In the latest Unclaimed Money at Airports report that the agency is required to present to Congress each year, the agency says it collected $926,030.44 in unclaimed money, including $18,899.09 in foreign currency, at its checkpoints.
People left behind $98,110 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, far more money than at other U.S. airports. San Francisco International Airport took second place with $52,668.70, and Miami International Airport took third with $47,694.03. They were followed by Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport with $44,401.76 and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport with $40,218.19.
“It’s very easy for people to leave money behind,” says TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein.
She says when travelers remove items from their pockets before passing through security, they often miss loose change and driver’s licenses because they’re not as noticeable as bulky belongings, such as laptops and coats.
“It’s not going to cause a bump,” Farbstein says. “When they collect themselves after they have to divest items, they don’t realize there’s something in that bottom bin.”
Another distraction for travelers is that the TSA’s bins for your items may be covered in advertisements; your money may blend into the noisy background.
“If you glance to see if you left anything, your eye sort of sees the ad and might not see the loose change,” Farbstein says.
The unclaimed money is found mostly in the form of coins and small bills, although large sums do get left behind, too. However, “it is not common,” says Farbstein.
If you’re traveling with a bunch of cash, take note of how you’re transporting it so you can contact the appropriate TSA lost-and-found office if you leave it behind. For example, you may need details such as what kind of envelope it’s in, what is written on the envelope and what size bills you had.
Better yet, try not to lose your money in the first place. Farbstein recommends forgoing TSA’s bins at security checkpoints altogether and storing your loose change and small bills in your carry-on bag.
“You put them in your carry-on bag for two reasons now,” she says. “One, so you don’t leave it behind, and two, because hey, one less touch point. We’re in a pandemic.”
For those wondering where the money goes, Farbstein says officers are not allowed to pocket their findings. “They’re not going to risk their jobs for that. It’s all on camera,” she says. Instead, the money goes to various TSA projects, such as checkpoint training requirements.