If you think you’ve left an item at a TSA security checkpoint you are not alone as TSA estimates approximately 100,000 items are left behind each month. The good news is that you do have help to recover your item by utilizing the TSA lost and found.
In this article, I will break down everything you need to know about TSA lost and found and explain to you how the process works for filing and recovering your items.
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Airlines, Airport, or TSA security?
The first step in retrieving a lost item is to figure out whom to contact. You may think that you need to contact TSA lost and found but that may not necessarily be the case.
When traveling via plane you typically will have three different potential sources to go to and these are broken down below.
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If there is a chance that you left your item on the plane or near the boarding area then you should contact an agent for the respective airline.
Ideally, you will contact an agent located at the gate where you are arriving or better yet you might even be able to get in touch with a crew member from your flight.
Don’t be afraid to approach anybody, including the pilot. You might be surprised to see how eager some crew members can be to help you out.
If you get a hold of someone shortly after you arrive they may be able to run back on the plane and look for your lost item.
If you have already exited security and are hanging out in the baggage claim area you can speak to a representative there and they might be able to bring the item out to you if they locate it.
In other instances, such as when you have left the airport, you may need to file a claim online.
Typically, an airline will be working with a third-party provider to process the lost and found claims.
You’ll just need to fill out an online form and provide as much detail as possible including things like serial numbers in order for them to track down your item.
Usually, you will receive a confirmation email, and the airline will commit to searching for your item for up to 30 days. After that, they may destroy your item or simply sell it off.
If there is a possibility that your item might have been inadvertently left within the premises of the airport, whether it be in the seating area, terminal, restroom, or any other location, it is a good idea to inquire with the designated lost and found department of that particular airport facility.
Many airports have a dedicated lost and found phone number and/or email address that you can contact.
If you believe that you may have lost your item in a specific store or restaurant within the airport then try to get into contact with someone at that specific establishment.
That is not always easy to do so my pro tip is to consider contacting other nearby stores and asking their employees to walk over to the store and inquire about the lost item.
If you suspect that your item has been lost near the TSA security area then that is where you want to focus on the TSA lost and found. You can do this by contacting the airport and asking them to speak with the TSA lost and found.
Something very important to know is that at a number of airports, lost and found items are turned over from TSA to the airport at the end of each day.
This is why it is always still a good idea to check with the airport authority even if you left the item at the security checkpoint.
Tip: TSA Pre-Check allows you to keep your electronics in your bags when going through security and therefore decreases the risk of you leaving valuables behind.
Filing a TSA lost and found claim online
TSA collaborates with Rejjee/Traista for the handling of lost and found claims. Their partnership extends to more than 970 TSA checkpoints nationwide, and it has been reported that they have achieved a remarkable 300% increase in successful item recovery.
Filing a report with them is pretty easy and you can file the claim online here.
You just need to select the airport that you lost your item and then provide some contact information along with shipping information.
They will also ask you to input details regarding the lost items such as the category, approximate time, location description, and flight number.
They give you an opportunity to provide a detailed description of the item and I suggest that you brainstorm on anything that could make the item stand out.
This could be things like special markings or details, serial number, color, etc. The key is to provide as many unique details as possible.
This is one reason why people strongly recommend you to include some type of identification tag on your valuables. A small sticker on the bottom of your laptop could be the difference between you recovering it and never seeing it again.
Once your item is located you will still be required to verify proof of ownership.
All property not claimed within 30 days is considered abandoned by law and may be recycled, auctioned, or otherwise discarded.
How the process actually works
Whenever you submit a claim the service provider will take your claim details and match it against the data they receive from the TSA.
They accomplish this with a proprietary method that utilizes artificial intelligence and complex algorithms.
There is some human oversight and involvement though so you are not completely dependent upon machines to locate your item.
Keep in mind that they only receive data on weekdays and not weekends or federal holidays. So if you lose an item over the weekend you likely will not be able to hear anything until the new week.
If there is a probability of a match, TSA will be notified and then they will confirm the final match and if everything is finalized they will then provide shipment options.
This means that you will receive a shipping quote from either FedEx or UPS. You should not be hit with any additional fees besides shipping so don’t worry about things like processing fees, claim fees, etc.
You can also pick up your item in person or designate an individual to pick it up for you at the airport.
TSA has a policy to hold onto your item for a minimum of 30 days.
If an item is never claimed after 30 days the item will either be destroyed, turned over to a state agency for surplus property, or sold by TSA as excess property.
The state may dispose of the items through sales, destruction, donations or charities. The state keeps any money from the sales — not TSA.
The funds from the auction will go to the US Department of Treasury and into the general fund to pay towards the US national debt so at least your lost item is contributing to a better society.
Some airports and airlines will treat identification a little different from other lost items. For example, an airline may turn in your passport to a government agency for you to later recover.
TSA states that they apply the standard 30 day waiting period to your IDs and if they are not recovered they will be destroyed.
A lot of people get understandably worried when they realize that they have left electronics behind. TSA states that unclaimed electronics will have the memory removed and destroyed.
If the memory cannot be removed then the entire piece of equipment will be destroyed.
This is all done to protect private personal data and will only take place after the 30 day waiting period.
If you have left a firearm behind or even if you try to bring a firearm in your carry-on it will be turned over to local law-enforcement authorities and you might be subject to fines or criminal charges.
TSA agents and stolen items
Unfortunately, there have been many confirmed cases of TSA officers stealing items. There is even one agent who reportedly stole $800,000 worth of items. According to the TSA, 381 TSA officers were fired for theft between 2003 and 2012.
The TSA has pointed out that officers involved in theft represent “less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed” by TSA.
It doesn’t sound like theft is a widespread problem within the TSA but it is certainly something to keep your eyes out for if an object goes inexplicably missing
Related: TSA Checklist (Tips & PDF)
The key to increasing your odds of getting your valuables back is to act promptly when filing a claim, provide as much detail as possible, and make sure you are in communication with the right entity (airlines, airport, etc.)
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. Read my bio.