Last Updated on October 12, 2021
What happens to checked bags after you hand them over at the check-in desk or baggage drop-off point? Where do they go, who looks after them, and more importantly who looks into them?
Are checked bags searched for illegal drugs? And what would happen if illegal drugs were discovered in your suitcase?
Let’s have a rummage around and see if we can discover the answer.
The TSA’s Screening Procedures & Illegal Drugs
The minute you hand over your bag to the airline at the check-in desk you are already playing the lottery.
That’s because, for every 180 passengers that check a bag, 1 person won’t be meeting up with their checked bag at the destination.
They’ll be “stood up” at the luggage carousel because their suitcase simply won’t show up.
That’s because 28 million bags are lost, damaged, or delayed every year.
But assuming you don’t mind playing those odds. What’s the chances that your suitcase will be searched and any illegal drugs discovered?
Here’s the deal.
After you drop off your checked suitcase the airline will give it to the TSA to be inspected.
The Transportation Security Administration doesn’t search checked bags for drugs, but they do search bags for other reasons.
Look at what they say about packing marijuana:
I want you to notice this part:
“Screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other illegal drugs, but if any illegal substance is discovered during security screening, TSA will refer the matter to a law enforcement officer.”Transportation Security Administration
The TSA screens approximately 1.4 million checked bags for explosives and other dangerous items daily.
All these bags go through x-ray scanners as they do with carry-on luggage at the airport security checkpoint.
If the TSA sees something from the x-ray scan that they want to investigate they will open up the bag and there are also random checks too.
With carry-on bags, they want to make sure there are no weapons.
With checked bags, it’s mainly flammable materials they are looking for. For example, loose lithium batteries are prohibited in checked bags because they have a tendency to catch fire. Or it might be the shape of an aerosol canister that catches their eye.
Roughly 1 out of every 10 checked bags are opened up to be physically inspected.
This inspection isn’t to check if you have tried to sneak pot into your luggage, it’s to make sure the plane stays up in the air when it’s meant to!
The TSA officer isn’t looking for drugs, but if he accidentally finds them while searching your suitcase he will report you to the police.
Federal law applies, so while some types of drugs may be legal at the state level if they are illegal at the federal level that’s what’s important.
Sometimes prohibited items are confiscated by the TSA. Many items are prohibited from checked baggage, if such an item is discovered by the TSA it will simply confiscate it and dispose of it.
But if they find your stash of illegal drugs they will call the cops!
Take it from Jourdie:
“The dumbest shit I ever done was put weed in my checked luggage” – that’s a testimonial for you. Think twice before packing drugs in checked luggage. They could be discovered even if they are not being explicitly searched for.
Here’s a short video from the TSA that explains the journey a checked bag takes through the airport:
Aside from aviation security teams like the TSA the other agency that sometimes checks baggage is customs.
This is likely to happen on international flights.
Packing illegal drugs into a suitcase and traveling across international borders is called drug smuggling.
Unless you enjoy spending time in enclosed spaces then smuggling drugs is probably a bad idea.
Never Pack Anything Valuable In Checked Luggage
After the TSA has screened your checked luggage they return your bag to the airport baggage handlers. It’s their job to load your bag onto the plane.
Regardless of the fact that you may end up in trouble with the law checked baggage simply isn’t a good place to pack anything valuable.
Anything that has any value is better off packed in carry-on bags.
Checked bags are not only searched by the TSA or Customs agents. Sometimes thieves operating at the airport search bags for valuables.
So if you are lucky enough that your illegal drugs are not discovered by the TSA perhaps a thief looking to swipe an iPad might stumble across your stash. Who are you going to complain to about your missing drugs?
However, if illegal drugs were accidentally discovered by the TSA they have a duty to report the matter to the police.
Don’t pack anything valuable in checked luggage. I would even pack a favorite shirt in hand luggage just in case I never see it again.
The Bottom Line
Checked bags frequently get searched, but they are not frequently searched for drugs.
The TSA officers are searching for threats to aviation security, with checked bags that means explosives and flammables.
However, if while searching your bag for other reasons drugs are discovered the TSA will notify law enforcement.
Checked bags are not searched for drugs, but they are searched.
Checked bags may be searched by customs officers if you are traveling internationally. At this point, they may be looking for people bringing too many cartons of cigarettes into the country.
But again, if during a routine search illegal drugs are discovered you’ll be in big trouble.