What Happened to Your Confiscated Nail Clippers?

As travelers fly home for the holidays, hundreds if not thousands of personal items will be seized by airport security: nail clippers, knives, scissors, corkscrews, and more. What happens to these confiscated items?

Most of them are thrown away or destroyed. The exact procedure for dealing with confiscated items varies from airport to airport. But the end result is usually the same. The items end up in an oven, in an industrial grinder, or in the trash. (Though when Explainer called United Airlines, a spokeswoman said the airline didn’t give out that information. When asked why not, she hung up. Perhaps all United Airlines employees will be receiving nail clippers as a holiday bonus?)

There are a lot of items to destroy (or to hand out as bonuses to disgruntled employees): The Tampa Tribune reported in October that 8,626 items had been seized from the Tampa airport since Sept. 11. On the list: 42 cans of Mace, more than 600 knives, one scalpel, more than 260 corkscrews, seven rounds of ammunition, two spoons, a jar of rubber cement, three candles, six batteries, 993 pairs of tweezers, and 2,137 pairs of scissors. As a comparison, screeners confiscated 41 items in September 2000.

Occasionally, passengers will protest that certain items are of tangible or sentimental value. In those cases, the best procedure is for passengers to pack the item with their checked luggage. If time is running short, passengers may be able to convince security to send the item to the airport’s lost-and-found desk. After that, good luck.

The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t have a policy about what’s done with confiscated personal items. FAA policy is simply that the items can’t be brought onto an airplane.

Next question?

Explainer thanks FAA spokesman Les Dorr and Tom Sullivan of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.