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Missing in Action - Lost Luggage

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Feb 21, 2006

A solitary bag revolves endlessly on the airport carousel while I wait for mine to eventually appear. What happens to luggage that gets lost and is never claimed?

Sophisticated international tracking systems ensure most bags are eventually reunited with their owners. But a small proportion go missing in action forever.

Some bags finally go to auction, some to charity, whereas in America most of these lost souls end up in Alabama.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro is a massive clearing house. More than a million items lost in transit pass through the store each year. The family-owned business covers an entire city block and is one of Alabama's biggest tourist attractions. It's annual ski sale on the first Saturday in November is the most popular bargain event of the year.

While unpacking bags Scottsboro staff have discovered priceless Egyptian artifacts, diamonds and emeralds, a space shuttle camera, even a live rattlesnake! And it's not just suitcases and backpacks that get lost. An F1 fighter jet guidance system, worth a cool $250,000 at the time, once ended up in Scottsville and had to be returned to the US Navy.

Qantas says "mishandled baggage" represents a fraction - approximately 0.03% - of total customers carried. The airline eventually donates all unclaimed luggage to charity. Virgin Blue sells unclaimed goods and hands the money to charity, or the goods themselves are donated to various causes around the country.

Hotels generally take the same approach. One front-of-house manager whispered that should a sex aid be inadvertently left in a room then, invariably, the owner calls and asks for it back!

Countrylink staff likewise find all sorts of odd things on trains, including false teeth and walking sticks. Just how does someone leave their walking stick behind? Lost items go to the central State Rail lost property office and, if unclaimed after two months, go to auction.

Unclaimed luggage auctions occur every four to six months and are advertised in the press. Suitcases are sold "as is" so you could strike it lucky ....... or strike dirty laundry.

March 14, 2006 10:07 PM


Sydney Airport Corporation's upgrade of international baggage handling has some serious problems. The cause is a range of faulty design engineering, a failure to rectify these faults when raised (poor project risk management), as well as components bought on the cheap from China. Regular equipment failures, failure to work in high temperatures, failure to cope with heavy demand are all some of the faults. As a consequence a large amount of baggage that was supposed to be X-rayed for your safety was not!!! So if you lost your baggage (or it was delayed) because you were in transit through Sydney International Airport you now know why. Please take the matter up with your airline, Sydney Airport Corporation, the aviation authorities and the Federal Government.

Oh and by the way, these current faults were brought to you by the same company that caused the pre-Sydney Olympics baggage handling problems.
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