Items left at security checkpoint have a second life – in Alabama

Filed in News by on February 24, 2014
Knives, lighters, scissors and more.

Knives, lighters, scissors and more.

Say you’re about to walk through the metal detector at the airport security checkpoint when you realize you’re still carrying your pocket knife. Or maybe it’s the Zippo lighter in your jacket pocket. Or that large jar of homemade jelly from Aunt Ruby in your carry-on bag. You’re worried about catching your flight, so you leave the item behind.

But what happens to it after that?

According to Atlanta-based TSA spokesman Mark Howell, the answer to that question can depend on the item in question; which airport you’re in; and, finally, at what point in the process the item was abandoned.

As for the jelly – or any other oversized liquid or food product – the answer is easy: Unless it’s in a sealed duty-free bag, it goes in the trash. Whether the item is a tube of moisturizer or a bottle of fine cognac, Howell says all such products are immediately tossed out.

For prohibited items other than guns found in carry-on bags or clothing – lighters, knives, scissors, martial-arts weapons, etc. – the passenger is typically given the option of taking it back out to his car or giving it to someone who’s not flying, Howell says. If the passenger chooses to surrender the item, it goes into a collection bin.

Every few weeks, the contraband is gathered by Alabama’s Surplus Property Division. Wait – aren’t we in Georgia? Yes, but our own state wanted to impose too many conditions on giving stuff away says Howell. Besides, Alabama was willing to come pick it up. The items are later sold to non-profits and charities.

“We just want to get rid of the items, to wash our hands of them,” Howell explains. “The TSA is not making any money off the things people leave behind.”

In fact, according to news reports, the TSA last year dutifully handed over to the U.S. Treasury more than half a million dollars in loose change left behind by careless passengers. (Surprisingly, ATL did not rank among the top 10 collection sites for abandoned cash.) Howell says his agency also wants to dispel any notion that agents simply divide up the booty at the end of their shift.

But what happens to items that are not caught by an agent, but simply left behind in a screening bin? If it’s something with little or no value, like a pen or a magazine, it goes in the trash, says Howell. But if the item appears to have some value, then it’s turned over to the airport Lost & Found. At least, that’s the case at Hartsfield-Jackson, he says, adding that each airport has its own policy.

The Lost & Found office typically keeps items for 30 days, or 60 days in the case of high-value items, such as jewelry and electronic devices, says Rod Ozust, deputy executive director of operations for the Atlanta Airlines Terminal Corp. (AATC), which manages the terminal facility. If the items are not claimed – and very few are – then they’re shipped off to the Unclaimed Baggage Center in (again!) Alabama. A private company that operates a thrift-style store 45 minutes east of Huntsville, Unclaimed Baggage has long contracted with most of the airlines to buy luggage and other passenger property for which the owner can’t be found. A percentage of the proceeds from the sold items are given back to AATC, Ozust says.

For more detailed information about which items are not likely to make it through the security checkpoint, go to


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