Why we started TRACE ME Mill Shek
Why we started TRACE ME
Sophie Osborn, Founder of TRACE ME
How to prevent that pit of the stomach sinking feeling at the airport bag reclaim carousel
A number of years ago I read a newspaper article reporting on the 2 to 3 hundred suitcases being sent every week to an auction house in South London, from just one airline at just one airport, London Heathrow. I was horrified. I had visions of seeing my favourite possessions being sold on eBay, perfectly legitimately, because someone had paid a tenner for my bag. I believed something needed to be done.
It occurred to me there is no other situation in life where we hand over our possessions to a third party who is not duty bound to return them. We can claim some small compensation but we don’t get our things back.
I was often asked at the beginning, why not just put my business card on my bag? Well, a subsequent article reported journalists visiting the auction house concerned and buying 3 bags to see if they could identify the owners. One case was immediately identifiable and a second took a little more work but the owner was found. This told me that even if a business card is attached, even a name and address, the bag handlers can only use the global lost luggage system SITA WorldTracer, they cannot send emails, they cannot send texts or make calls. We certainly don’t recommend putting address labels on bags after an incident when labels from one flight were cut off at an airport then sold at a local pub resulting in several house burglaries whilst their owners were away, and the selling at auction of luggage that may contain personal information raised another concern: owners being put at risk of identity theft when their personal items and details may be bought along with their dirty laundry.
We decided to provide back up to the airline paper tag and give each bag a permanent and anonymous identifier and securely store the owner’s data. Getting SITA to recognise that number and enable it to be used within their existing system was our big break. Now we had a solution and the bag handlers had a way of tracing our customers as the owners of their bags.