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 the Check-in Counter to Put Your Item in Your Checked Baggage

This option will only work if your airline is willing to pull your checked bag (the one you already dropped off), 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 item 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. Add an item of clothing or something else from your carry-on luggage and check the bag. You may have to pay a checked bag fee to do this.)

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. If you are traveling during the winter or summer months, be sure you can safely leave the item in extreme heat or cold while you are away.

Give the Item to Someone Else for Safekeeping

Hand your item off to someone else, 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 to assist you.

Mail the Item Home

Some US and Canadian airports have post offices in one or more terminals. 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. A few 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.

Some travelers buy pre-paid US Postal Service envelopes or boxes and pack them flat in their carry-on bags. Then, if the TSA decides a certain item cannot go through the checkpoint, those travelers box up the prohibited item and mail it to themselves. If you decide to adopt this plan, be sure your departure airport has a post office drop box in your airline's terminal building.

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.

Get Creative

Lacking other alternatives, you may wish to take drastic measures if you are willing to assume some risk. Some travelers have buried pocket knives in the potting soil of a plant in the terminal or 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 Mail-Back Kiosks

Akron Canton Airport 

Albany International Airport (UPS)

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Boston Logan International Airport 

Bradley International Airport (in Paradies Shop)

Charleston International Airport (at Information Desk)

Charlotte Douglas International Airport

Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport

Cleveland Hopkins International Airport 

Columbus Regional Airport 

Dallas Fort Worth International Airport 

Dallas Love Field

Daytona Beach International Airport 

Denver International Airport 

El Paso International Airport 

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

Greater Rochester International Airport

Indianapolis International Airport 

Jacksonville International Airport 

Kansas City International Airport 

Las Vegas McCarran International Airport 

Orlando International Airport 

Pensacola Airport

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Raleigh Durham International Airport 

Reno Tahoe International Airport 

San Francisco International Airport

San Jose International Airport

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport

Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City 

Airports With Baggage Storage / Shipping Services

Vancouver International Airport