In years past, I worked baggage service for Southwest Airlines. Very few pieces of luggage are actually 'lost'.
Most luggage is either 'delayed', 'misdirected', or just plain stolen. If you think about it, it is pretty tough to "lose" a 4'x3', 50lb piece of luggage. The misdirected bags could have been loaded on the wrong flight, taken off in the wrong city,or mistagged or the destination tags fell off. The list goes on and on.
The logistics are such that it is honestly a miracle that more bags are not lost. In most cases, if you bag was delayed or misdirected, it will find it's way back to you.
Say you were flying from Chicago to Kansas City, so your bag is checked from MDW
, to MCI
. The only catch is that your flight actually flies from MDW
with a stop in MCI
and you bag is inadvertently loaded into the section with the MDW
bags. This is most likely to happen when your bag is checked in the jetway as you board your flight or at the ticket counter less than 30 minutes before your flight departs. The ramp agents do not look through all the bags when downloading through flights. The downline(MDW
) ramp agents sent MCI
paperwork telling them which part of the 'belly' contained the MCI
bags. If your MCI
bag was in with the LAX
bags...it is going to LAX
. If you should happen to file a claim while the aircraft is still at the gate, the baggage agent might have the ramp agents check the 'through load' for you. Sometimes, they can catch your bag before it heads off to California, but usually it's too late. So in this case when you bag shows up in LAX
, it sits there on the carousel until the bag agent sees it, matches it with your claim in the computer and puts it on a flight back to MCI
. Fortunately, LAX
is "Positive Claim" so if you don't have the claim check you can't take the bag...however, many cities are not and it is very easy for someone to simply walk away with YOUR unclaimed bag. This happens more often than people would think.
Now, if your bag tag fell off on the way from MDW
things can get a little tougher. If you have no name tag on the bag we can try to match with your claim based on your physical description of your bag. If there is no match we are supposed to wait 24 hours before opening the bag to see if we can find any indentification. Now, if we open your bag and we find no name or address and the description either you gave or the agent entered into the system does not really match your bag...we will hold it for 7 days. After that, it will be shipped to our Central Baggage Service offices at headquarters in Dallas. The bags are kept there as long as space allows in case we can somehow reunite you with your bag. If that does not happen there is indeed an Alabama based company that purchases the bags from SWA and many other airlines by the pound. They don't open the bags and take what they want...they just buy the entire bag. They have a retail store where they sell the contents and the bags and from what I understand they make a tidy profit. Check out the following link:
The moral of the story is... check your bag as early as possible, make sure the agent has tagged it properly and that you have your name and address INSIDE as well as outside your bags.