Lost Luggage

Here’s an article about airlines losing passengers’ luggage. I was wondering where permanently lost luggage goes. In theory, presumably, it stays somewhere under the control of an airline. After all, if you go to San Francisco but your is mistakenly placed on a flight to Tokyo, eventually, after going around on the little carousel enough times, some airline employee will pull it aside. But if that were true, it should be possible, except in the rare instances where somehow all identifying information were to disappear both from the exterior and interior of the luggage, to reunite the luggage with its owner. And yet, a lot of luggage seems to disappear forever.

Which means that lost luggage must, at some point, leave the airlines’ custody. But how? Some thoughts:

1. From what I can tell, most US airports don’t check that the person leaving with luggage is the owner of the luggage. With no practical deterrent to theft, thieves will proliferate. I wonder if thieves specialize in luggage that goes around the carousel many times, and thus appears unclaimed? In other words… thieves may actually save the airlines from the hassle of getting the luggage back where it belongs (albeit at a cost – some small token of compensation for the loss of the luggage). Would this explain why US airports don’t check baggage tags?

2. Within the airlines, some employees engage in theft, and its not worth the time or effort for the airlines to ferret out that theft.

3. When airlines choose not to reunite luggage with its owner, presumably they dispose of the luggage. Perhaps receipts from this method of disposal (auction perhaps?) exceed the greater of the cost of compensating passengers and the cost of reuniting the luggage.

I would guess someone somewhere has worked all this out. And that someone works for an airline.