Despite your best intentions, it’s possible to accidentally carry prohibited items through airport security. Whether it’s toothpaste, a bottle of water, or an old hunting knife, you’ve probably wondered at some point: What does the TSA actually do with those prohibited items?
Depending on the item, it’s likely to meet one of three fates: be sold, donated, or thrown away. The TSA refers to them as “Voluntarily Abandoned Property,” and contrary to popular belief, TSA employees do not keep any of it for themselves. The agency has a zero-tolerance policy for such behavior, and employees can be instantly terminated if they’re caught pocketing confiscated items for themselves.
So, how does the TSA decide what to do with each item? That all depends on the type of product. Liquids such as water, soda, shower gels and so on automatically get tossed out. The TSA has no way of knowing whether or not the products have been tampered with, so it has no choice but to throw them away.
Some items end up being sold. While the law doesn’t allow the TSA to profit off of abandoned property, other government agencies can. The TSA can hand over items that are potentially valuable to “surplus centers,” where customers can purchase goods. Or they could end up in online auction sites like GovDeals. Any profits end up in the pockets of the state that helped coordinate the sales.
The remaining confiscated items are likely donated to organizations that can use them — or sell them.
“We have heard of local schools receiving the scissors,” a TSA employee wrote on the agency’s official blog. “We have heard of local police departments training with the mace. Some [Veterans Affairs] hospitals sell some of the items to help make ends meet.”
Given the amount of places your confiscated items could end up, one thing’s for sure: It can be pretty difficult to ever get those belongings back. But if you do have something confiscated — and it’s not illegal — there are some things you can try to ensure it remains in your possession.
Certain food items or toiletry products can be checked in your luggage if they are denied entrance through security lines. You can also try shipping items directly to your home or office, as many airports have a shipping services area where boxes, envelopes, and stamps can be purchased.
If someone came with you to the airport to see you off, you could also leave the items with them and have it shipped back to your desired address. Or if you have a car parked in the airport lot, you could lock the item in there.
The TSA has a convenient list of what exactly is allowed through security. We suggest you check it out before you head to the airport.