Ever gone through airport security in such a rush that you left something behind? Maybe a couple of cents that you really didn’t miss? You wouldn’t be the only one. In the latest fiscal year, travelers at U.S. airports left behind $674,841.06 in spare change, according to new figures released by the Transportation Security Administration. That was up about $37,000 from the previous year, when TSA collected a total of $638,142.64 in pocket change forgotten by harried flyers.
What happens to all that extra money? It goes to the TSA! “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,” TSA press secretary Ross Feinstein explained via email. “Unclaimed money, typically consisting of loose coins passengers remove from their pockets, is documented and turned into the TSA financial office.”
Congress gave TSA the power to put travelers’ unclaimed money toward security operations in 2005. TSA plans to put the money it collected in fiscal year 2014 toward expanding its expedited TSA Pre-Check program (well, most of the money—per the agency’s report to Congress, it spent $3.87 on “administrative overhead” in 2014).
TSA defines unclaimed change as “money passengers inadvertently leave behind at airport screening checkpoints.” The agency says this typically means coins that passengers take out of their pockets to go through security, and forget to put back. Not surprisingly, the busiest U.S. airports also seem to wind up with the most extra funds. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport racked up the most accidental donations with $42,550 left on screening tables. Los Angeles International Airport was close behind with $41,506.64 in spare change.
What would really be interesting to know is how the $674,841.06 that TSA pooled last year breaks down. Was it mostly nickels? Dimes? Is it possible that for the TSA the penny still has value? At any rate, next time you rush through airport security, check to make sure you return all those coins to your pockets. If not, it’s going right back toward that annoying screening process—and it adds up.