After a flight where reconstituted food and recirculated air have slowed metabolisms to the speed of a baggage carousel, it’s no wonder travellers want to get as quickly as possible to their hotel or home. It makes it all the more frustrating when that mesmerising carousel seems reluctant to reunite the bleary-eyed with their Samsonite –and for some people, it never does.
Still, given the sheer volume of bags passing through the world’s airports, an average success rate of 993 items per thousand eventually reaching their owners may not sound terrible. But those seven orphan bags per thousand add up, and they have to go somewhere.
In the UK, that’s where auction houses step in. If the bag is auctioned off, the auction house takes a commission from the sale; it passes the rest of the proceeds on to the relevant airline. In Britain, four main houses procure and sell this lost luggage.
To market, to market
One such auction house is Tooting Greasby’s. Every other Tuesday, around 150 people pay a £100 deposit for a laminated number, which gives them the right to bid. At the back of the small room lie 20 suitcases and hold-alls. Some are new, some are battered, but all are the focus of the bidders’ attention.
On a recent Tuesday, umbrellas, walking aids, children’s scooters and even disposable nappies sat next to the luggage – all detritus that had been either unclaimed, left behind during security checks or simply lost in departures. There was even a lawn edge trimmer and an antique Moroccan-style ceiling light.
“It’s amazing what people bring back from their holidays,” auctioneer Christine Sachett, who has been tapping the gavel here for more than four decades, tells the prospective buyers present.