By Caitlin Moscatello. Photos: Getty.
The TSA has been abiding by a strict "finders, keepers" model, and you probably never knew it. In 2015, passengers left $765,759.15—mostly in loose change—in the plastic bins at airport security, according to the agency. And since running around to find people who might have left a dime or a nickel isn't exactly a good use of TSA agents' time, the agency collects the change...and keeps it.
No laws are being broken: Congress passed a law in 2005 legalizing the practice, as long as the TSA financial office counts the change. (In other words, it's not meant to go directly into agents' pockets.) The amount of money left behind, while a huge number, becomes easier to digest when you consider that there are more than 19,000 airports in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The TSA's data shows that the cash being left behind is on the rise. In 2008, passengers left $383,413.79 at airport security. After a brief dip in 2010, the numbers have steadily risen: Passengers forgot $487,869.50 in 2011, $531,395.22 in 2012, $638,142.64 in 2013, and $674,841.06 in 2014. In those same years, the number of air travelers in the U.S. has also increased.
As USA Today reports, some airports have come up with creative solutions to prevent passengers' money from ending up with the TSA. Before Phoenix hosted Super Bowl XLIX in 2015, change kiosks were installed at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, so passengers could empty nickels and dimes from their pockets or donate loose coins they found. A total of $11,833.37 was collected, and the money went to the airport's USO services and lounge, where members of the military can rest, watch TV, and grab food in a private setting. In the first two months of this year, $1,715.50 was donated.
Denver International Airport has been collecting change since 2013; since it installed collection boxes, $282,722 has been raised. The money goes to Denver's Road Home, a program that helps the city's homeless. “Denver International Airport is grateful to and proud of our travelers who take a moment out of their journey to put their spare change to good use,” Denver International CEO Kim Day said in a statement. “It is so heartwarming to know that providing a convenient opportunity to contribute could result in such a substantial impact, largely from very small amounts of change.”
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This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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