If TSA Took Your Items at the Airport, Here's How to Get Them Back
Here's what to do if airport security seized your stuff, according to travel experts.
We're all a bit wary when it comes to approaching the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint at the airport, even if we're sure we're not transporting any prohibited items. Though for good reason, the scrutiny is intense, and you never know when you might have forgotten to stash those nail scissors or that regular-sized lotion bottle in your checked luggage—or just didn't know something was forbidden on board. If you're unlucky enough to have an item red-flagged, is it gone for good? It depends on a few different factors, but there are actually ways to get your items back from TSA. Read on to hear from travel experts about when and how to do it.
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Say goodbye to water, soda, lotion, and shampoo.
Liquids and gels that are over the allowed 3.4 ounces are among the most commonly taken items at TSA. This includes bottles of water or soda, lotion, and shampoo. And once they're gone, they'll be discarded.
According to Cheryl Nelson, travel preparedness expert and founder/owner of Prepare With Cher, the government has strict rules for disposing of what it calls "voluntarily abandoned property," including getting rid of the aforementioned liquid items because they have no way of knowing if they were tampered with. The same goes for no-fly food items like canned soup or peanut butter.
Anything hazardous or illegal will be permanently taken.
Unsurprisingly, you're also not getting back anything illegal you had in your carry-on.
In 2022, TSA officers across the country discovered a record-breaking 6,542 firearms in carry-on luggage. "Firearms can be transported on a commercial aircraft only if they are unloaded, packed in a locked, hard-sided case and placed in checked baggage," explains the agency in a press release dated Jan. 19, 2023. "Any type of replica firearm is also prohibited in carry-on baggage and must be transported in checked luggage."
In addition to guns, other weapons, hazardous materials, or anything determined to be illegal will be surrendered to local law enforcement. "If you attempt to bring a prohibited item (such as a loaded firearm) through security, you will face possible arrest/civil penalties," notes Cheryl Nelson, travel preparedness expert and founder/owner of Prepare With Cher.
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But you can pay a fee to mail your stuff to yourself.
For non-dangerous and non-illegal prohibited items like pocket knives and corkscrews—along with other items that would be allowed in checked baggage—there are several ways to attempt to keep them.
The quickest route, says Nelson, is to exit security and take the item back to the check-in counter and check it in your checked baggage. She suggests that you can also "give the item to a non-flying friend—like someone who dropped you off—or put the item in your car, and go through security again without the item."
Another immediate option: Exit security and mail the item back to your address from the airport (if mail permits the shipping of your item, of course). According to Sean Harris, managing editor at Family Destinations Guide, "if it's a small simple item, most airports will offer a mailing service where you can mail it to your home for ridiculous prices."
For example, Denver International Airport has a service called Airport Mailers that is available right at TSA checkpoints. They also have FedEx, UPS, and USPS drop boxes (though you'll need to acquire shipping supplies).
Or contact TSA to collect your stuff later.
Some items will be placed in the property office at the airport. "In order to try and get your items back, you will need to fill out a form, which can be found online or at the property office," explains Luke Xavier, travel expert and founder of travel blog USA Rover. "There will also be a fee associated with getting your items back, depending on the item. "
Stuart Lewis, travel agent and editor of Travel Scoop, provides more detail: "Start by calling the TSA lost and found office at the airport you were traveling from… Once you submit the paperwork and pay the fees, the office will contact you to arrange to pick up or deliver your items."
"You may be asked to provide proof of ownership and explain why you had the items in your possession," adds Xavier. "Be honest and open when communicating with TSA personnel and provide all relevant information related to the items."
According to an article in the Washington Post, TSA will hold items for 30 days in lost and found. After this, "unclaimed electronics will have their memory removed and destroyed or be destroyed completely to protect personal data." As for everything else…
Start checking government auction sites.
If you haven't been able to retrieve your item from the property office, you still may be able to find it. Some airports work with contractors who retrieve items for donation; state agencies also sell surplus goods via a bidding system using sources like GovDeals and USA.Gov. "This is where you could look to try to buy [back] your favorite corkscrew, for example," says Nelson.
TSA does not profit from the sale of these items; the state keeps any money from sales, and TSA agents are not permitted to keep any items.
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Remember time is of the essence.
Experts agree that timing is key when trying to get your item back. If you wait too long, TSA may dispose of or sell it, so it's best to inquire as soon as possible and begin following up to make sure your inquiry is processed.
Getting your item back from TSA might take some doing, but it's not impossible. Tom Thorns, travel expert and founder/CEO of Mallorca Info, shared with Best Life that he once had a pair of expensive scissors taken at the airport. "I was devastated and immediately asked the TSA agent if I could get them back. I was told it was unlikely, but I decided to inquire about them anyway. To my surprise, I received a call from TSA a few days later informing me that my scissors had been found and that I could come to the airport to pick them up."