unclaimed money

Passengers left TSA a ‘tip’ of almost $1 million in 2018

In 2018, travelers left TSA almost $1 million in inadvertent “tips”

Passengers in a rush to get through the airport security checkpoint often leave behind belts, mobile phones, laptops and other valuable items.

They also leave lots of coin and cash.

According to a report due out today from the Transportation Security Administration, during FY 2018 travelers left for than $960,000 – ($960, 105.49 to be exact) – in the plastic bins at airport checkpoints around the country.

That’s $90,265.93 more than the $869,839.56 travelers left behind as inadvertent ‘tips’ for TSA in FY 2017.

It is $92, 293.10 more than the $867, 812.39 passengers forgot to pick up in FY 2016.

And it’s a whopping, $194,346.34 more than passengers left behind in FY 2015.

By law, TSA is allowed to use these funds for projects it considers important for civil aviation security.

In past years some of the left-behind funds have been used to promote and improve the TSA Pre-Check program, for checkpoint maintenance, and for translation of checkpoint signage into different foreign languages.

Much of unclaimed money from the past few years remains in TSA’s coffers. In fact, as of March 15, 2019, when TSA actually completed its report, NO funds from 2017 had been expended.

And that funds are now included in the list of funds the Department of Homeland Security has its eyes on to help fund border operations, NBC recently reported. (Although the law specificially says the funds are to be used for civil aviation protection.)

Who are the biggest tippers?

As you might suspect, some of the county’s largest airports collect the most unclaimed coins and cash at the security checkpoints. 

TSA’s Unclaimed Money at Airports report for FY 2018 shows that passengers at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) left behind the most money: $72, 392.74.

Next on the list: Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), where $71,748.83 was unclaimed in the bins.

Miami, Chicago O’Hare and Newark Liberty International are in the Top 5 of airports where passengers leave behind the most coins and cash.

Here’s the Top Ten list:

1.       JFK         72,392.74

2.       LAX        71,748.83

3.       MIA       50,504.49

4.       ORD       49,597.23

5.       EWR       41,026.07

6.       DFW      36,707.99

7.       SFO        33,264.80

8.       LAS         33,038.23

9.       MCO      32,687.10

10.     IAD         31,090.38

Why would travelers leave so much money behind at checkpoints? And why does the tally just keep going up? 

According to TSA spokesperson Jenny Burke, one reason may be that more people are traveling. Many airports are serving a record number of passengers and TSA is, therefore, screening a record number of passengers.

That makes the pool of possible inadvertent “tippers” much bigger.

Another reason: In this age of credit and debit card transactions, travelers find it more valuable to spend their time getting to their gate than stopping to scoop up a few pennies or dimes.

(A slightly different version of my story about TSA’s report on unclaimed money from FY 2018 first appeared on USA TODAY. )