Where's My Luggage?

The following is an article from the book Uncle John's Canoramic Bathroom Reader.

(Image credit: redditor jueskin)

You watched your bag get loaded onto the plane, and then it was gone. What happened to it?


After a long flight, airline passengers shuffle to the baggage claim area and wait for their luggage to slide down the chute and onto the carousel. Most passengers see their bag, grab it, and go on their way. But not everyone. Every year, of the more than 2.5 billion bags checked onto flights worldwide, 26 million go missing— and of that 26 million, 1 million never make it back to their original owner. Bad weather and flight delays, miscoded destination tags, and the fact that some people simply forget to take one of their bags off the carousel are a few of the reasons. But the number-one reason a bag ends up lost is that it has no ID tag, and airlines don’t know to whom it belongs.

(Image credit: Flickr user SonnyandSandy)

Transferring luggage from check-in to departure gates to arrival gates to baggage claim is a delicate piece of timing. If the system moves too slowly, the baggage won’t make connecting flights. If it’s too fast, the bags may make the connection but the passengers might miss the flight. Each airport has its own way of allotting how much time a bag needs to move in transit. Denver International Airport, for example, has a sophisticated automated system that includes scanners that read luggage labels, destination-coded vehicles that travel along tracks and load and unload the bags without stopping, and sorting machines that route baggage to the appropriate gate. Even so, all that technology may not save your luggage tag from being torn off in the conveyor belt, making you the hapless owner of a bag with no name.


Once a bag goes missing and the passenger files a claim, the bag is declared “mishandled” by the carrier. Mishandled refers to bags that have been delayed, lost, stolen, or damaged. Most delayed bags are only one flight behind their owners and can be delivered within 24 hours. The other bags are examined by airline employees for clues to their ownership and destination. If the mystery is solved, those bags are returned to their owners within four or five days. Bags with no destination code or identification tag are shipped to a central warehouse, and undergo a comprehensive baggage tracing process over the next 90 days.

(Image credit: Flickr user yusunkwon)


Every airline has its own investigation procedure. According to Jan Fogelberg, Frontier Airlines’ vice president of customer service, “Our employees don surgical gloves and then do an autopsy of the bags.” Photos, shopping receipts, and names on prescription bottles have all been used to trace a bag’s owner. Airlines inventory their mishandled luggage, and many use a database to match the contents with owners’ descriptions. It takes about three months to go from “missing in action” to “irretrievably lost.” Once that happens, the bags are donated to charity, sold at auction, or purchased by a company like the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama, which sells the bags and their contents to the public.

(Image credit: Flickr user Esther Dyson)


As for the unfortunate bag owners, in the United States, airlines pay a maximum of $3,300 for a lost bag. But receipts for big-ticket items have to be produced to justify a claim that high, so travel experts recommend you never pack cameras, jewelry, electronic devices, or anything of real value in your checked baggage. Another recommendation: make sure your name is on the outside and inside of the bag, along with a copy of your itinerary and phone number so an agent can find it. It also doesn’t hurt to have something really flashy and unique on your luggage to make sure other people don’t mistake your bag for theirs.


The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Canoramic Bathroom Reader. The latest annual edition of Uncle John’s wildly successful series features fascinating history, silly science, and obscure origins, plus fads, blunders, wordplay, quotes, and a few surprises

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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