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Is the TSA’s PreCheck Overpriced and Overcomplicated?

With no sign of relief in sight, the TSA’s inability to effectively and efficiently manage airport security screening promises to remain this summer’s biggest bad-news travel story.

The long lines and missed flights have given rise to much finger-pointing, but little in the way of practicable solutions. Although by no means an out-and-out fix, one idea has received near-universal support: Increase the number of travelers enrolled in such pre-screening programs as Global Entry and PreCheck. With more trusted flyers screened faster in the expedited clearance lines, average wait times will be reduced for most travelers.

Easier said than done, however. While PreCheck applications recently doubled, from 8,000 in April to 16,000 in May, the total number of enrollees, 2.5 million, falls far short of the 25 million PreCheck and Global Entry members targeted by the Department of Homeland Security.

With so much to gain by securing trusted-traveler status, why aren’t more flyers signing up for PreCheck and Global Entry?

Price, Convenience Matter

According to a new survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, one significant disincentive to the campaign to enroll more travelers in PreCheck is the $85 fee (for five years).

Fully half of the survey respondents who were not currently enrolled in PreCheck and were unlikely to join complained that the cost is too high. Of those who cited costs as a deterrent, 21 percent said they would be more likely to sign up if the price were reduced to $60.

A second turn-off, cited by 20 percent of those who were unlikely to enroll, was the two-step application process, which requires an in-person interview in addition to filling out an online form. Of that group, 55 percent said they’d be more likely to participate if the enrollment process were entirely online.

The USTA’s conclusion:

According to analysis of this survey data , when applied to the total estimated population of domestic air travelers in the U.S., lowering the enrollment fee and simplifying the application process would motivate seven million previously hesitant travelers to enroll in TSA PreCheck, in addition to those who currently intend to sign up and the 2.5 million currently enrolled members.

While still far short of the 25 million-enrollee goal, increasing the trusted-traveler count to 10 million would be significant, and result in a measurable improvement in wait times for both PreCheck and non-PreCheck members.

What are the odds that the Department of Homeland Security will lower PreCheck prices or streamline the enrollment process? Pretty low, I’d wager. And the odds of any change taking place in time to positively affect summer travel are lower still.

Reader Reality Check

How much of a disincentive is the $85 PreCheck enrollment fee to your signing up?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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