When you travel by air, you check your luggage in at the airport in the hope that you will see it again when you arrive at your destination. Unfortunately for some, this is not always the case, and pieces of luggage can end up somewhere else entirely. So what happens to this lost luggage?
Airlines say that they try their utmost to reunite passengers with their lost luggage, although this can sometimes be a very difficult task. The first step is to look for any obvious contact details for the owner, so the luggage is opened and checked through, but if no obvious details are found, most airlines will then turn to the World Tracer System to assist in the recovery of bags. This system integrates data from multiple airlines worldwide to try and match bags with their owners. From the moment somebody reports their luggage missing, 100 days are spent tracing the lost item(s). The system looks to match tag numbers with baggage type, colour and brand within the database, and when a match is made, the item is forwarded on a ‘rush tag’ to the nearest airport to the owner, and delivered directly to the owner’s contact address.
A small percentage of lost bags are not reunited with their owners within the 100 day period, and these bags are then sold at auction, with the proceeds supposedly going to charity. In the UK, auction houses such as Greasby’s in Tooting, South London, are where these lost bags end up. Apparently, high value items are removed and sold separately, whilst the content of the bags are then re-packed and sold as lots. Bidders have no idea what they are getting when they bid on a bag, but the practice has become quite popular with people looking for new luggage, and looking to re-sell clothing and small items on ebay.
However, a recent exposé by Dom Joly revealed that some airlines don’t do a very good job of trying to find the bags’ owners. He bought 15 bags at auction, and was able to find contact details for the owners of 3 of the bags. Also, when asked which charities the proceeds were given to, none of the airlines contacted were able to elaborate or name a charity.
Workers at one airline also said that cases were sent to auction before 100 days had passed, meaning that the search had been aborted possibly before it had even begun.
It seems that there is no guarantee that your luggage will arrive with you at your destination, and sadly, no guarantee that it will be reunited with you at a later date should it be lost. You can only do your best to increase your chances by ensuring your contact details are clearly visible on or inside the case. Failing that, you can always take a chance down at the auction house, and who knows, you could be bidding on your lost suitcase!