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What to do when the TSA finds a prohibited item in your carry-on bag

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

Should I turn in my prohibited item?

The answer to this question depends on where you are and how long you have. Here are some options to consider.

Ask the TSA agent if you can return to the check-in counter to place your item in your checked luggage

This option will only work if your airline is willing to pull your checked luggage (the one you have already left), if the item in question is allowed in checked luggage, and if you have a long time before your flight. Missing your flight to avoid turning in an inexpensive item like a pocket knife or cigarette lighter might not be in your best interest. ( Hint: If you have an extra bag with you and that bag has a zipper closure, you can put the prohibited item in that bag, assuming it can be searched.

Add an item of clothing or something else from your carry-on and check the bag. You may have to pay a checked bag fee to do this.)

Take the item to your parked car

Again, it will take a long time for this option to work, particularly if you have parked far from the terminal building. If you are traveling during the winter or summer months, make sure you can leave the item in extreme hot or cold conditions while you are away.

Give the item to someone else for safekeeping

Give your item to someone else, such as the person who brought it to the airport. This option will only work if the person dropping you off is still at the airport or close enough to return to the terminal to assist you.

Send the item home

Some airports in the US and Canada 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. Some airports offer mail service kiosks at select TSA checkpoints (see list below). At these self-service kiosks, you can purchase a mailing envelope, usually 6-inch by 9-inch, and use your credit card to pay for shipping your item home.

Some travelers purchase prepaid envelopes or boxes from the United States Postal Service and pack them in their carry-on bags. Then, if the TSA decides that a certain item cannot go through the checkpoint, those travelers keep the prohibited item and mail it to them. If you decide to adopt this plan, make sure your departure airport has a mailbox in your airline’s terminal building.

Deliver the item to the security screening checkpoint

The TSA will collect your prohibited item and dispose of it in accordance with the Government Services Administration rules. Typically this means your item will be thrown away, but some airports donate helpful items to community organizations, such as schools. In some states, items collected at security checkpoints are auctioned or sold.

Be creative

In the absence of other alternatives, you may want to take drastic action if you are willing to take any risks. Some travelers have buried pocket knives in the potting soil of a plant at the terminal or delivered their own knives to Lost and Found and recovered them after their trip. It is debatable whether these methods would actually work everywhere, and they certainly wouldn’t work for every type of prohibited item.

US Airports with Self-Service Return Mail Kiosks

Akron Canton airport

Albany International Airport (UPS)

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Boston Logan International Airport

Bradley International Airport (at Paradies Shop)

Charleston International Airport (at the 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

Aeropuerto Will Rogers World, Oklahoma City 

Airports with luggage storage / shipping services

Vancouver International Airport

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