Ledyard King, Gannett Washington Bureau
Washington-- Travelers left more than $500,000 almost all of it in loose change at airport checkpoints last year, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Miami International Airport, McCarran International in Las Vegas and O' Hare International Airport in Chicago collected the largest amounts - at least $22,000 each. But even airports in smaller cities such as Pensacola, Fla., Des Moines, Iowa, and Reno, Nev., each emptied at least $1,000 from the plastic tubs passengers use prior to walking through metal detectors.
TSA's Unclaimed Money at Airports survey tracks federal fiscal years, which start Oct. 1 and end Sept. 30. The agency issued its annual survey this month amid debate over what to do with the abandoned loot.
The take for fiscal 2012 (including foreign coins) was $531,392.22, an increase of about 9 percent over fiscal 2011 ($487,869.50) and about 30 percent over fiscal 2010 ($409,085.56). The total collected over the three fiscal years was $1.43 million.
Travel experts say people leave money behind for a variety of reasons. They might be rushing through a checkpoint or heading to a country where they may have little use for U.S. currency.
The abandoned change is spent on civil aviation security, as prescribed by Congress. As of March 31, TSA had spent $6,539.94 of the change collected in fiscal 2012 on translating airport checkpoint signage into foreign languages and "other administrative overhead," according to the report.
At least one lawmaker wants to give the pocket change to non-profit groups, namely the United Service Organizations, to help finance airport programs that support the military.
"The TSA has been keeping the money from your change purse to pay for their bloated bureaucracy," said GOP Rep. Jeff Miller, whose Florida Panhandle district includes several military installations and thousands of service members. "The lost change should be put to good use, and I know that the thousands of coins have a positive impact on millions of our nation's warriors."
Miller, who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, introduced similar legislation last year but it died before a final vote.
TSA spokesman David Castelveter said his agency does not comment on proposed legislation.
But he did say security officers do what they can to reunite passengers with their money, especially if there's identifying information like a wallet or money clip.
"Actively seeking out a person who left behind loose change presents logistical challenges," Castelveter said. "To the extent we can return loose change, including bills, we do. There have been circumstances where our officers noticed that someone had left money behind, sought out that individual and returned it."
Passengers must file a claim within 60 days to recover money left at a TSA checkpoint, he said.
The Transportation Security Administration collected $1.43 million in loose change that travelers left at airport security checkpoints in fiscal years 2010, 2011 and 2012. Here are the 10 airports that collected the largest amounts:
New York (JFK): $112,384
Los Angeles: $74,528
Las Vegas: $63,209
San Francisco: $61,692
Chicago (O'Hare): $60,633
Dallas/Fort Worth: $48,656
Washington (Dulles): $41,703
New York (LaGuardia): $34,430