September 02, 2013

Man finds fortune in unclaimed luggage

David Ellis

BACK in 1970 an entrepreneurial Doyle Owens borrowed a mate's utility and $300 and went off to the Trailways Bus Lines depot in Washington DC in America, where they were selling off piles of clothes and books, cameras and backpacks, sports-goods and jewellery, and even whole suitcases of clothes left unclaimed by passengers from its road coaches and in city terminals.

He bought as much as he could with his $300, advertised a garage sale and sold the lot – for a nice profit. And when another sale came up, he bought-up just about everything they had, resigned from his insurance company job, and started full-time buying and re-selling "lost property" left on trains, planes, coaches and in hotels, across America.

Today his Unclaimed Baggage Centre (UBC) turns-over millions of dollars-worth of unclaimed and lost property every year in its UBC Department Store in the town of Scottsboro in Alabama, and also donates hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth to charities world-wide.

And they're never short of stuff for replenishing shelves, clothing racks, jewellery and electronics counters: although only a fraction of one-percent of travellers' luggage, carry-on and other items are never re-united with their owners, that fraction still amounts to hundreds of thousands of items every year.

UBC estimates that in the United States 80 to 90% of travellers' "lost" bags and other items are returned to owners within 24 hours of being reported missing, and 95 to 98% within five days.

After three months the remainder – together with personal items left in seat pockets, overhead racks and bins, under seats or in hotel rooms – and deemed impossible to connect with their owners, are sold to UBC… who guarantee to buy the lot, sight unseen and by the truck-load.

And it's not just luggage (most of which goes missing through poor or no identification) or thousands of sunglasses, mobile phones, books, laptops, jewellery, DVDs, watches and cameras that forgetful travellers leave behind.

Let UBC start talking and you could wonder if they're having you on… but the company's vast Unclaimed Baggage Centre that's two-thirds the size of a football field, is proof as to just how weird are things that some people travel with.

As well as tens of thousands of "regular" items like those above, others unclaimed have included glass eyes, prosthetic arms and legs, wigs and toupees, false teeth, human medical specimens – and sex toys.

Raunchy female underwear and mens' Y-fronts are regular finds in airline toilets, making one wonder what fellow travellers have either been up to, or have in mind, while single shoes have been found under plenty of seats – and on one flight a single Dutch clog – which again makes one wonder how you could get off a plane wearing one shoe.

Pets too are regularly left unclaimed after being carried either in baggage holds or in pet-carriers in passenger compartments, with caged parrots, an agitated falcon, tortoises, a frog and a live rattlesnake left on baggage carousels… and on one flight, a live monkey dressed-up in a doggy Santa suit was discovered in a pet-carrier left under an aircraft seat.

A hand-written marriage proposal was found in the back of a seat after passengers had left one flight, wedding dresses are regularly left on baggage carousels, and never claimed from one flight was a complete suit of armour… and another a double bass.

Staff found a bag of diamonds in one airline First Class seat, a box of dried fish, a bag of onions and a single boiled egg in other seats… even a portable Missile Guidance System (that was returned to the US Air Force.)

And under a seat in which a star of Charlie's Angels had flown on yet another flight, a script for an upcoming episode…

All clothing found in suitcases and elsewhere is laundered or dry-cleaned before going on sale at UBC's sprawling Alabama store, technicians erase whatever's found on unclaimed computers, fine jewellery is professionally cleaned, and slightly-damaged goods are repaired.

Then it all (an amazing 7,000 new items a day) goes up for sale at 20 to 80% below retail to UBC's near-million bargain-hunters a year – and what doesn't sell after a reasonable time is given to charity to make way for more stuff left behind by the forgetful.



[1] ALTHOUGH it looks tagged, this is actually lost luggage with the tags put on by  airline staff who re-unite 95 to 98% of "lost" luggage with owners within 5 days. 
[2] AND in America what's not re-united goes here – 7,000 items of it a day.
[3] INSIDE the Unclaimed Baggage Centre on an average day: a million bargain-hunters pour  through the store annually.
[4] LADIES pants by the truckload are just some of the attractions.
[5] AND jewellery by the counter-full sells at 20 to 80% below normal retail.
[6] SHOES, shoes and more shoes left on trains, planes and in hotel rooms.
[7] KEEN bargain hunters camp overnight for the annual Winter Ski Wear Sales.
[8] AND rush clothing racks for super-bargains on Ski Wear Sales Day.

(Images: Unclaimed Baggage Centre)



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