Even experienced travelers sometimes find themselves about to go through airport security with something that is not allowed.
If this ever happens to you, you may be wondering what your options are. Is there any way for you to get reunited with your item or will you have to say goodbye to the item for good?
Below, we will break down a few different options that you have whenever you can’t get an item through airport security.
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What happens if your item is not allowed through TSA security?
Typically, unless you proactively hand something over, the way you get caught with an item that is not allowed is when your baggage goes through the x-ray scanner or you walk through the full body scanner or metal detector.
If something is flagged, an agent will then search your bags or your person for the prohibited items and if your item is not allowed through TSA security, a TSA agent may take the following actions:
- Refer the item and possibly yourself to law enforcement (for some dangerous or illegal items)
- Allow you to discard or surrender the item
- Allow you to exit the security line with your item and figure something out
There are some reports of TSA agents forcibly making people give things up and not giving them the third option (to exit security). But unless there is something dangerous or illegal about the item, that should not happen in most cases.
Your options for keeping your item
There are different methods that you can use to keep your item or get reunited with it later on.
These methods include:
- Handing the item over to TSA and then hunting it down on an auction website
- Sending the item off in checked baggage
- Returning home or placing the item in your vehicle or in another person’s vehicle
- Using a rideshare service to deliver your item
- Turning in your item into the lost and found and hoping for the best
- Putting your item in an airport locker
- Mailing the item back to yourself
All of these come with their own pros and cons and we will dive into the risks of each of these below!
Note: The options available to you will depend on the airport you’re at and the type of item you are trying to save but it’s good to be aware of all of these different routes, even if some of them are a bit more risky (and unconventional) than others.
Hand over your item to TSA and then try to hunt it down
Unlike law-enforcement, TSA does not really have the authority to confiscate an item. Instead, when they take (or receive) an item from a passenger they refer to it as “voluntarily abandoned property.”
In reality, the passenger may not have any other choice than to hand over the items so “voluntarily” is a bit of a misleading term in a lot of cases.
But often the only option you will have when an item cannot get through airport security with you is to simply hand it over to TSA.
Once it is in TSA’s possession, they will take different actions depending on the type of substance.
If it’s a prohibited liquid they will probably just instantly dispose of it. If it’s a weapon or some other type of illegal object, it could be referred to law-enforcement (along with yourself).
But if it is just your every day item that is not illegal, TSA will hand it over to a state surplus and it could eventually end up on one of the auction sites like GovDeals.
This means that in theory you could track down your item by browsing new items that fall under that specific category. I wouldn’t count on this working though and would consider this more of a Hail Mary attempt.
Head back to the check-in counter
Another option you have is to head back over to the baggage check-in counter to send your item via checked baggage.
First, you need to make sure that you have enough time to actually get back over to the counter, wait in line, and then go back through security.
Second, you need to think about baggage fees. If you have status or certain credit cards, you may be able to check a bag for free so this may not be an issue but you’ll definitely want to be aware of the prices.
Most likely you will just be asking them to check your carry-on or personal item bag which means that you will want to remove certain items like laptops or other valuables from your carry-on when you do this. You will then just take those items with you through the security checkpoint.
You might be wondering if you can check your item without having to hand over your carry-on bag. In other words, what happens when you don’t have a bag to put your item in?
Let’s say that you had a bottle of contact solution not allowed in your carry-on, could you simply check that bottle by itself?
This actually introduces a pretty interesting question that we don’t necessarily know the answer to because there is not a lot of information published on this question.
There are examples out there of people checking very small items like a single shoe so it does seem possible.
However, if you’re trying to check a single item that could potentially cause damage like a pocket knife or something that could come apart like a blender then that is probably a very different story.
Some airlines may be willing to work with you, especially if they have materials (tape, etc.) that can make it practical to send your item off.
Others might just look at you like you are crazy, though.
Head back home or to a vehicle
Another option is to head back home if you have enough time or just head back to your vehicle or a friend’s car and place the item in a vehicle.
For example, you can have the person dropping you off at the airport simply hang out in the cell phone parking lot waiting for you to successfully get through security.
If you’re not cutting things close with time this is definitely a good option to think about.
Use a ride share service
If you have enough time you could go to the pick up area of the airport and request a rideshare such as an Uber or Lyft.
Sometimes you may have access to something like Uber Connect which is specifically designed for deliveries but you could possibly even use the standard Uber service for this.
Basically what you would do is request a driver and then tell them that you have a package that needs to be delivered back to your home or to another person’s house.
If you were staying at a nearby hotel, especially a quality hotel with good service, you could arrange for it to be delivered to the hotel and they will likely take care of it until you get back. Or, they could even mail it to you.
When using a rideshare for a delivery, you might be able to convince the driver to just leave the item in a mailbox or on the doorstep but it’s probably better to have someone designated to pick up the package.
It’s possible that an Uber driver may not be comfortable doing this, may not know what to do, if it is allowed, etc.
So be prepared to potentially meet some resistance if you try to go this route. The promise of a good tip can work wonders.
Give it to the lost and found
This option is definitely a bit risky and falls into a gray area but it’s pretty clever.
After you are told you can’t bring your item through security, you could exit the airport security area and head over to the airport lost and found and submit the item as lost.
Obviously, if this item is very valuable to you, you may not want to do this method because you may never see the object again.
And if the item is a dangerous prohibited item like a weapon, you almost certainly will not see that object again.
But if you don’t have any other options then this could give you a chance to get reunited with something like a prohibited battery or certain toiletries.
Basically, after you submit the item to Lost and Found then you would contact the airport and tell them that you lost that specific item and file a claim.
If you’re doing a roundtrip then on your way back through the airport you could simply stop by the lost and found and hopefully pick it up free of charge. Other times, you could get the airport to send you the item but you will probably have to pay for shipping.
To increase your odds of being successful you may want to try the lost and found at an airport lounge if you have access to one because they may be looking out for their guests better than the standard airport lost and found.
Put it in an airport locker
Some airports have lockers that you can store items in.
Typically, these are for people who are exiting the airport on a layover but I would guess that you may be able to do overnight storage for multiple days.
Even if you only can store an object for a few hours, that could give you enough time to ask someone to come by and pick up the item. These rates can be expensive sometimes so you may only want to go this route for items that are truly valuable.
Mail the item back to yourself
Some airports have a service you can find called Airport Mailers. This allows you to mail items back to your home for only a small-fish postage fee.
Basically, you just fill out a form with your contact and shipping information, provide credit card details, and then submit the form along with your item in a package to be mailed.
There are a few caveats, though.
So typically if you use the service you would be mailing things back like:
- Leatherman Tools
The price for each item is going to change depending on what type of item it is.
The fees for shipping start around eight dollars but can be much higher for liquids which could be around $20. You will be able to send certain items to international destinations but be prepared for higher fees.
Finding out that you cannot get your item through airport security can be a frustrating and stressful experience. But, you might have hope of getting reunited with that item if you try out some of the methods above.
Some of these will be worth it based on the value of your item but other times it may just be worth departing from your item and paying for a new replacement.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.