What to do with spare change at airports

pan am coin purse

Heading to the airport with loose change in your pockets?

You may not mean to, but there’s a good chance you’re leaving cash tips for the Transportation Security Administration at the airport.

During FY 2014, passengers left behind $674,841.06 in coins and currency in the bowls and bins at airport security checkpoints.

During 2013 travelers left $638,142.64.

That was almost $107,000 more than passengers left behind in fiscal year 2012 and more than $150,000 than what was left behind in 2011.

What happens to all that money?

According to federal law, TSA gets to keep it and spend it on anything it decides helps provide civil aviation security.

If you’re not interested in donating to the TSA coffers you can make sure to put all your loose change in your purse or carry-on before getting to the checkpoint.


Or consider donating to good causes at airports in Denver, Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, where there are pre-security collection boxes by the checkpoints where you can donate spare change to local non-profits.

Denver International Airport started the trend in early 2013 with change collection containers placed before several checkpoints and in two years has collected over $170,000 in spare change to support homeless programs in Denver through Denver’s Road Home.

Last spring, Fifth Third Bank set up three “Empty Pockets, Full Plates” collection stations near checkpoint entrances at Ohio’s Port Columbus International Airport and in the first six months raised about $1,000 to support the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

Travelers can support the USO at PHX airport by donated spare change. Courtesy Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Just before all those Super Bowl fans came to town, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport kicked off its spare change collection program with boxes set up in front of several security checkpoints.

During February, 2015 $1,113.09 was collected to help fund USO operations at the PHX airport.

And in Sweden, travelers with spare change can donate to the Swedish Red Cross by playing video games at the airport.

Custom-made consoles recently installed at Stockholm Arlanda Airport and Göteborg Landvetter Airport offer travelers the opportunity to pay the classic arcade games Ms. Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Galaga in exchange for coins in any currency.

(My story about spare change at airports first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version.)


Change boxes collect cash for USO at PHX Airport


Denver International Airport has collection stations to gather spare change to help local homeless people.

Now, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has set up change receptacles in front of the security checkpoints in the terminals to collect money to provide support for traveling military service members helped by USO Arizona.

According to PHX officials, every year about 23,000 troops and their families visit the pre-security USO in Phoenix Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4, which offers a quiet place for members of the military and their families to go before their flights as well as a café, children’s play area, computer kiosks, a movie room, and gaming area.

Welcome Home a Hero program ending at DFW


Those American flags and welcome signs won’t be needed at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport anymore.

Every day, for the past eight years, at least one chartered plane carrying U.S. soldiers heading home for two weeks of rest and recuperation from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan has touched down at both Dallas/Fort Worth and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airports.

And for every flight at DFW, volunteers in the “Welcome Home a Hero” program have gathered to enthusiastically greet the returning soldiers.

“The welcome is a festive event with recorded patriotic music and anywhere from 30 to 300 cheering people holding flags and homemade signs and banners,” said Donna Cranston, coordinator of the Dallas/Fort Worth program. The greeting has become so well-known that some soldiers request to arrive in the U.S. via Dallas instead of Atlanta, Cranston said, even though that means they may have to wait longer for a connecting flight home.

But the drawdown of troops in Iraq and the shift to shorter deployments means there are no longer two full planes of R&R-bound soldiers returning home each day. So the U.S. army has decided to consolidate the flights into Atlanta.

March 14 will be the final Dallas arrival.

The conclusion of the flight is bittersweet news for some troops and for many volunteers who have welcomed home more than 460,000 inbound soldiers who have touched down in Dallas since 2004.

“The soldiers get a hero’s welcome when they come through Dallas, and it’s an uplifting and emotional experience,” said Army Lt. Col. Trisha McAfee, commander of the army’s Personnel Assistance Point at the Dallas airport. “They didn’t get that in other wars. But the consolidation is a good thing because it means many soldiers are spending less time in the war zone and getting home sooner.”

In Dallas/Fort Worth, many volunteers who welcome home troops at the airport also joined the USO so that they could be part of the send-off activities for active-duty military as well. “One volunteer has made more than 45,000 neck pillows to give to soldiers on their way back,” said McAfee.

“It’s always a happier occasion when they come in,” said Linda Tinnerman, 71, who with 78-year-old Constance Carman became known as one of the “Huggin’ and Kissin’ Grandmas” — dispensing free hugs to every returning soldier. “We are also there just to talk and visit with the soldiers.”

While the final R&R flight will arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth on March 14, the last departing flight is scheduled for March 30. After that, the U.S. Army’s daily chartered R&R flights will arrive and depart solely from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where there’s a much smaller “Welcome Home a Hero” and send-off program.

“It’s a matter of logistics,” said Mark Brown, Personnel Assistance Point commander at the Atlanta airport. “At DFW, the soldiers come out into the non-secure side. In Atlanta, they stay on the secure side to connect to their flight. So we have airport employees come out to help with the welcome.”

(A slightly different version of my story appeared on Travel)