TSA Lost and Found: What Should You Do?

Airports · 6 min read · Nov 11, 2022
TSA Lost and Found

As traveling resumes in the post-Covid world, airports are becoming busier than ever. Transportation security administration (TSA) claim they have screened just about 2.5 million passengers over a single weekend in October 2022, so could you even imagine the sheer volume of luggage that goes through airport security every day?

And surely, a portion of it is bound to go missing. In fact, more than 1 million individual pieces of luggage have been lost (and returned to the owner) in a span of 6 months in 2022.

But while lost items are quite a common occurrence for the airport staff, it might be a downright frightening experience for an everyday traveler. Luckily, there are some easy steps you can follow to get back what is rightfully yours.

A TSA Lost and Found office at an airport.

What do you do if you lose an item in an airport?

First of all, don’t panic. An airport as well as airlines are strictly organized environments and very rarely are your items lost forever. Most likely, someone has already alerted the TSA security checkpoints and security officers have collected your purse, your bag or other items for safe keeping.

Let’s go through some steps you can follow to reclaim a lost item.

Step 1: Where did you leave your missing item?

Retrace your steps and identify the location where you might have lost your item. It is vital to narrow down the whereabouts of your things, because it simplifies and speeds up the process of finding them. Did you last see it before the security checkpoints or after your security screening? If your flight has just landed, is your lost item still on board?

  • In an airport:
    If you think your lost item is still in your airport, you should contact the airport lost and found staff that is usually located by the baggage claim belts. Alternatively, you can contact them by phone if reaching the baggage claim is not possible without leaving the terminal hall. If that is not possible, any airport staff member is ready to help you in a case of lost property.
  • On the plane:
    If you are in the airport and you noticed you had left something on board, contact your airline’s baggage claim as soon as possible. On the other hand, we sometimes don’t notice our stuff has gone missing until after we return home. In such case, contact the airline directly via their customer service to plan out your next steps. You will probably have to fill out a lost item report or reach out to the airline lost and found department.
Passengers and carry-on luggage in the overhead lockers of an aircraft.

Step 2: File a lost item report with a detailed description

A lost item report with a clear description is the most important piece of information as it clarifies what the airport lost and found office is looking for.

It doesn’t matter if the items lost are as small as a purse or the size of a carry-on. The more detailed description you can provide, the better the chances your item will be returned to you promptly.

Other information you should provide in the subject line and other fields is your personal and contact details and the approximate location of your lost item.

This service is always free of charge at any lost and found office, so never trust anyone asking for a fee, stating that an external agency manages the search procedures in an airport.

A pink suitcase with a black zipper and a lock mechanism. Tsa lost and found

Step 3: Wait patiently

By now, you have taken all the right steps in order to be reunited with your items. So, there are no further actions to take except for waiting. TSA or your airline will send you updates in regards to your lost items regularly.

With millions of people passing through airports everyday, the TSA lost and found desk can be a hectic place. On average, an airport in the US receives about 50 lost item reports per day, but rest assured they are working hard to return all property. Most of the time, missing belongings are returned to passengers anywhere between 24 to 48 hours.

Step 4: Your items have been found

You’ve finally received a call that your property is sitting safely on a lost and found shelf.

If you are within a reasonable travel distance from an airport, it is recommended you pick up your items yourself. However, it is not an issue to arrange for someone else to gather your items.

If you have returned home from holidays or had to take any other flight away from the airport where your items have gone missing, the lost and found office can ship your items via post or a shipping service such as FedEx or UPS.

Lost items at an airport terminal: a black suitcase standing without its owner.

What happens with unclaimed lost property?

While many people file reports for missing items, there is a large number of travelers who have never noticed that something was missing or have deemed it not worth the hassle of contacting lost and found. You may wonder, what does TSA do with items like that?

Mostly, the TSA lost and found offices keep the items in storage for about 30 days before the stuff is auctioned or liquidated. The safe-keeping period might differ from airport to airport so never delay contacting the airport authorities.

A small car towing carts full of checked-in luggage.

Lost checked-in luggage

There is nothing worse after a long flight than waiting at the baggage claim area only to find out your luggage hasn’t arrived on the same flight as you. And while it is infuriating, in reality, around 99% of such cases are resolved successfully and lost suitcases are returned to the owners within a business day or two.

The reasons why your checked-in suitcase has gone missing are a few:

  1. You had a connecting flight within a very narrow time frame and ground staff has not managed to load your bag on the departing flight in time.
  2. The ground staff has failed to identify the tag of your suitcase correctly and placed it on a different flight or have not handled it at all.
  3. There has been an error in the check-in system and your luggage has been tagged with the wrong destination. Wrong tagging occurs more often for flights with multiple stops.

The steps to reclaim your bag are virtually the same for every item lost in an airport. Your best bet to reunite with your things is to immediately contact customs or an airline clerk at the baggage claim.

An airport worker arranging luggage to be loaded on an aircraft.

Most commonly lost items in an airport lost and found

So far, we have covered the troubleshooting steps you can take in an airport if your items have gone missing. Now, let’s a look at what lost property usually ends up in a TSA lost and found collection.

Clothing items

Lost clothing items and accessories stand at a number one in the list. Anything from socks and belts to jackets and coats is left behind in an airport and it is a daily occurrence for the lost and found staff.

Small inexpensive items are also usually never reclaimed. Airports recommend tagging more expensive items with Bluetooth trackers, sewn-on initials or simple business cards.

A person wearing a full suit with a cardigan and a pocket tag.

Electronics

Electronic devices such as cellphones and laptops are undoubtedly ones of the most important items we carry everyday as they usually hold our travel information such as boarding passes, banking details, and personal information. So, losing an item like that is less than ideal.

However, they are still the second most commonly left-behind items at a gate area or security checkpoint. Luckily, they are also very often reunited with their owners quickly.

A phone charging from a power bank in a suitcase.

Walking aids

Those moving around the airport in a wheelchair can sometimes lose sight of other walking aids they might be carrying. Most commonly lost items in this category are canes and walkers.

Wheelchairs in an airport hallway.

Carry-on luggage

One might think that with all the security announcements asking you to watch your bags closely, carry-on luggage would not make the list of commonly lost items. However, it is still a rather frequent incident.

Leaving a suitcase or a bag behind often happens when people lose the track of time and have to rush to their gate at a short notice. And while most of the bags are returned to their rightful owners, it is recommended to tag the bag with personal information so it might reach you before your flight even departs.

2 pieces of unattended carry-on luggage. TSA lost and found.

Keys

Being such a small item, keys are regularly left behind at a security checkpoint or simply misplaced during the time passengers spend in the terminal. The TSA recommendation on how to make your keys identifiable to the lost and found staff is to tag them with your name or make them stand out with a bright keychain or a charm.

Closing thoughts

Losing something in the airport or inside an airplane adds unnecessary stress for you during your trip. While most people usually hang tight on the belongings they have packed for the trip, something is bound to get lost one way or another.

Due to the airports and airlines monitoring their safety so closely these days, finding your item in a lost and found office is not such a big issue anymore. So, even if you end up misplacing something in an airport, remain calm because your items is in safe hands with the TSA security officers.

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Eglė Bartaševičiūtė
A passionate traveler and an avid aviation enthusiast bringing you the most well-founded, accurate and up-to-date industry content.

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