In the December 2014 / January 2015 edition of Auctioneer, an article called Mile-High Merch discusses what a lot of us have wondered: what happens to our “lost stuff?” The article is based in the Indianapolis International Airport where millions of people fly in and out of every year. Every 12–18 months all unclaimed items go to auction. Included in these auctions are phones that are left charging in wall outlets as travelers scramble to make their connections, jewelry, computers, tablets, gift cards, and other high- and low-end merchandise. On some occasions “the auctions include old equipment the airport no longer needs, tools and machinery used on obsolete airplane parts, large equipment used in the hangars and old computer equipment accumulated over time.” Because airlines are required to compensate passengers for reasonable expenses and losses to their property, once the traveler has accepted the compensation, they have forfeited their rights to that luggage. Therefore, these items can legally be sold to the public.
ABC News reported that dozens of these auctions happen at airports all over the country, with thousands of bags and millions of dollars at stake. Bidders can’t open the unclaimed bags and have to rely on their instincts to place bets on what could be inside—which could be anything from expensive jewelry or someone’s laundry. Only after bidders win the bags do they get to open them and find out if they have hit the jackpot, or ended up with junk. One lucky bidder won a suitcase with 10,000 British pounds inside. For example, Miami International has made as much as $100,000 in a single auction, and it’s not just off lost luggage bags. They also auction off singular items in large groups, where bidders can take bets on bags of jewelry or electronics that have been left at TSA checkpoints, or entire cargo loads of discarded items. It seems that these auctions are rapidly evolving and becoming more popular.