airport checkpoints

TSA Year in Review – another record for firearms

Sea-Tac security line

You’d think air travelers would have gotten the message by now. But evidently not.

The TSA has done its 2016 tally and found that another record has been broken for the number of  firearms found in carry-on bags and on passengers at airport checkpoints.

According to TSA’s Year in Review report 3,391 firearms were found during 2016.

That’s 28 percent more than the 2,653 firearms found in 2015.

According to TSA’s report, of the 3,391 firearms found during 2016, 83 percent were loaded and the most firearms – 198 – were found at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Top 10 airports for firearms discoveries:

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL):198
Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW): 192
George Bush Intercontinental Airport – Houston (IAH):128
Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX):101
Denver International (DEN): 98
Orlando International Airport (MCO):86
Nashville International (BNA):80
Tampa International (TPA):79
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS):78
Salt Lake City International (SLC):75

Beyond firearms, TSA finds lots of other odd things in travelers’ bags.


Fliers “tipped” TSA $765,000 in loose change

pan am coin purse

In 2015, passengers in a rush to gather their belongings after going through airport checkpoints left behind more than three-quarters of a million dollars in the plastic buckets and bins at airport security checkpoints.

That $765,759.15 was mostly in the form of loose change. And thanks to a law passed by Congress in 2005, after collecting and tallying the cash, the TSA gets to keep it.

Here’s how much passengers left behind in the past:

2014: $674,841.06
2013: $638,142.64
2012: $531,395.22
2011: $487,869.50
2010: $409,085.56
2009: $432,790.62
2008: $383,413.79

Not interested in tipping the TSA? Then don’t dump the contents of your pockets in the bins. Instead, keep your change in a small change purse and put that into your larger carry-on.

1_Hello Kitty Original Coin Purse

TSA keeps $531,000 left behind by travelers


Frazzled and forgetful passengers left more than a half million dollars in spare change in the plastic bowls and bins at airport security checkpoints last year.

That’s about $45,000 more than the amount left behind in 2011, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

What happens to all that money?

TSA makes “every effort to reunite passengers with items left at security checkpoints,” said agency spokesperson Nico Melendez. But all those nickels, dimes, quarters – and a smattering of poker chips and crumpled bills – usually end up getting counted, forwarded to the TSA financial office and then spent on general security operations.

Congress approved that TSA expenditure in 2005, but some lawmakers and passengers rights groups are unhappy TSA gets to keep the change.

In 2009, and again in 2011, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced unsuccessful legislation that would require TSA to give the unclaimed cash to the United Service Organizations (USO), a private nonprofit that operates centers for military personnel at more than 40 U.S. airports. The lawmaker plans to reintroduce the bill soon, “as a stand alone measure and as part of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill,” Dan McFaul, a spokesman for Miller’s office, told NBC News.

Money left behind by passengers at airport checkpoints is “a windfall TSA does not deserve to keep,” said Paul Hudson, executive director, a non-profit consumer organization. But rather than give the money to the USO, he’d like the funds to go to nonprofit groups that look out for the rights of travelers. “Passengers pay a lot of taxes on airline tickets and there is currently no government funding in the United States for organizations that seek to help passengers,” he said.

“Common sense would dictate that the money is returned to the people who lost it … travelers,” said Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights. But he doubts TSA will ever be required by law to give the change left at airport checkpoints to passenger rights organizations.

If the TSA continues to be able to keep the left-behind money though, Macsata would like the agency to be directed to use it for staff training “to better educate them on how to appropriately handle and treat unique travelers, including travelers with medical conditions, children and travelers with disabilities.”

TSA’s Melendez doesn’t know why passengers leave money in the plastic bins at airports, but says “placing spare change or any other items in a purse or briefcase prior to going through security is the easiest and best way to maintain positive control of your belongings.”

Denver International Airport has another option for travelers approaching the checkpoints with change in their pockets. Earlier this month, the airport installed collection jars on the non secure-side of several checkpoints asking travelers to donate change to Denver’s Road Home, an organization that helps the homeless.


Spare change left behind at airport checkpoints

  • 2012 — $531,395.22
  • 2011 — $487,869.50
  • 2010 — $409,085.56
  • 2009 — $432,790.62

Data courtesy TSA

(My story: Travelers left more than $500,00 at airport checkpoints last year; TSA keeps the change, first appeared on


TSA will allow snow globes through airport security checkpoints

Souvenir hunters rejoice: Later this summer, you will able to pack snow globes in your carry-on luggage when you go to the airport.

Transportation Security Administration officers will permit the items as long as they are packed in a passenger’s plastic, quart-sized, resealable bag along with other gels and liquids.

TSA will permit snow globes “that appear to contain less than 3.4 ounces (of liquid), which is approximately the size of a tennis ball,” spokesperson David Castelveter said, “but only if the entire snow globe, including the base, is able to fit in the bag.

“And it has to be the same bag. You don’t get a 3-1-1 bag and a snow globe bag,” he added.

Tennis balls will not be used to determine the size and volume of snow globes. Instead, TSA officers will be aware of the size requirement and apply “some discretion in their evaluation of the item being transported,” Castelveter said. As a general rule, he said, if a snow globe is the size of an average fist, it should get through.

The move is part of TSA’s ongoing reassessment of its rules and is expected to be fully in place by mid-August — just in time for end-of summer trips to Disneyland, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.

(My story ‘TSA relaxing rules on snow globes at airport checkpoints‘ first appeared

What happens to items left at airport checkpoints?

Each Friday on’s Overhead Bin, I track down the answer to a reader’s question. This week’s question was: What happens to all that stuff ‘surrendered’ at airport security checkpoints?

Betty Spencer doesn’t travel much, but she’s curious about what happens to items confiscated or surrendered at airport security checkpoints. “There are so many stories of people having to give up items,” Spencer, a patient accounts counselor in Spokane, Wash., wrote to Overhead Bin. “I wondered if any of the items could be donated or recycled. I would hate to think of so much waste.”

The Transportation Security Administration does indeed end up with a lot of stuff: Since 9/11, the TSA has detected approximately 50 million prohibited items, including 4,600 firearms, during airport checkpoint screening.

Hazardous materials are disposed of, and dangerous or illegal items such as guns and explosives are turned over to law enforcement. But travelers do have some say in what happens to other items.

“TSA offers passengers multiple options at the checkpoint for prohibited items that are less dangerous and not illegal,” said TSA spokesperson Greg Soule. “Passengers can return them to their cars, pack them in checked baggage, or at some airports, mail them home to themselves.”

More often than not, travelers end up surrendering their items at the checkpoint. After that, Soule says, the items end up being donated to state governments “to be auctioned off or sold as revenue. TSA in no way profits from surrendered or lost items at the checkpoint.”

Some states, such as Pennsylvania, operate a brisk and profitable business selling items left behind at airports in the state – and beyond.

“Not all states have a program that’s large enough to accept all the items left at airports,” said Troy Thompson, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of General Services. “But we do. And we receive pallets of items from New York’s JFK and LaGuardia airports and from some airports in Ohio and Maryland.”

Thompson said all the items Pennsylvania gathers end up at a warehouse, where it’s sorted.

“We get a lot of pocketknives, scissors and corkscrews,” said Thompson, “but also frying pans and other cookware, and tools such as drills, saws, hatchets and machetes. Some of it makes you scratch your head and wonder how people thought they’d get those things on the plane.”

A sampling of the items are put out in a store at the state warehouse in Harrisburg, but most of the items get sold in lots, by weight, online at auction. Since 2004, Pennsylvania has earned about $700,000 from auctions held for many years on eBay and, soon, on