with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Heading North via The Smoky Mountains

My father and I are heading out for the north tomorrow morning. I leave behind the two cats to take care of my husband and my husband to…okay, so the cats will take care of him and he can take care of himself. ;-)

The plan so far, though subject to massive change due to weather and whether or not one of us pulls the plug on this venture, is to head north to Scottsboro, Alabama, to visit the Unclaimed Baggage Store.


Two million bags are checked in at airports each day and 99.5% of them reach their destination on the same flight as their owner.

That leaves ½% of the luggage that are “mishandled”. The definition of mishandled is that they do not arrive with the passenger, arrive damaged or arrive with missing items.

Doing the math: ½% of two million equals 10,000 bags a day.

The Department of Transportation claims that 80% of the “mishandled” bags are reunited with their owner within 24 hours and 99% are returned within 5 days. Only 1% are lost forever.

But, 1% still equals about 100 bags per day and 36,500 a year. Where did they go?



Scottsboro, Alabama is the lost luggage capital of the world. It is the home of the Unclaimed Baggage Center where you can buy a lost $1000 Versace dress for $55, a tube of slightly used Japanese toothpaste for 50 cents, a $15,000 sapphire and diamond bracelet for $7500, gold wedding bands for half their value, and a black lace teddy for $3. Why do bags get lost? The airlines say late check-in is the number one reason because the luggage may not be loaded on the same airplane as the passenger. Second, bags get lost when passengers are making connections even if they are traveling with the same airline. Bags can be tagged erroneously at the airport and end up at the wrong destination. Tags get ripped off and there is no name and address to be found inside or outside the bag. Sometimes the bags are stolen…

All luggage the major airlines cannot find the owners are sold to a salvage company- Unclaimed Baggage Center. It is sent to Scottsboro where the luggage is opened and the contents are sorted, cleaned and priced. They have a staff of appraisers who determine the original value of the items then apply a set discount. All items are then put on display and sold to the public.

And the public loves it. The Unclaimed Baggage Center has become the number one tourist attraction in Alabama with over 800,000 visitors a year. They come partly for the bargains and part for the entertainment value of peeking into someone else’s stuff.
Where Lost Airline Luggage Goes

I’ve longed to visit this place, and my father is thrilled to paw through other people’s junk.

Then it is on through the Appalachian Mountains towards the Smoky Mountains and northward towards Michigan.

I found some information on the International Towing Museum, dedicated to antique tow trucks and vehicles in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the Dixie Gun Works and Antique Car Museum nearby in Union City. My father is coming out of his skin with excitement about seeing these places. Me, I want to find some nature to explore rather than visit old cars and trucks and guns.

I’ll check in as I can with reports on what we’re doing and what and who we are seeing.

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