YOU KNOW YOU’VE DONE IT — you realized right as you were about to walk through the metal detector at airport security that you had a penny and two quarters in your pocket, and hastily threw it into the plastic bin with your shoes. Then, as you took everything out in the rush to get out of the way, you left the change there.
Don’t worry — you’re not alone. It turns out a crazy amount of people leave money at TSA checkpoints each year and never return to pick it up. Just last year, TSA made $765,759.15 in this loose cash, which, according to federal law, becomes the property of TSA as soon as they collect the unclaimed money and hand it over to their financial office for counting. So no, you can’t try and claim it back after you’ve left the airport.
TSA is going to put the money into its “Special Fund” account, which goes towards financing their airport security operations. And the amount has been going up a lot over the last several years. As recently as 2008, the amount of money collected was just over $383,000. Even last year, it was just under $675,000, making the amount of money collected in 2015 a pretty precipitous rise. Perhaps in a good economy, people are a little less careful about holding onto their loose change?
Some airports collect more money than others — JFK International Airport in New York collected nearly $44,000 last year, according to the New York Times, while the international airport in Pago Pago, American Samoa, collected a mere $1.99. Plenty of people leave foreign currency in the bins as well, which TSA also collects and then exchanges into US dollars — they picked up around $9,200 in foreign cash last year.
If you, like most people, aren’t a giant fan of airport security, you might find that you have another option, though: more and more airports are setting up change donation boxes right before airport security to raise money for local non-profits. The Denver Airport uses the money to help the city’s homeless, while Phoenix’s boxes support the local USO.
In a statement, the TSA said, “TSA makes every effort to reunite passengers with items left at the checkpoint, however there are instances where loose change or other items are left behind and unclaimed.” There are quite a lot of instances, apparently. And considering the sheer thanklessness of doing the job of a TSA officer, I personally hope they’re taking a buck or two out of the day’s haul to get themselves a much-deserved beer after work.