggage Battles; Where Does Your Lost Luggage Go?

Lost Unmarked Luggage

This week the Travel Channel will air a new show called Baggage Battles. The show is expected to debut April 11, 2012, and highlights the hidden industry where people bid on lost luggage from the airlines.

According to the Travel Channel:

Baggage Battles features 3 teams of savvy “auction specialists”: Laurence and Sally Martin, a married couple, have been in the antique business for over 20 years co-owning Studio Antiques in El Segundo, CA. Mark Meyer is a young entrepreneur and owner of Long Island, New York’s The Nifty Thrifty store. And, Billy Leroy is the owner of the iconic Billy’s Antiques and Props, one of the last eclectic props and antique stores in NYC. With dozens of auctions to visit, thousands of bags to explore, and millions of dollars at stake, these auction specialists need both skill and luck to hit the jackpot. They don’t know if it’s junk or a jackpot until they win the bid and open the suitcase.

So your family has just gotten off the plane either heading to or coming home from your destination, only to find your luggage has gone missing on the part of the airline. Maybe your connections were too closely spaced and the airline was not able to switch the bags to the new plane in time. That is alright because they should be on the next plane and will get delivered to your room or home in a reasonable amount of time.

What happens though if your bag is lost? Maybe your luggage tag fell off and the airline does not know where to return the baggage. However, every time we have flown, there have been super strong double-sided stickers detailing where the bag was supposed to go in the end, and when we got home, they usually have to be cut off. I suppose they can get caught in equipment and torn off though, leaving the bag destinationless, but it seems like a difficult task for a bag to arrive with no tags.

So what happens when your bag is left sitting in an airport and no one claims it? First, the airlines typically settle a claim with the owners reimbursing them for the value of the contents. The airline does not know where your luggage is, but they will pay the owner a debatable sum of money. Next, the airlines sell the luggage to recoup some of their costs. Once purchased, your dirty laundry goes to someone willing to risk going through the contents of the bag. Those souvenirs you so dearly picked out are now sitting on someone else’s shelf. The couple hundred in extra cash, or your grandmother’s wedding ring all now belong to someone else.

The practice of companies buying your lost luggage has been going on for decades. I learned of this practice about ten years ago when I heard of the website UnclaimedBaggage.com, which owns a large warehouse in Alabama. They are under contract with the airlines to have truck loads of lost luggage delivered to their warehouse for processing. They wash the clothes, donate unwanted items to charity, clean and appraise anything of value, and sell it to shoppers.

I never looked too closely into UnclaimedBaggage.com, but I assumed the process was being run fairly on legitimately lost luggage. Since I never heard otherwise, I also assumed they were under some exclusive contract with the airline industry so that everything ran through one consistent channel. Well apparently not, as airports all across the country have secret auctions to sell off unclaimed baggage.

When the money gets going, others step in for the taking. That is where Baggage Battles comes in, and is about to glorify the whole process to the masses. The show will chronicle several groups of people traveling around the country to auctions with the intent of purchasing your lost luggage and hopefully finding items to sell in their stores. Luggage will go up for auction site unseen, with people becoming famous by their finds and lack of scores. The characters highlighted in the show will surely make more by being on the show and their potential fame than actually buying and selling anything in some old bags.

Baggage Battles will follow a similar format to Storage Wars, with several groups of people battling it out over the unseen contents in storage lockers. I have no problem with storage auctions as those lockers are going up for sale because people failed to pay their bills. Regardless of whether the show is partially staged or not to make for good television, the premise of Storage Wars is legit as the contents is rightly the storage companies items to sell when bills do not get paid.

Where I take issue is the idea of beautifying the lost luggage process and someone else profiting from the sale of the contents. If I had any item of value, either sentimental or monetary, in a bag that was lost by the airline, I would want it back. I would expect the airline to be doing everything in their power to find the bag. The whole idea of someone getting to purchase my bag because the airline could not return it to me just does not sit right with me. The idea of profiting off of selling my luggage makes me wonder whether the airline has really done everything in their power to get the bags back to the consumer.

