Whatever happened to: The stuff the TSA seizes at the airport

If you're still pining away for that fancy whittlin' knife that got confiscated at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport when you forgot it was in your carry-on, take heart.

It might be for sale in South Carolina -- or even on eBay.

Many prohibited items from Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson are sent to the South Carolina state Budget and Control Board’s surplus property office.

Michael Sponhour, spokesman for the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, said the surplus property program collects items that people unsuccessfully tried to take on planes at a number of airports in the Southeast.

"Every couple of months they'll send a truck over and just pick up the stuff," Sponhour said. "More than anything else it's pocketknives. They have bags and bags of those."

Not everything is trucked out. Per TSA policy, liquids are thrown out and hazardous materials are disposed of through a contractor. Many of the weapons are destroyed. Guns found at Hartsfield-Jackson checkpoints are turned over to Atlanta police -- along with the passenger.

Much of the rest goes to South Carolina. In a typical month, TSA will collect six or seven bins, similar to the ones passengers put their items into for screening, full of the prohibited items, said TSA spokesman Jon Allen. More items are collected during the summer when airports are filled with vacationers who don't fly as often as business travelers and may not be as familiar with security rules, he said.

South Carolina is responsible for the truck pickups, but doesn't pay for the items TSA collected at Hartsfield-Jackson because it's providing a service, Sponhour said.

The state sells the items at a warehouse in West Columbia near Columbia Metropolitan Airport, along with surplus property from South Carolina state agencies and federal surplus property. The agency also collects items from TSA operations at airports in South Carolina and Florida, estimating it makes about $30,000 per year off the material -- "enough to be worth the effort but not a major funding item," according to Sponhour.

Government entities get the first shot at buying items, and "at a certain point they're all up for sale to the general public," Sponhour said. The West Columbia warehouse is generally open Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

"Occasionally the stuff is sold on eBay as well," Sponhour said. That's for the more valuable items like Leatherman-type multi-tools. On the South Carolina government surplus page on eBay recently, several multi-tools were up for sale, priced at anywhere from $6.65 to $43. A set of four Victorinox Sterling Silver Swiss knives were selling for $150.

TSA at Hartsfield-Jackson a few years ago had an arrangement to hand prohibited items over to the state of Georgia, but Georgia wasn't able to pick up the items as frequently, Allen said.

Those who don't want to see their possessions end up in the hands of a South Carolinian can try to remember to take prohibited items out of their pockets or bags before heading to the airport. For others who get stopped at the TSA checkpoint, there may be a few options, depending on the circumstances.

If you parked at the airport, you can go back to your car and leave your item. That's more common with smaller airports with closer-in parking, Allen said. If someone dropped you off and is still nearby, you can call the person to come and pick up your item for safekeeping.

If you have enough time, you can check your bag -- many items that are prohibited in carry-ons are OK in checked baggage -- or go to the U.S. Post Office location at Hartsfield-Jackson to mail the item to yourself. Both of those could also involve some expense.

In light of those options, TSA doesn't like to talk in terms of confiscated items, preferring to say passengers surrendered them. But when time is tight and the plane is waiting at the gate, many travelers decide to just hand over their prohibited items.

"We don't want to be in the business of having to store these indefinitely," Allen said. Federal policy allows for the items to be donated to a state agency to "try to generate something out of them," Allen said.

For a complete list of items passengers cannot take on board flights in their carry-ons, see http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm

Items prohibited in carry-on bags:

Box Cutters

Ice Axes/Ice Picks

Knives -- except for plastic or round bladed butter knives

Meat Cleavers

Razor-Type Blades -- such as box cutters, utility knives, razor blades not in a cartridge, but excluding safety razors.



Baseball Bats

Bows and Arrows

Cricket Bats

Golf Clubs

Hockey Sticks

Lacrosse Sticks

Pool Cues

Ski Poles

Spear Guns

Axes and Hatchets

Cattle prods



Drills and drill bits


Tools greater than 7 inches in length

Gel-type candles

Gel shoe inserts

Flammable liquid, gel, or aerosol paint

Snow globes and like decorations regardless of size or amount of liquid inside

Guns and Firearms


Compressed air guns


Flare Guns


Gun lighters

Gun powder

Parts of guns and firearms

Pellet guns

Realistic replicas of firearms

Starter pistols

Martial arts and self defense items

Billy clubs

Black jacks

Brass Knuckles


Self-defense sprays

Martial arts weapons

Night sticks


Stun Guns/Shocking Devices

Throwing Stars

Explosive and flammable materials, disabling chemicals and other dangerous items

Explosive Materials

Blasting Caps



Flares (in any form)

Hand Grenades

Plastic Explosives

Realistic Replicas of Explosives

Flammable Items

Aerosol (any except for personal care or toiletries in limited quantities)

Fuels (including cooking fuels and any flammable liquid fuel)


Gas Torches

Lighter Fluid

Torch Lighters

Flammable Paints (See Other Items below for non-flammable paints)

Turpentine and Paint Thinner

Realistic Replicas of Incendiaries

Disabling Chemicals & Other Dangerous Items Carry-on Checked

Chlorine for Pools and Spas

Fire extinguishers and other compressed gas cylinders

Liquid Bleach

Spillable Batteries -- except those in wheelchairs

Spray Paint

Tear Gas -- Self Defense Sprays containing more than 2% by mass of Tear Gas (CS or CN).

Vehicle Airbags