A report by SITA Inc., an air transportation telecommunications and technology company, found the airline industry lost an estimated 30 million bags worldwide last year. Two hundred thousand of those were never found. U.S. Airlines alone lost 10,000 bags a day in 2005.
So, what happens to all that lost luggage? A lot of it ends up at Scottsboro, Alabama, at the Unclaimed Baggage Center, where complete strangers can buy your stuff, everything from lost artwork to lost underwear.
Tucker spoke with Brenda Cantrell from the Unclaimed Baggage Center.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, "THE SITUATION": Who owns the Unclaimed Baggage Center? Do the airlines run this? Is it a private enterprise, and where do you get the bags?
CANTRELL: We are actually a private enterprise and we’re owned by Brian Owens. We actually have long term, exclusive contracts with all the major carriers. We purchase these bags sight unseen and bring them back to Scottsboro, Alabama, where we process them every single day.
CARLSON: Have the airlines already been through the bags to take out the good stuff?
CANTRELL: No, the airlines actually go through the bags to try to find information to reunite the bags with the owners. They’ve already spent 90 days trying to do that process.
CARLSON: OK. But if there’s a stack of cash, or a kilo of cocaine, or a baggy full of gold jewelry, that’s not in the bag by the time you get it, right?
CANTRELL: We get lots of things like that in the bags and, of course, anything that we don’t feel is appropriate, we do turn over to the proper authorities.
CARLSON: What type of items have you found in bags?
CANTRELL: A lot of things that can go straight to the garbage or go straight to the police?
CARLSON: Can you be a lot more specific?
CANTRELL: I would prefer not to.
CARLSON: OK. So intimate objects, is that what you’re saying?
CARLSON: OK. How many bags do you get?
CANTRELL: We don’t disclose that number, but we stock over 7,000 unique items to our retail floor every single day.
CARLSON: Your retail floor. So, this is like a store. It’s like a department store of other peoples’ lost stuff?
CANTRELL: That is correct. It’s about a 40,000 square foot department store. We’re one of the top tourist attractions in the state of Alabama.
CARLSON: Is it a bargain? Like, give me an example of what things cost. If I wanted to buy, say, a pair of shoes. I assume you sell shoes. How much do they cost?
CANTRELL: That we do. It all depends on the style and the quality. You can get a great pair of running—you can get a great pair of running shoes for about $25. And a designer of shoes for about $30 or $40.
CARLSON: Show us around a little bit. What do you have in the background there?
CANTRELL: Well, we have some of the more interesting items that we’ve gotten in over the years. This is kind of funny. We’re not quite sure what it’s used for, but we think it’s magician’s swords, whether it goes into a box or goes down somebody’s throat, not real sure.
We also have an African drum, a gas mask and we have a Swiss Alp horn, and this thing actually expands to about 10 feet long. It doesn’t make a pretty sound, but it’s pretty to look at.
CARLSON: Like a Ricola, like those Alps? The Alps horn?
CANTRELL: Yes, that’s correct. Another interesting thing that we get are men’s wedding bands. In times in the past we’ve had up to five trays of these. We can’t explain why we get them. We just get them and then sell them.
CARLSON: Brenda, this is speculative, but I’d like to speculate for just a minute. Why would a man take a wedding ring off and put it in checked baggage?
CANTRELL: You know, I’m not going into the mind of a man that would do that, but we just get them and sell them.
CARLSON: So, people buy other peoples’ wedding rings? What would you do with someone else’s wedding ring? “To Bob, love Mary”? I mean, what would you do with that?
CANTRELL: I actually have on somebody else’s wedding ring. My platinum wedding band I purchased here at the store. Saved me about $250, and I can always say I have something on from Unclaimed Baggage Center.
CARLSON: A wedding band is a pretty cherished possession for most people. Do you ever have people coming to your store to find their own stuff?
CANTRELL: Occasionally, we have people coming in looking for their own things. But always we refer them back to the airlines. And sometimes they just come because they’ve heard about it and they jokingly say, “I lost my bag 10 years ago and maybe it ended up here.”
CARLSON: Well, what about the things that are unclaimed from the Unclaimed Baggage Center? I mean, that’s the end of the line, right?
CANTRELL: It is. Some of the things that go unclaimed at Unclaimed Baggage we donate to local charities. We’re very involved in the community and regionally, and internationally, as well.
CARLSON: What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever came across?
CANTRELL: Well, the most expensive thing I’ve ever come across was a diamond ring we had in 1998, and the appraisal value on it was $46,000, and we sold it for about $23,000.
The most expensive thing we have in the store right now is actually an emerald and diamond ring. And it appraises for about $20,000 and we sell it for $10,000.
CARLSON: Doesn't make you sad to think that that belonged to somebody who has no idea where it is?
CANTRELL: Not necessarily. I’ve always been a bargain hunter. I’ve always gone to second hand shops to find a good deal. So this doesn’t really bother me.
CARLSON: Boy, you are a shopping mercenary. I’m impressed. Thanks a lot.
CANTRELL: Thank you.