​​How Airport Travelers Forgot Close To $1 Million At TSA Checkpoints In 2023

When you think of the organizations you donate to, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) probably doesn't come to mind. However, you may have given money to the airport security agency without even knowing it. According to the official government website Fiscal Data, a whopping $956,253.38 was left behind in 2023 by travelers going through airport security checkpoints. Yep, close to $1 million dropped in the security line or abandoned in those conveyor belt bins. 

That figure has been rising for over a decade. In 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, fliers left $926,030.44 in unclaimed money at security checkpoints. In 2015, $765,759.15 was forgotten. Conversely, according to a CNBC report, only around $484,000 was collected from checkpoints in 2008. 

A large amount of the money comes from small change, which can be easy to overlook when rushing to get through airport security and make it to your gate on time. Still, that doesn't explain why more cash is neglected now than in the past. "There is no real way for TSA to know why this happens," TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein told CNBC. "It makes sense to point to an increase in the number of travelers as one likely reason, but other than that, we have no theories."

What happens to the money left behind?

Nearly $1 million is enough to buy a nice house or, depending on your age, quit working and go into retirement. Of course, this isn't how the TSA spends all that money left behind by travelers. So, what does the government agency do with the funds?

When you leave something at the TSA security checkpoint, officers generally keep the item for at least 30 days in case you try to retrieve it later. With pocket change, however, it can be harder to identify the original owner — anyone could contact the TSA claiming to have lost some cash, after all. As a result, the security agency collects the money, documents it, and hands it over to its financial office, as Farbstein told The Washington Post.

The TSA doesn't award an employee with a fancy house or luxury shopping spree. Rather, the money is put back into airport security operations based on what the TSA deems necessary. However, Kate Sullivan, Head of Experience at Secret Fares, revealed to Fox News that "because there's no appropriations procedure on left-behind cash, there's no way to check on that." So, the TSA may use some of the reclaimed money for staff parties and other perks.

How not to forget your loose change at airport security

The $1 million left behind by fliers is a reminder that a little pocket change, as meager as it may seem, can really add up. To avoid accidentally parting ways with your cash at the airport, arrive prepared. Agents may ask you to empty your pockets when going through the airport security body scanner or metal detector, so remove any bills and coins in advance. The TSA suggests placing your change in a zippered plastic bag, pouch, or other small bag kept securely in your carry-on luggage. Alternatively, tuck the money in your shoes and keep them upright when placing the footwear on the conveyor belt.

If you leave the airport security checkpoint and realize you left behind some money, you may be able to recover it if you return to the security area quickly. Otherwise, use the TSA website to report your item using its "Lost and Found" form. Remember, it might be difficult for the agency to reunite you with your money, as it's not as easily identifiable as, say, an ID card or sweater. Still, it's worth a try — unless you're happy to fund the next TSA employee pizza party.