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Why was my luggage opened at airport security? Can I get removed items back?

Article published
24.9.2019 at 09:00
Cabin bag.
At times, airport security must remove forbidden items from passengers’ cargo luggage. Joni Pekkanen, Finavia’s Service Manager at Helsinki Airport Security Services, tells us which items are prohibited in cargo hold.

To ensure flight safety, hundreds of bags are inspected manually at Helsinki Airport’s security check every day before they can be transferred to aircrafts’ cargo hold.

We asked Joni Pekkanen, Service Manager at Helsinki Airport Security Services, why some bags must be opened and why some of us find a note in our bag.

Why was my luggage opened at airport security?

All luggage heading to the cargo bin is run through a security check. According to Pekkanen the initial security check is done by an automated system and, if necessary, the bag is also manually inspected by a security supervisor. The meticulous process makes sure that no dangerous items end up into the aircraft cargo hold.

“The most common reason for airport security to open the luggage heading to cargo is that there’s a prohibited item – an item that isn’t safe for aircraft transport – in the bag. The item is removed and replaced by a tag which tells the traveller which item was removed and how the owner can get his/her stuff back,” says Pekkanen.

What kind of items are banned?

In the cargo you cannot store items that may cause a fire hazard in the plane. The most common item removed from the luggage is a lithium battery or a power bank. Pekkanen emphasises that all separate lithium batteries varying from simple camera batteries to a power bank for a smart phone are indeed prohibited. In addition to batteries, anything capable of producing fire, and aerosols are banned.

“When the winter sports season is at its peak, we confiscate a lot of ski waxes and wax removal polishes because they are highly flammable. When hunting season arrives, you should be particularly sharp when packing cartridges. Autumn backpackers heading to Lapland to see the fall colours sometimes forget that all kerosene stove lighter fluids are not safe to be transferred to cargo. The security checkpoint, however, must remove a lot of power banks throughout the year,” says Pekkanen.

How is a prohibited item removed if a bag is locked?

Thanks to advanced methods, a fair majority of luggage heading to cargo can be opened at security check without damaging the bag in the process.

“In case the luggage can’t be opened, Finnish security personnel never break locks or bags themselves. If there’s a prohibited item in the bag, but we can’t access it, the bag is transported to the traveller's airline company with a note that this luggage cannot be transferred to cargo.”

Can I get the removed item back?

Pekkanen says that in the cases where items are removed, the note left in the bag has all the necessary information about where you can ask for your item back. Usually, removed items are stored in the airport for 30 days. If your travels take longer than that, you can ask for longer storage period.

“At times, it can be agreed that the item is sent to the owner via mail. However, all removed items can’t be delivered to the owner via mail since they can’t be transferred with an aircraft.”

Any tips for packing to avoid having items removed at security check?

“Travelers are generally rather experienced packers,” says Pekkanen. Still, Helsinki airport security check must open hundreds of bags heading for cargo every day.

“The most important guideline is that you should not pack any flammable items or materials in the cargo hold.”

Before heading to your holiday destination, you should familiarise yourself with how to pack your luggage for your flight and which items can be transported by plane, and which cannot.

Check out how to pack your luggage for your flight

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