What can you do to protect your luggage? Make sure you not only label your luggage on the outside, but also include contact information securely inside your baggage. For example, I carefully make sure there are secure personal luggage tags on each of our bags. In addition, the airline typically tags the bag when you check in. As a last measure to ensure our bags return safely to us, I place inside a plastic bag our contact information inside the luggage, usually in an inner pocket. That way if everything outside of the bag falls off, there is at least one last method of finding our contact information inside the luggage. Even if our bag would fall open, I make sure our contact information is located in a spot that would not easily fall out.

Does everyone label their luggage properly? I presume not otherwise there would not be so much lost luggage around the country. According to fly.com:

Since the Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) started keeping statistics on mishandled baggage reports, 2011 marked the lowest total at 3.39 reports per 1,000 U.S. domestic passengers. That is nearly 40,000 less mishandled baggage reports filed than in 2010, when the average was 3.51 reports per 1,000 passengers.

Here are some quick winter domestic stats courtesy of the D.O.T.’s Air Travel Consumer Reports (displayed as reports per 1,000 passengers):

January 2012 – 3.30 vs. January 2011 – 4.29

December 2011 – 3.37 vs. December 2010 – 4.72

These reports are a few months behind, but the statistics clearly indicate that airlines are improving their ability to track and protect luggage. Though the progress has been gradual, improvements are being made even on the record-setting year in 2011.

So are the airlines really doing that much better of a job with handling bags? I think in reality, more people are taking carry-on bags instead of checking luggage to avoid additional checked baggage fees. Less luggage to handle in the underbelly of the plane means less lost luggage.

An even more disturbing trend I recently read about is airline and TSA workers stealing contents or your entire bag without it ever getting on the plane. From the moment your luggage leaves your hands, an unknown number of people can and will go through your bags. They call it security. I call it potential for fraud and lost luggage.

So even though I will watch Baggage Battles, as I am sure it will become entertaining, I do not like the idea of glorifying the whole lost luggage process and somebody buying my bag to get rich. How much do you want to bet someone sees their valuables go up for auction on Baggage Battles, and ends up suing everyone claiming their valuables were never returned and went up for auction on television? In my opinion, just because lost luggage was never returned to their owners does not necessarily mean the airline own the bags and their content. Nor should they have the right to sell it. If I see my suit-of-armor on Baggage Battles that I lost on a Delta flight back in 2005, they better believe I am getting on my horse and claiming my prize.

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Comments (6)

  1. I agree with you that I find the idea of the lost luggage being sold a little creepy, but I’m pretty sure that when you accept compensation for your luggage you have to sign off on releasing any claim you have to your luggage should it be found. If you’re not willing to do that, they won’t give you the money.
    Should be interesting to see how the public reacts to the show.

  2. I’ve been hearing about this show, but I’m not sure I want to watch it. It seems so creepy for *my* belongings to be up for auction. You have some great tips about how to protect your luggage, though. I had honestly never thought about that.

  3. F

    Agreed. Auctioning of “lost” luggage sounds odd.

  4. Me

    I’ve seen the show and that’s exactly what I thought-how can airlines lose SO MUCH luggage. All these bags belonged to someone and some of the contents are very expensive; hard to believe they were actually ‘lost’. Seems like the airlines and the auction houses are running a scam.
    Like when doctors get paid to write prescriptions for drugs. The drug companies are making money and so are the drug pushers-I mean doctors.

  5. My Luggage Lost

    My daughter’s luggage was recently ‘lost’. I still think it was stolen by an airport employee but of course, no proof. I’ve seen this show and I have the same thoughts as everyone else – how can the airline NOT be finding the owners to all this luggage?! My family now ‘fears’ this show for the simple reason we’re just sure her luggage will show up on it – well, maybe we won’t see it on the air, but it’ll be sold. 3 months of her travels all gone in an instant because someone failed somewhere. She has information on the inside of the luggage that would help the airline find her, but I doubt they give it much effort. I’ve read where the store in Alabama will contact someone if they information on the inside, but again I doubt that happens much. The really sad part is, you have to fill out the itemized claim form after the fifth day the luggage is lost – they say to help identify your luggage (yeah, right), and to reimburse you if they can’t find it – so then you have no recourse but to accept their payment and know your stuff is being sold somewhere. There’s got to be a loophole in all this somewhere for the consumers benefit so you can hold them more accountable, just wish I knew where.

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