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If some of my items are confiscated in airport security and it is too valuable for me, can I decide NOT to enter the country and return back to the leaving country?

I had my toothpaste confiscated at Beijing Airport (transfer). While I let it passed, I'm worried if some of my valuable items were confiscated, such as multiple computers or walkmans, or more unusual items (e.g. sex object).

Although I should check it out before leaving, I'm sure airport security officers don't make a coherent decision, as my hand cream was not confiscated at the same time and in another time my toothpaste was not confiscated.

I also fear the misunderstanding by an airport security officer, which may or may not happen.

In these cases can I return back? If I can go back to the original country, is it I or the airline that takes the charge of the ticket? What kind of steps should I take?

  • Always keep valuable items like computers and electronics in your hand luggage. But if anything does get confiscated, it is your fault, you disobeyed the rules. So you will be paying the return ticket. – Summer Jul 19 '16 at 10:43
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    @JaneDoe1337 rules that change constantly, are not consistently enforced, and are arbitrary and subject to the interpretation of the person in charge of your checkpoint. – njzk2 Jul 19 '16 at 17:09
  • @njzk2 that doesn't change the fact that you will always be held responsible for the items you bring into an airport. It doesn't matter if the confiscation makes sense to you or not, they are the higher power. – Summer Jul 20 '16 at 7:13
  • @JaneDoe1337 being held responsible, and something being one's fault have different connotations, I find. – njzk2 Jul 20 '16 at 12:31
  • @njzk2 I'm not a native English speaker, people make mistakes. Doesn't change the point I'm making though, which I think I elaborated in my second comment. – Summer Jul 20 '16 at 13:07
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In practice, as a transferring passenger on an international-international journey, your item is forfeit.

If it is confiscated by airport security, then you can have it back if you decide not to travel by plane. You cannot take it on a plane (to anywhere). That includes back where you came from.

If you don't have a visa or a passport that allows you to enter China, then you will have to find another way to send your item to your destination. If you are a very important customer you may be able to put it in checked baggage by asking an airport worker for assistance, but if you don't speak Mandarin I think you have almost no chance of succeeding.

  • Thanks. I just mentioned Beijing Airport as my experience and didn't mean the question about China, for your information. – Blaszard Jul 19 '16 at 10:52
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    @Berwyn I would take any DM story with a pinch of salt. LHR security do not always know what is going on or what the rules are (!!). You can certainly return to the check in desk if you insist. – Calchas Jul 19 '16 at 11:23
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    I would certainly take any DM story with a pinch of salt. I seem to recall other similar incidents though – Berwyn Jul 19 '16 at 11:25
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    IME, LHR security staff have a ... unique... interpretation of what is and is not allowed in carry-on baggage, and they have a particular level of animosity for all things meant to be consumed by infants. So, forget all guidelines about how much baby food or breast milk is allowed and in what sort of packaging: what is allowed is what that particular guard feels like allowing, and the rest shall be thrown away. If your infant ends the trip screaming from hunger, it's not that guard's problem. – Martha Jul 20 '16 at 1:52
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    If the OP's "valuable item" is an illegal item (1kg block of heroin, a hand grenade, insufficiently funny caricature of communist party official) I imagine airport security would not hand it back even if OP decides not to travel. – RedGrittyBrick Jul 20 '16 at 8:44
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There are a few variables here:

  1. If the item is forbidden, it will simply be confiscated and you are not allowed to have it back; as it is most likely destroyed. There is no recourse here.

  2. If the item is restricted then it will be held for you, pending any paperwork or other requirements. For example, if you owe duty or taxes on an item, it is confiscated and held, until you can pay the fines. Or if you need a special permit - the item is again confiscated but held until you can provide such permits.

  3. If the item is not acceptable for carriage, then it is simply returned to you; if you are no longer going to be taking the flight. In this case, the item is not illegal or forbidden, it is just not acceptable for carriage; possibly because it requires special handling or equipment.

  4. If the item not illegal or forbidden, but is not allowed on board the aircraft - then it is confiscated. If you want to continue your journey, then the item is forfeit and it is then destroyed or otherwise disposed of by the agency that confiscated it. Sometimes, you may be given back the item if its something that cannot be in your carry-on luggage, but it is okay in checked luggage - you may be given the opportunity to check it in.

If you believe an item was stolen from your luggage; your only recourse is travel insurance.

If your bags are opened by customs, it is usually marked as such. If an item was removed by customs officials (these are the ones that are responsible for checking goods crossing the borders) you can take lodge a complaint with the respected agency. They may have already destroyed the item (depending on what it is and the nature of the threat posed by it).

In transit, your goods are also subject to inspection and it may be that the item is removed by the transit authority or is otherwise blocked or restricted. This is rare, but does happen.

In all these cases, you are responsible for your return ticket and all expenses associated with it.

To minimize your grief:

  1. Always keep valuable with you on your person.

  2. It is your responsibility to know the rules and limits for your journey. The airline is there to merely inform you, they are not the enforcing agency and they are not responsible if goods are confiscated from you.

  3. Travel insurance is really handy in case of loss or damage during travel. It can be purchased separately, but it may also be available to you if you purchased your ticket using a credit card.

  • When you say "forbidden", do you mean, "illegal to possess"? – Calchas Jul 19 '16 at 16:41
  • Also, if items are stolen from bags in the airline's care, the airline may be strictly liable under the Montreal Convention, Article 17 section 2 (whatever it claims to the contrary). – Calchas Jul 19 '16 at 16:42
  • And remember the old saw, if you can't stand to lose it, do not take it with you on a travel. Best way to keep your grandfathers knife while traveling is to leave it home. – Willeke Jul 19 '16 at 19:42
  • @Calchas - For example, trying to bring alcohol into a dry country. However, I didn't say illegal because narcotics, for example, are illegal. Alcohol is forbidden, but not illegal for you to posses normally. – Burhan Khalid Jul 20 '16 at 5:15
  • Regarding the "airline's care" - this is a very limited in scope. The agents at the checkin counter may be airline employees, but the airport baggage handlers are almost always 3rd party contractors; customs officials most definitely are not airline employees; and your cabin luggage is also not in airline's care. So the airlines have a lot of loopholes here. – Burhan Khalid Jul 20 '16 at 5:17
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If you can back down from the security checkpoint, and go back in the airport, you can try to mail the object to yourself, if there is a post office.

This requires going through immigration in some cases to get to the public part of the airport, which possibly requires a visa. It is not possible in all cases.

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    That's tricky in transfer security, since you're usually in a secure corridor between the gate and the rest of the airport, while the post office, if there is one, is somewhere inside. It's possible some airports could allow you to do this or they could make a special arrangement for you, but you usually can't just "back down" from transfer security. – Zach Lipton Jul 19 '16 at 17:26
  • @ZachLipton it depends a lot on how the transfer happens. Recently I transfered in Detroit, and had to change terminal. That requires a visa, but I would have been able to access the post office. – njzk2 Jul 19 '16 at 17:29
  • True. If it's a transfer where you're going through immigration and then back around to the "public" security line, you have a lot more options. If it's "transfer security" where everyone is funneled through like you have in some European airports, it's more of a problem. – Zach Lipton Jul 19 '16 at 17:32
  • If you're lucky you might be in a country where you don't require a visa in advance. – user253751 Jul 20 '16 at 6:56

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