Armed with data showing that an additional 7 million
people would enroll in the TSA PreCheck program if the price were reduced and
the application process simplified, another travel group last week called on
the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to reduce its enrollment fee.
A study by the U.S. Travel Association revealed that 50%
of domestic air travelers in the U.S. who have flown at least once in the last
year and are unlikely to join PreCheck cited its $85 enrollment fee as being
too high. Of those respondents, 21% indicated they would be more likely to join
if the price was reduced to $60.
Moreover, about 20% of those who are unlikely to join
said that the two-step, online and in-person application process was too
cumbersome. And more than half of those respondents said they would be more
likely to enroll if the application could be done entirely online or on mobile
The survey was published after Christopher Bidwell,
Airports Council International-North America’s vice president for security, recommended
that TSA consider reducing its PreCheck application fee, or even making it
free, to increase enrollment.
But Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and TSA officials
say that enrollment in trusted-traveler programs, such as CBP’s Global
Entry which includes PreCheck membership, is higher than it’s ever been,
perhaps owing to the recent flood of media attention about long airport
And the U.S. Travel study, conducted with market research
firm TNS, also found that just over 20% of respondents not currently enrolled
in PreCheck are likely to enroll without any changes in price or procedure.
In May 277,047 people enrolled in PreCheck, more than
triple the 91,415 enrollments in May 2015.
“The long lines certainly got everyone’s attention,” said
David Lim, a TSA executive adviser. “It’s a good problem to have.”
In fact, if application wait times are an indication that
enrollment is up, some Global Entry centers are finding themselves overwhelmed.
Elaine Schoch, a travel writer based in Colorado, applied
for Global Entry on April 29 and was given an October time slot to conduct the
in-person interview at Denver's airport.
“I’m not surprised more people haven’t signed up for it,”
In response, John Wagner, the CBP deputy assistant
commissioner in the office of field operations, said that CBP had recently
“seen a spike” in Global Entry applications; last month they surged to about
10,000 per day from an average of 5,000 to 7,000. In locations such as Denver
Airport, he said, “we may just not have the availability to do that many Global
“We look to do as many as we can,” he said. “But in
places where we have smaller staff but huge de-mand, we do see some backlog
from time to time. In larger locations, where we have larger pools to draw
from, it’s easier for us to manage.”
‘It’s 100% worth it’
Travel agents, by and large, say their clients have not
balked at the cost of the program, but they also said they tend to work with
more frequent and savvy travelers.
“When you break down the price of $100 for five years,
it’s 100% worth it, and they know it,” Erina Pindar, managing director of
SmartFlyer, said of Global Entry.
One area where price seems to make a difference, however,
is when it comes to enrolling children in Global Entry. Children under 12 can
use PreCheck lanes if they are traveling with parents or guardians who are
enrolled in the program. However, with Global Entry, every traveler, including
a child, has to be a member to use it, and there is no discount for children or
families. It’s $100 per person, no matter the age.
Julie Donnelly, a Massachusetts-based senior writer for
Amendola Communications, found that for a family like hers, which travels
internationally once per year, having to pay the $100 Global Entry fee for her
two sons, ages 3 and 1, as well as for her and her husband, did not make much
financial sense. Especially since there would be no real time saved in the
first year of her membership.
“For a family that takes one international trip per year,
I am basically trading an hour at the airport on the trip for an hour doing the
interview, at an inconvenient place,” she said.
In addition, she and her family are traveling to
Barcelona on TAP Portugal airlines, which is not a Pre-Check member, meaning
she will not be able to take advantage of PreCheck membership on that trip.
“The patchwork of services between the two programs and
the failure to include most foreign airlines in the PreCheck program makes it
hard to calculate the value,” she said.
“For families, it’s just a matter of how often they
travel,” said Carole Williams, the CEO of Travel 15 in New Jersey. She
said that 80% of her leisure customers
and almost all her business clients have it.
“If they travel as a family more than two or three times
a year, it is worth it, especially overseas,” Williams said.
Lim said that the TSA is aware of calls for price
elasticity when it comes to PreCheck but that unlike the private sector, it is
very difficult for a government agency like the TSA to change the fee without
going through a series of government approvals that would take a long time.
Instead, he said, the TSA hopes that its request for
proposal (RFP) from private sector companies to help market and enroll
travelers in PreCheck, which will be awarded later this year, will result in
enrollment solutions and increased marketing efforts. That, in turn, could
result in lowering application fees and streamlining the process.
“What we’re looking for is for the private sector to come
in with innovative solutions for application enrollment,” Lim said. “We expect
the private sector to engage in things that we as government cannot.”
For example, he said, the TSA currently takes
fingerprints at its interviews.
“There is probably technology available today to send the
fingerprint from your mobile device or to do an iris scan,” he said.
“There are all sorts of ways to verify citizenship, so we
hope the private sector company finds a more frictionless application process
through innovative solutions by employing new technologies.”
If one of those companies heeds U.S. Travel’s advice and
enables the application to be done online, enrollment costs would naturally
drop since there would be no need for the brick-and-mortar locations and
on-site staff to conduct interviews.
Lim stressed that while the private sector companies that
win the RFP will be engaged in the front end of the enrollment process, the TSA
will still conduct the threat assessments.
“The private companies will collect the information and
give it to us in a secure manner,” he said. “The TSA will ultimately vet and
decide who’s eligible, regardless of who is handling the front end.”
U.S. Travel said the results of its study indicate that
the Department of Homeland Security’s goal of enrolling 25 million air
travelers in all of its trusted traveler programs (PreCheck and Global Entry)
by 2019 is “plausible with some modifications to TSA PreCheck.”