It's an uncomfortable truth, but there are times in life when your loss truly is someone else's gain.
Take the person who left a pair of Tom Ford Whitney sunglasses onboard a plane they boarded in the summer of 2012, for example. I found those gloriously oversized shades at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, in October of that year. I had been coveting them for ages, probably after seeing them on some impossibly toned Real Housewives star in a teeny, tiny bikini. When I saw the price tag of $50, my eyeballs nearly popped out of my head. I made a beeline for the register.
How did my beloved sunnies end up in a thrift store one hundred miles from the nearest airport? It's a question Thrillist recently explored, and the backstory is quite fascinating. In the U.S., less than one percent of checked luggage doesn't end up at baggage claim, the outlet reports, but somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of those remaining bags are returned within 48 hours. Ninety-eight percent of lost bags are returned within seven days. From there, the airline dedicates a 90-day period to matching misplaced bags with their rightful owners. In the end, the odds of "truly losing your bag on a U.S. flight [are] one-in-ten-thousand," writes Thrillist's Matt Meltzer.
After that, airlines legally own the lost luggage and are liable for reimbursing each passenger up to $3,500, according to The Hill. Customers who feel the compensation offer is fair usually give up the search at that point. Others "overstate what's in the bag to get a bigger insurance payout" and take their chances with the baggage team's fraud department, according to Thrillist.
Insurance salesman Doyle Owens founded the Unclaimed Baggage Center in 1970 with $300 and the genius idea to buy abandoned suitcases from a local bus station. He sold the contents of his first bulk purchase on card tables in a rented house. The business was a hit and quickly expanded to buying from both commercial and cargo airlines, which explains the loads of Norma Kamali dresses with tags still on that I encountered during my visit to the 40,000-square-foot retail space. Today, UBC has an exclusive contract with the airlines and stocks nearly 2 million pounds of goods a year wedding — including electronics, athletic gear, books, and wedding dresses.
The center makes a good chunk of its money off carry-on items that've been left behind — airlines claim no responsibility for things left in seat-back pockets or overhead bins — resulting in cratefuls of electronic gadgets and other valuables such as, most likely, the sunglasses that now belong to me.
There's a philanthropic side to UBC, too, so rest assured that your lost luggage isn't just benefitting greedy deal-seekers like me. The company has relationships with dozens of organizations around the world and regularly donates millions of dollars worth of medical supplies to developing countries. One of its initiatives rebuilds broken wheelchairs for children and adults who need them. Its "Luv Luggage" program supplies hand-painted suitcases to children who are moving into foster homes.
Sometimes, I have a fleeting feeling of pity for the woman who misplaced her Whitney sunglasses on a flight. Then again, if I'd paid full retail for anything Tom Ford, I'd probably remember to bring it off the plane with me.