What to Do When the TSA Finds a Prohibited Item in Your Carry-on Bag

Mail your prohibited items home from a kiosk at the TSA checkpoint.
••• Scott Olson / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Even the most seasoned travelers occasionally forget to check their carry-on luggage for items prohibited by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). If you get to the security screening checkpoint and the TSA agents find a pocket knife, Leatherman or pair of scissors in your bag, what can you do?

Must I Turn In My Prohibited Item?

 

The answer to this question depends on where you are and how much time you have.

Here are some options to consider.

  • Ask the TSA agent if you can return to your airline check-in counter to put the item in your checked baggage. This option will only work if your airline is willing to pull your bag, if the item in question is allowed in checked baggage and if you have plenty of time before your flight. Missing your flight to avoid turning in an inexpensive time such as a pocket knife or cigarette lighter might not be in your best interests. (Tip: If you happen to have an extra bag with you, and that bag has a zipper closure, you could put the prohibited item in that bag, assuming it can be checked - perhaps with a clothing item or something else from your carry-on luggage - and check the bag.)
  • Take the item to your parked car. Again, you will need a lot of time to make this option work, particularly if you have parked far from the terminal building. Be sure you can leave the item in extreme heat or cold while you are away.
  • Give the item to someone else for safekeeping, such as the person who brought you to the airport. This option will only work if the person dropping you off is still on the airport or is near enough to return to the terminal.
  • Mail the item home. Some US and Canadian airports have post offices in one or more terminals. Obviously, this option will only work if the post office is open when you are at the airport, you have time to find the post office and mail your item and you have mailing supplies on hand. Other airports offer mailing service kiosks at select TSA checkpoints (see list below). At these self-service kiosks, you can purchase a mailing envelope, typically 6 inches by 9 inches, and use your credit card to pay for your item to be sent home to you.
  • Turn the item in at the security screening checkpoint. The TSA will collect your prohibited item and dispose of it according to Government Services Administration rules. Normally, this means your item will be thrown away, but some airports donate useful items to community organizations, such as schools. In some states, items collected at security checkpoints are auctioned or sold.

Lacking other alternatives, you may wish to take drastic measures, if you are willing to assume some risk. I have heard of people who have buried pocket knives in the potting soil of a plant in the terminal or who have turned their own knives in at Lost and Found and reclaimed them after their trip. Whether these methods truly would work everywhere is debatable, and they would certainly not work for every type of prohibited item.

US Airports With Self-Service "Airport Mailers" Kiosks

Akron Canton Airport 

Boston Logan International Airport 

Charlotte Douglas International Airport

Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport 

Columbus Regional Airport 

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport 

Dallas Love Field

Denver International Airport

El Paso International Airport

Indianapolis International Airport 

Jacksonville International Airport

Kansas City International Airport 

Las Vegas McCarran International Airport 

Orlando International Airport

Pensacola Airport

Greater Rochester International Airport 

Raleigh Durham International Airport 

Reno Tahoe International Airport

San Francisco International Airport 

San Jose International Airport 

Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City 

Airports With Baggage Storage / Shipping Services

Vancouver International Airport