You pass through the metal detectors at airport security when a TSA agent asks the one question no one wants to hear, directed at the crowd of travelers around you: Whose bag is this? Before you know it, the agent pulls out that oversized liquid from your carry-on and sends you on your way.
If it was a bottle of water, you’re probably fine with abandoning it at security, but what about those more valuable items, like, say, an expensive bottle of wine or cosmetic products? What exactly happens to these items that get confiscated by TSA agents and is there any way to retrieve them?
Well, according to Sari Koshetz, a spokesperson for the TSA, unfortunately, once you’ve “abandoned” the item in question, there’s no way to recover the item directly from TSA. Given the sheer number of items left at security, there wouldn’t be enough personnel capable of handling return requests, she explained.
Instead, one of three things might happen to your possessions left at security. The first is obvious: It’ll just end up in the trash. Liquids get thrown out and without question, for instance, as TSA has no way to detect if they’ve been tampered with. Secondly, TSA might donate your possessions to local charities and other non-profit organizations, USA Today writes.
Lastly, depending on the item, your possessions might just find a new home. According to Koshetz, each TSA-federalized airport has a contract with a state surplus agency that puts certain items from travelers on the market for anyone to purchase. While you may not be able to recover the item from TSA directly, you could, feasibly, do an online search for your local state’s surplus agency and re-purchase your missing item (though it might take a lot of work and research just to find it).
According to Koshetz, they don’t refer to the act of removing items from your bag as “confiscation,” either, and you do have a few options before abandoning it entirely (assuming it isn’t a gun or hazardous material we’re talking about). “If a person comes to our federal checkpoint with a prohibited item—which could be a knife, oversized liquid, brass knuckles—they have an opportunity to go back to their car if they’re local, go back to the airline counter to check the item or abandon it,” she said. “If they choose to leave it behind, then they’ve abandoned it.”
As for items you might accidentally forget after passing through security, like your laptop or phone, TSA is less strict; generally, you have 30 days out from your flight to recover that item. You should contact your airport and get in touch with the lost and found department. Alternatively, ask to be directed to a TSA representative who might know the whereabouts of you