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The Thrift Store Making Big Money From Your Lost Airport Luggage

No matter their efforts, some airlines can’t reunite travelers with their lost luggage. What often happens next is a process many travelers wouldn’t have foreseen.

Mishandled Bags 

Many pieces of luggage.
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According to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation released in May, major airlines lost, damaged, or delayed over 600,000 bags from January to March 2023. That’s a more than 44,000 increase in mishandled bags compared to the previous year. 

The Race Begins

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Unclaimed luggage gets sent to an airport’s lost and found department, where it’s usually stored for 90 days. Employees try their best to identify and locate the owner during that period. If they fail, the luggage is given to Unclaimed Baggage, a second-hand thrift store.

Meet Unclaimed Baggage

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After the three-month search ends, Unclaimed Baggage uses their unclaimed luggage purchasing agreement with domestic airlines to give items “potential for a second life.” They do so by selling, donating, or recycling the items.

Unclaimed Baggage’s History

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Unclaimed Baggage made a name for itself nearly five decades ago through founder Doyle Owens. Owens traveled to Washington D.C., where he purchased his first batch of unclaimed baggage from Trailways Bus Line, then sold the contents, leading to Unclaimed Baggage’s birth. To this day, Unclaimed Baggage is the nation’s only lost luggage retailer.

Media Stardom

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Twenty-five years later, Doyle’s son Bryan and his wife, Sharon, purchased and remodeled their business, resulting in a feature on Oprah where the store was called one of America’s “best-kept shopping secrets.” Since then, other media outlets have highlighted Unclaimed Baggage’s success, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

It Takes a Village

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The process to get items onto Unclaimed Baggage’s shelves involves five steps. First, the unclaimed bags arrive via tractor-trailer loads at a processing facility. Then, the team unpacks the luggage and divides the items into three sections: reselling, repurposing, and recycling.

After, pieces of equipment are tested and erased of electronic data. Meanwhile, clothes are sent to a cleaning facility in Alabama. Finally, professionals assess prices and sell them below the retail value. 


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Unclaimed Baggage only sells one-third of the second-hand items it receives. According to its website, once the objects are processed and ready, employees must decide on a selling price, often based on the retail value and the item’s condition. 


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For nearly every item sold, Unclaimed Baggage donates an additional item to someone in need. Its goal is to provide valuable supplies to communities worldwide. Over the past fifty years, the store has established partnerships with various charities. 


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Unclaimed Baggage aims to foster “environmental stewardship and sustainability.” To do so, the store minimizes any waste through a recycling process. When personal products and papers are unusable, the store removes all personal information from the items before recycling them. 

Items Sold 

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Unclaimed Baggage’s online store sells various items, which they divide into eight major categories, from lifestyle and electronics to jewelry, shoes, and men’s apparel. The website is updated with new pieces every Thursday and Sunday. 

Interesting Vintage Finds

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With over 50 years on the market, Unclaimed Baggage has found some extraordinary finds throughout the decades. The store has collected items like aluminized fire suits, a space shuttle camera, Egyptian Burial Masks, and a live rattlesnake. 

Return Policy

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The return policies for Unclaimed Baggage differ depending on whether the items were domestically or internationally shipped. According to its website, customers who had their items domestically shipped can return them within 21 days of purchase, except for those marked as final sale items. The items must be returned in the same condition it was received. 

All international orders, however, are non-refundable and will not be accepted by the store at this time.

The Worst Airports

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Some airports experience a significant amount of mishandled bags than others. According to a study, airports like Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Harry Reid International Airport (LAS), and San Diego International Airport (SAN) faced the most incidents of mishandled luggage. 

Airlines Are Guilty Too

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In 2022, American Airlines reported the highest number of lost bags among national airlines, with a rate of 850 bags lost per 100,000. Regional airlines such as Republic are also known for experiencing lost luggage incidents, with 930 bags lost per 100,000.

What Now?

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With over half of American travelers experiencing lost luggage at some point, many wonder what to do if their bag doesn’t arrive at their final destination.

If the luggage is considered unclaimed, it’s given to the airport’s lost and found department and usually stored for a period of 90 days. Employees try their best to identify and locate the owner during that period. If they fail, the luggage is given to Unclaimed Baggage, a second-hand thrift store.

How To Claim Your Lost Luggage

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If your luggage is delayed or goes missing, the first thing to do is hold on to receipts showing proof of your flight and checked bags. Immediately inform the airline of the mishap and file a Property Irregularity Report. Look through the airline policies and see if rebates are offered. Track your luggage using your reference number, and do not lose your receipts. Always file a claim with the airlines.

Lucky in Luggage

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If a piece of luggage is found before the 90-day period ends, ask the airline representative if they can send your bag to your destination or place of residence. They often go above and beyond in these situations.


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Ask for details about the forwarding process. Keep a paper and pencil close by when speaking to the airline representative. These details will likely ensure your baggage returns to its original owner.

Preventing Lost Luggage

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Even though previous trips may have sentimental value, it’s vital to remove old airline stickers and tags. That reduces the chance of your bag getting lost en route to your new destination.

Important Documentation

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Move any important items, such as ID and medications, into your carry-on or personal item. It’ll ensure that any essential information is with you should your bag go missing.


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Losing your Luggage can be a frustrating experience when you start your travels. However, remember you are not alone; almost half a million people face the same issue yearly. Take a deep breath and stay calm.

Last Chance

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If you lost something special when flying, it might be worth it to take a trip to Unclaimed Luggage’s store in a last-ditch attempt to track down your lost items.

Gilligan’s Island Turned Into Painstaking Reality

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Gilligan’s Island may have been fiction, but these real-life stories of stranded passengers on islands make the TV show feel all too real. Some travelers became stranded on islands during a flight.

Gilligan’s Island Turned Into Painstaking Reality: 10 Stories of Stranded Passengers on Islands

15 “Forgotten” US Cities

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New York City and Los Angeles, be gone. These are the most forgotten U.S. cities that Americans want fellow citizens and foreigners to visit.

15 “Forgotten” U.S. Cities That Americans Urge Tourists to Visit

Worst Plane Crashes That Gutted the World

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Flying is statistically the safest form of transportation, but accidents happen. These are some of the most notorious plane crashes in history.

10 Worst Plane Crashes in History That Gutted the World

20 Things Foreigners Take Too Seriously About the US

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Yellow American cheese and horrible gaps in bathroom stalls, anyone? Americans shed light on what foreigners get all wrong about The Land of the Free.

20 Things Foreigners Take Too Seriously About the US According to Americans

11 Tips for Sleeping Like a Baby on Planes

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Even the best sleepers can have trouble falling asleep on planes. Learn tricks from frequent travelers to help you catch some z’s during your next flight. 

11 Tips for Sleeping Like a Baby on Planes

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