August 12, 2002
Non-Mickey's Assignment Desk

What happens to supposedly dangerous items confiscated at airline gates? I assume actual weapons are seized by the police as evidence while their owners are hauled away in handcuffs. But what about all the nail clippers, knitting needles, and gun-themed earrings and belt-buckles (not to mention Congressional Medals of Honor)? Are they thrown in the trash? Formally incinerated? Or perhaps taken home by those who confiscate them? I've occasionally seen rude remarks by disgruntled airline passengers who accuse the security screeners of 'doing their Christmas shopping' when they confiscate valuable and obviously non-dangerous objects. Does anyone know the answer to my first question? It's actually two questions in one: what is supposed to happen to all the stuff, and what actually happens?

A professional journalist, or a blogger with airline connections, should be able to come up with some answers. I haven't seen anyone even ask the question . . . not that I've been in an airport in the last eleven months.

David Kenner of An Age Like This reports that he has had confiscated items returned to him at his destination. However, that was before September 11th. According to my comments, there seems to be no common method. They variously report donation to charity (I hadn't thought of that), open theft, and accumulating huge piles of stuff with no decision yet on what to do with it all ('pseud', from a newspaper article -- apparently at least one journalist has thought to ask).

Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 12, 2002 10:05 PM

I once met a lady who worked for the Port Authority at PDX...she said that confiscated knives were donated to St. Vincent de Paul for resale...

Posted by: Brian Swisher on August 13, 2002 01:06 PM

I'd argue that this is a Fourth Amendment "search or seizure," and as such the items seized should be returned to the owner. The materials--although perhaps forbidden from being brought on the plane--are not contraband.
And since seized items are neither contraband nor evidence of "crime," the authorities have no right to retain them and have a positive duty to return them.

Posted by: Herr K on August 13, 2002 01:52 PM

On the way home from France, I gave up a particularly nice pair of german-made clippers to a guard who gave them the once over, slipped them into his pocket and told me thanks and sorry he had to take them....

Posted by: Donald on August 13, 2002 09:47 PM

Posted by: pseud on August 14, 2002 12:12 PM