Have you ever wondered what happens with unclaimed luggage and unclaimed items in the United States? Most of it winds up at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. When a domestic airline has an unclaimed item, it eventually makes its way to the UBC. In fact, more than 7,000 new items are stocked daily thanks to the purchasing agreements that UBC has with airlines (and other transportation companies).
The center has been featured on shows such as National Geographic, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Late Show with David Letterman, and Good Morning America. It’s become a top tourist attraction in North Alabama.
Some of the merchandise that they carry is from lost cargo. In case you were not aware, airlines have 90 days to locate the owner of a lost piece of luggage. After that, it is bought by Unclaimed Baggage Center.
Once at Unclaimed Baggage Center, contents are sorted. Clothing items that can be sold are dry-cleaned. Jewelry is appraised. Electronic items have personal data erased and current software is installed. Many employees have years of experience in pricing the items, which retail at UBC at 20-80% off of regular retail prices.
The Story of Unclaimed Baggage Center
In 1970, Doyle Owens got a $300 loan and borrowed a pick-up truck and headed to Washington, D.C., and made his first purchase of unclaimed baggage from Trailways bus line. He sold the items on card tables in an old rented house with much success. A month later he quit his full-time insurance job to become the “bag man” on a full-time basis.
The business was run by Doyle, his wife, and two sons for the next forty years. In 1995, his son purchased the business from him.
Over the years Unclaimed Baggage Center has expanded so that it now encompasses an entire city block in Scottsboro, Alabama. It has been featured in news outlets over the years and written about in books.
Some of the finds at the center include a full suit of armor made in the 19th century, a 5.7-carat diamond ring, a live rattlesnake, and a set of bagpipes. If that doesn’t seem unusual enough, can you imagine being the employee who found a shrunken head?
Unclaimed Baggage Center operates the largest dry cleaning facility in the state of Alabama. They are also one of the largest donors to the Lions Club in the World, having donated hundreds of thousands of pairs of glasses over the years.
In 2021, over 2 million bags were reported as lost (0.51% of all checked bags). This amount of lost luggage is down from Pre-COVID-19 numbers which were higher with a 0.59% loss.
You may notice brand-new items. The Unclaimed Baggage Center also buys unclaimed cargo.
FYI: An extensive three-month search takes place to try to unite all lost luggage and its original owners.
TIP: When you fly, do not put medications or valuables in your checked luggage. Always put them in your carry-on item.
The Baggage Experience
Want to see what it is like to unpack a suitcase that has been lost? Be sure to sign up when you arrive for your chance. A lucky visitor will be chosen to do just that.
Aside from the original owner of the luggage, only one other person has seen what was inside – that is to ensure that there are not any unwelcome surprises (remember that rattlesnake mentioned earlier?).
The lucky person will wear a smock and gloves for protection and will get to go through the bag. On my recent trip, Katy from Katy Did Country was chosen. The suitcase that she unpacked had treasures from Russia. Inside were three Matryoshka (nesting) dolls.
There were also souvenir Matryoshka keychains that the original owner was sure to give to her friends and/or loved ones. (We feel certain it was a “she” because of the other contents in the suitcase.) There was even a Russian Phrases For Dummies book in the bag.
Some Other-Worldly Treasures Found at Unclaimed Baggage Center
Found Treasures Museum
New in 2023 is the Found Treasures Museum which showcases several of the unique items that were discovered at Unclaimed Baggage. Among the treasures are shrunken heads, a miniature Egyptian sarcophagus, a Hoggle figure, a Russian gas mask, a Dogon bronze horseman figure, a Moroccan Koummya, a replica of a Chinese Terracotta Army Soldier, and a Lladro Samurai porcelain sculpture.
The museum is inside the store and there is no charge to enter.
Safeguarding Your Personal Items
When possible, travel lightly and pack everything in a carry-on item. Put a business card or index card in your luggage with your name, address, and telephone number so that if your luggage does get lost, the airline will know who it belongs to. Place an Apple airtag in your suitcase, purse, carry-on, etc. to help track your items.
Unclaimed Baggage Center Location
509 West Willow Street, Scottsboro, Alabama 35768
Hours of Operation at the Unclaimed Baggage Center
- Monday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
- Saturdays 8:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
- Closed on Sundays
Does shopping make you hungry as it does me? There is an onsite cafe, Cups Cafe, which serves lunch Monday – Friday from 10:00 – 3:00, and on Saturday 10:00 – 4:00.
Can’t make it to the Unclaimed Baggage Center?
No worries. The Unclaimed Baggage Center now offers you the opportunity to shop from home! That’s right – you can shop from their Weird and Wonderful Finds, Apparel, Accessories, Electronics, and so much more. What’s cool is that you can see how much money you are saving over the estimated retail price.
Have you ever lost your luggage or do you have tips on how to ensure that your bags get back to you?