Road Warrior

Penny (or a nickel, quarter or dime) for your troubles: TSA's hefty haul

Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC
'Coin Ball' at the Vancuver International Airport
Source: Vancuver International Airport

People who leave laptops or wallets at the airport security checkpoint almost always rush back to get it. But do they return for the pennies left in the bottom of the plastic bin after they've retrieved all the items they emptied from their pockets?

Probably not.

That may explain how the Transportation Security Administration ended up with a hefty cash "tip" of $765,759.15 last year, and $674,841.06 the year before. The 2015 figure includes more than $9,000 in foreign currency and more than $30,000 in small change collected at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport alone.

Passengers left behind more than $43,700 at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, almost $51,000 at Miami International Airport. A hefty $55,086.39 was hauled in by the TSA at Los Angeles International Airport. Last year's collective TSA haul has nearly doubled since 2008, when the agency reported more than $383,000 in unclaimed change.

"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," a TSA spokesperson explained to CNBC.

According to the agency, all unclaimed funds left behind at security checkpoints get counted, turned in to TSA's financial office and deposited into a special account. Then, by permission of Congress, the funds get spent by the agency on security operations it deems fit.

In a report to Congress, TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said that this year, the agency plans to use the unclaimed money collected in year 2015 to support its effort to expand the TSA PreCheck program. That gives passengers expedited passage through security checkpoints, in exchange for some personal data and a fee.