By offering frequent travelers free membership to the Transportation Security Administration's expedited screening program, the agency can save money and speed up the screening process at airports across the country.
That is the conclusion of a study by professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who offered the idea as a solution to the TSA's growing budget costs and long airport lines.
The study tackles a vexing problem for the TSA: getting more fliers to pay $85 for a background check to use an expedited screening line that lets fliers keep their shoes, coats and belts on and keep laptops in their luggage. About 12 million people have signed up for the program, dubbed TSA PreCheck, and similar programs for international travelers.
But the TSA had hoped to get 25 million travelers signed up for TSA PreCheck by now, a goal that the agency said would enable the TSA to reduce staff and speed up the screening lines at the nation's airports.
The study, lead by Sheldon H. Jacobson, a computer science professor, calculated that if the TSA waived the $85 enrollment fee for 25 million travelers, it would lose out on $425 million a year in fees. (The $85 fee is for a five-year membership.)
But the study also found that if 25 million travelers taking at least six trips a year were to use the TSA PreCheck lines, the savings would total $459 million a year, thanks to lower staff expenses and equipment costs.
The net result would be annual savings of $34 million, according to the study, which was published in November's Journal of Transportation Security.
"The analysis presented here suggests that the TSA can justify enrolling such high-value travelers in the program at no cost," the study concludes.
Still, the report noted that some bad feelings might arise among travelers who are not frequent fliers and are not offered the fee waiver. Also, frequent fliers who are now paying the $85 fee may be upset when TSA PreCheck is suddenly offered free to new passengers, the study noted.
A TSA spokesman could not be reached for comment on the study but Jacobson, the lead author of the study, said the TSA asked for a copy of the study Monday.