Lost Baggage Finds A Home On New Reality Series

When we think of travel baggage, we often think of fees, checkins, carry-ons, overhead storage and the hope that it arrives with us at our final destination. We watch video of baggage handlers misbehaving at work and wonder why we pay so much to check it. When soldiers returning from war are charged extra for it, we’re outraged. But what about when baggage goes missing? It’s a topic that is often infuriating and sometimes mysterious.

On the Travel Channel’s new reality series “Baggage Battles,” we get a peek behind the scenes into the world of auction specialists earning a living off bidding, buying and reselling lost luggage.

Sort of along the lines of A & E’s Storage Wars, they travel to different airport auctions around the world where we see what happens to the 70,000 pieces of luggage that go unclaimed or get lost every year.

“Baggage Battles” features three teams of auction specialists that compete to see who buys baggage filled with valuable treasure or worthless junk.

  • Laurence and Sally Martin, a married couple from California has been in the antique business for over 20 years.
  • Mark Meyer, 25, still lives at home with his parents and is a young entrepreneur from Long Island, New York.
  • Billy Leroy, also from New York, was 25 when he bought a $200 painting and sold it for $18,000.

They visit more than airports too, stopping at customs auctions, police auctions and freight auctions bidding on seized merchandise in different venues.”With dozens of auctions to visit, thousands of bags to explore and millions of dollars at stake, these auction specialists need both skill and luck to hit the jackpot,” says the Travel Channel on the “Baggage Battles” website. “They don’t know if it’s junk or a jackpot until they win the bid and open the suitcase.”

Baggage Battles” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the Travel Channel.

[Flickr photo via Canolais]

Airlines told to cough up the cash on lost luggage

The Transportation Department is getting serious about lost luggage reimbursement. The department has told airlines that they can’t set arbitrary limits on reimbursement for the bags they lose – or items that they have to replace because of delays. Several airlines, the DOT says, will only pay for necessities that passengers buy more than 24 hours after they hit the ground without their bags. And, they limit their willingness to pay to outbound trips. So, if you’re on your way home, you may get stuck with the tab.

The fed’s regs put the airlines on the hook for up to $3,300 per passenger on domestic flights for expenses resulting from lost or delayed luggage.

The Transportation Department is going to monitor the situation for 90 days, it says, then take enforcement steps against airlines that don’t play ball. One airline, the DOT disclosed, was fined last month for only footing the bill on outbound trips and only for items bought after that first 24-hour window after passengers landed.



42 million bags mishandled, more than 1 million lost for good

Airlines around the world now have their incompetence measured! The same companies that get irritated when you try to carry on everything you own mishandled (i.e., lost) 42 million pieces of luggage in 2007, according to the Air Transport Users Council (AUC). This is an unbelievable increase from the 2006 level of 34 million and 30 million in 2005. Making matters worse, 1.2 million were “irretrievably lost” in 2007.

Not only are the raw numbers increasing, the rate of stupidity is accelerating. The amount of mishandled luggage grew 13.3 percent from 2005 to 2006. From 2006 to 2007, it sped up to 25.3 percent. Clearly, the airlines are getting better at being worse.

But, why should we dwell on the past when we can fear for the future instead? AUC worries that the number of bags mishandled could reach 70 million a year by 2019, based on forecasts of a 100 percent increase in the number of passengers flying annually over the coming decade.

With all this mayhem, there’s one thing you can count on: not being reimbursed fairly for your lost bags. The AUC says that passengers were not compensated appropriately “on too many occasions” because they did not have receipts for the items inside. Let this be a lesson to you. When you buy that new shirt, put the receipt in your suitcase – likewise for your hat, gloves, shoes and cell phone. This is clearly the only place where you’ll need them.

Oh, wait! Don’t put the receipts in your suitcase! Your suitcase will probably get lost! Stash them in your favorite carry-on instead.

Airlines losing less of our baggage – for the wrong reasons

Here is (what should be) a great piece of news from the aviation world – domestic US carriers are losing fewer of our bags.

A staggering 1.3 million bags were not lost when compared to statistics from the previous year.

Normally, airlines would have a good reason to be proud of this result. It could be because they are paying more attention to their baggage procedures, or simply that their staff are learning to be more respectful of our belongings, but sadly, the reason they are losing less luggage has a far more logical explanation.

People are not checking as many bags.

The airlines, in their infinite wisdom decided that checking a bag is a luxury that should be sold to us, in addition to our ticket fee.

Too many passengers refuse to pay this fee, so as more people drag all their luggage on board the plane, fewer bags have to be placed in the baggage hold. It all makes perfect sense.

American Airlines was the clear winner with a 26% improvement over 2007. But of course, American Airlines was also the first of the major carriers to introduce the pay-to-check baggage scheme.

Eventually, the whole thing will probably come back and bite the airlines in the ass. As more people carry more stuff on to the plane, departure times will get delayed, flight attendants will have to spend more time finding space for bags that don’t fit in the overhead compartment, and passengers will still get their bags checked for free when the crew have to do a gate check for any bags that can’t be stored in the cabin.

TSA theft: Washington, D.C., travelers find many of their claims denied

Travelers from the greater Washington, D.C. can’t get no satisfaction from the Transportation Security Administration.

In 2007, D.C. travelers filed 569 lost-item claims concerning stuff that was pinched from their checked baggage. The TSA denied more than half, according to Beltway TV station NBC 4.

The channel reports that claims denied ranged from a paltry $3.75 to one for more than $10,000. It seems like even when the TSA decides to pay a claim, it is skint on cash: The most the administration shelled out for a claim was a bit more than $1,600 – which turns out to be less than half of what was originally asked for.

The station features an interview with Amber Lewis, who packed a $400 digital camera in her luggage only to have it stolen. After two months of back-and-forth with the TSA, Lewis finally received a check: for $125 (the airline, undisclosed in this report, threw in another $75).

Both the TSA and individual airlines have ceilings regarding how much they will reimburse (few go higher than $3,000 for a claim). And of course, it’s not surprising that airlines are usually the last to admit wrongdoing: It’s so much easier to generally blame things on negligent TSA screeners.

It seems that the TSA meets claims in full only rarely, if at all. Yet spokesmen for the administration can never seem to explain why this is so. Yes, when making a claim a traveler needs to prove ownership, a receipt proving the item’s worth, and a sworn affidavit that it was indeed lost. But given all this — and the labyrinthine process one must go through to get the necessary paperwork to the right people — there is no rational explanation for the TSA not to pay in full. To pay someone like Lewis $125 for a $400 camera (I’m assuming she made her case properly) is like the TSA reaching some kind of abstract conclusion as to what really happened to the item. If the TSA acknowledges a hand in an item going missing, what criteria does it use to weigh how significant that hand was?

I wish the NBC 4 report, or at least the written version, named some airports. Alas, no.

(Some of you reading will, with justification, have little sympathy for poor Amber Lewis. I mean, who packs expensive items like digital cameras into their checked baggage these days?)

What strange things have been found on planes?

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