What Happens To Items Confiscated By the TSA?

Last updated: July 26, 2016
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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) saw a combined 2 billion checked and carry-on bags come through the country’s airports in 2015. While it’s unclear how many total items were confiscated from these bags (although CNN Money cites that approximately 888,000 items were confiscated in 2011), we know that 2,653 of them were guns. The people who attempt to bring an improperly packed gun in their carry-on are subjected to a long line of questioning, and depending on the type of gun and how it was packed, may have to face criminal charges. It’s great that so many potentially harmful situations were subverted, but many people wonder what exactly happens to that gun (and any other item) after it’s been confiscated.

There are a multitude of things that aren’t allowed in carry-on baggage. Everyone knows the 3.4 ounce rule for liquids, that’s why there are travel size shampoos and body wash. What many people may not think about is that it applies to anything containing liquid; including, for instance, snow globes. So if you’re unsure that the little trinket you just bought your kid will be allowed, you may want to put it in your checked baggage. A lot of other strange items have been confiscated by the TSA, including but not limited to, an inert cannonball, a deli slicer, and a knife disguised as a statue of the Eiffel Tower. So what happens to all of these things after the TSA confiscates them?

The TSA commented on this way back in 2009, and they wanted passengers to know first and foremost that just because your item won’t be allowed on a plane doesn’t mean you’ll lose it forever. There are four options for travelers:

1) Take the item to the ticket counter and check it in your baggage or a box provided by the airport.
2) Many airports have a US Postal Service or other shipping services area where boxes, stamps and envelopes can be bought so you can ship your items home.
3) If there is somebody seeing you off, you can hand the prohibited item to them.
4) If your car is parked outside, you can take the item to your car.

Obviously each one of those options has its pros and cons, but at least there are options in the first place. This is also assuming that your item is prohibited and not illegal. The second thing that the TSA wanted to clear was that in no way, shape or form do the employees profit off of these items. They have a no tolerance policy on that kind of thing. If none of these things happen, then the item will be transferred to a government surplus store and put up for sale.

There are quite a few physical stores throughout the country, but an eBay like site called GovDeals puts up quite a few confiscated items as well, although not all of them come from the TSA. So when you travel and buy yourself a few trinkets or two, or you think that you might be able to sneak through security with a new knife set that you got for your wedding, you may want to check the bag just to be safe.

*Featured image from EoRdE6 via WikiCommons


  1. I need to check a small amount of completely dry, commercially packaged (in small foil pouches) foodservice sanitizer solution packets in my checked bag for a project I am doing at my destination city. Is this acceptable?

    • They should be fine, but they may be subject to additional screening. As you can imagine powder in foil pouches may look suspicious to baggage screeners.

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