If You’ve Ever Left This Behind at Airport Security, You Just Tipped the TSA

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I know you’re stressed when you go through TSA checkpoints.

You’re frugal and anticipate being able to get to the airport at least 12 hours ahead of time, so you haven’t paid for the ease and comfort of TSA PreCheck.

So you prepare to remove your coat, scarf, sweater, hat, shoes, belt, toiletries and electronics from your person and personal items and place them in what I am sure are grimy-as-hell bins to be peeped by a stranger in a uniform.

Oh, and you emptied your pockets, right? Better grab another bin, because all that change in your pockets has got to come out.

What comes after the jumping-jack-pose body-scan experience isn’t any easier. Everyone bunches up around the exit chute of the luggage belt to grab their belongings the instant they reach fresh air again.

But your change? Bet you forgot about your change. It’s barely a memory, replaced by concerns about how you will spend the rest of your disposable income on magazines and oversized bags of Chex Mix.

Just how much loose change gets left behind at airport security checkpoints? In fiscal year 2016, it was a whopping $867,812, according to the TSA.

That’s $100,000 more than the Transportation Security Administration reported people left behind in fiscal 2015.

The amount of undeclared money tallied by the TSA has risen steadily over the years – the agency counted about $383,413 left behind in 2008.

How’d We Get So Lazy With Our Spare Change?

First of all, this is a men’s problem. Women’s pockets are so small we couldn’t possibly have spare change on us.

Second of all, can you blame anyone for wanting to get out of the security checkpoint as fast as possible? No one, not even you, is at their best when waiting to go through TSA.

A TSA spokesperson told CNBC the agency has no theories as to why we’re leaving so much more change behind when we travel. Maybe an increase in air travel? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Of course, some of the biggest airports in the nation are the ones where the most loose change gets left behind. Here are a few greatest hits from the top-10 list:

  • John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City: $70,615

  • McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas: $32,671.38 (That’s 38 cents you could have put in a slot machine!)

  • O’Hare International Airport, Chicago: $25,425.75

  • Logan International Airport, Boston: $23,691.83

What Does TSA Do With All That Money?

Great news! TSA gets to use your spare change for whatever it wants! (Within reason. No staff pizza parties.)

Since 2005, TSA has had the power to keep any unclaimed cash to use as it sees fit to increase civil aviation security. In the past, TSA has said the unclaimed funds would go toward expanding the TSA PreCheck program, which is the closest experience I’ll ever have to flying first class.

“TSA makes every effort to reunite passengers with items left at the checkpoint. However there are instances where loose change or other items are left behind and unclaimed,” Lisa Farbstein from the TSA Office of Public Affairs said in an email. “Unclaimed money, typically consisting of loose coins passengers remove from their pockets, is documented and turned into the TSA financial office.”

There’s no word yet on how fiscal 2016’s gigantic change jar will get spent.

In the meantime, maybe it’s time to start preparing to go through TSA before you’re two away from the bin stack? I’m pretty sure this isn’t your first time flying. You should know this routine by now.

Your Turn: Have you ever left anything behind at TSA?

Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder. TSA PreCheck is the best money she’s ever spent.