Eliminating TSA Pre✓ Program Fee For Frequent Fliers Could Save Millions of Dollars: Study

A ccording to a recent study, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign argue that the Transportation Security Administration could potentially save millions of dollars — while simultaneously reducing longer lines — by providing free access to its TSA Pre✓ program to frequent travelers and decrease costs used for manpower and equipment for screening passengers at airport security checkpoints.

The lead author of the study is Sheldon Jacobson, whose research on screening based on the security profiles of passengers helped lead to the creation of the TSA Pre✓ program, which was originally reserved for qualified frequent travelers but became available to the general public in 2014. Jacobson — who is a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois — has been studying aviation security for greater than 20 years.

Eliminating TSA Pre✓ Program Fee For Frequent Fliers Could Save Millions of Dollars: Study

“Jacobson’s team, which used TSA’s 2017 budget figures for the cost of screening, calculates that having 25 million travelers enrolled in PreCheck would result in 300 million faster screenings per year and save the agency $459 million”, according to this article written by Mary Wisniewski for the Chicago Tribune. “If the TSA paid the PreCheck fees for frequent fliers, the cost would be $425 million per year, so the net savings would be $34 million, the report found.”

As an example of how to read the information included in the chart below, if 15 million passengers signed up for free TSA Pre✓ and averaged 18 security screenings a year, the Transportation Security Administration could potentially save an estimated $139 million.

Travelers Enrolled in TSA Pre✓  Money Spent or Money Saved
10 Million — 6 average annual number of screenings per traveler $91 million spent
10 Million — 12 average annual number of screenings per traveler $11 million spent
10 Million — 18 average annual number of screenings per traveler $73 million saved
10 Million — 24 average annual number of screenings per traveler $158 million saved
15 Million — 6 average annual number of screenings per traveler $127 million spent
15 Million — 12 average annual number of screenings per traveler $4 million saved
15 Million — 18 average annual number of screenings per traveler $139 million saved
15 Million — 24 average annual number of screenings per traveler $279 million saved
20 Million — 6 average annual number of screenings per traveler $163 million spent
20 Million — 12 average annual number of screenings per traveler $19 million saved
20 Million — 18 average annual number of screenings per traveler $206 million saved
20 Million — 24 average annual number of screenings per traveler $399 million saved
25 Million — 6 average annual number of screenings per traveler $199 million spent
25 Million — 12 average annual number of screenings per traveler $34 million saved
25 Million — 18 average annual number of screenings per traveler $273 million saved
25 Million — 24 average annual number of screenings per traveler $519 million saved

The source of the information in the chart above is from When Should TSA PreCheck Be Offered at No Cost to Travelers? by Sheldon Jacobson, Arash Khatibi and Ge Yu of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via the Chicago Tribune.

The Transportation Security Administration could achieve the savings by enrolling passengers who average at least twelve screens per year — typically six round trip flights — meaning that the free application would be limited only to frequent travelers.

Summary

There has been no official response to the study from the Transportation Security Administration; but I have always supported the elimination of the fee to join the TSA Pre✓ program for the reasons outlined in this article — and I believe that the results of this recent study is a good start towards that goal.

Bruce Schneier — who is a fellow at the Berkman Klein Center of Harvard University and is widely recognized as knowledgeable pertaining to security in general — apparently agrees with my position. Schneier has long criticized the enhanced screenings at airport security checkpoints after Tuesday, September 11, 2001 as “security theater” which do not make anyone safer and wants all travelers to have access to screening procedures similar to those of the TSA Pre✓ program. He worries that granting access to TSA Pre✓ program only to frequent travelers or those who pay “creates a class divide — the poor get invasive screenings, while the wealthy are in the faster lines”, according to the aforementioned article from the Chicago Tribune.

Some readers of The Gate would disagree with that statement — such as James, who opined in the Comments section that “When you’re paying $300+/pp for each plane ticket my guess is $19/yr for TSA Pre is a very small cost and the bigger burden for everyone is filling out the applications and going to the airport for interviews.”

I completely agree with Sheldon Jacobson with his reported claim that the enrollment fee of $85.00 — which covers background checks and other administrative costs — was “very intrusive” and a disincentive to people to join. The process of being fingerprinted and having a background check conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States does not exactly help the process become any less intrusive; and I am not sure that helps increase security among passengers of airlines. Those are some of the factors which have certainly deterred me from joining the TSA Pre✓ program — despite having been a frequent traveler for years.

Fortunately, I have experienced the use of the TSA Pre✓ line at airports more often than not — I do prefer to use them, as the airport security checkpoint experience is faster and more pleasant overall as a result — but I have never had to pay one penny for the privilege nor endure fingerprinting and a background check…

…and that is the way I prefer security screening to be at airports for me — but I would like it on a full-time basis.

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

6 thoughts on “Eliminating TSA Pre✓ Program Fee For Frequent Fliers Could Save Millions of Dollars: Study”

  1. Lee says:

    While background checks and the like are “intrusive”, isn’t the point of programs like TSA precheck to speed up the process for people who’ve been cleared as low risk? How would TSA get comfortable knowing that someone was in fact low risk without performing some kind of background check? Not disagreeing that the process isn’t intrusive, just interested in hearing other opinions on how a person could be cleared as low risk to avail of expedited screening.

  2. Ralfinho says:

    Like you I enjoyed TSA Pre more often than not and that without paying a single penny for that pleasure or getting some background checks or whatever. And yes, I like getting TSA Pre, it saves time and the experience is better.
    I don’t travel really often, usually just two visits to the US per year (coming from Europe) plus maybe one or two domestic trips (embedded in my international trip). So definitely fewer than the mentioned 12 screenings a year within the US. But still I do appreciate getting almost always TSA Pre (I’d say, success rate is higher than 90%).
    Since I am not a true frequent traveler I wouldn’t actively apply. Too much hassle and too much money.

  3. Noah says:

    I wish it were easier for people to join.

    That being said, given the amount of people who have joined over past 2 years – it is time for airports to take a look at the checkpoint design. We need more than 1 or 2 Precheck lanes – they need whole Precheck checkpoints, open all day. I would also like to see an elite line within PreCheck, especially in leisure destinations like Florida, where many people get in it only to start to take off their shoes and unpack their bags looking for liquids…

    I am also encouraged to learn about the tests for the new checkpoints at EWR UA with the new lane and bin style…hopefully it is a success and it expands

  4. gobluetwo says:

    You know what the government should do? A sale. That’s right, for a week or something in September or October have a sale on the PreCheck application fee and market it as a way to save time at the airport this holiday season. Drop the fee from $85 to $50, which will surely get more people through the door, and then get them approved before Thanksgiving.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *