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Last month, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it would “significantly reduce” access to PreCheck lanes to non-vetted travelers. While this means shorter lines for those who signed up for the program, not all aviation stakeholders are praising the decision. The U.S. Travel Association (USTA), representing over 1,200 organizations in the American travel industry, believes passenger convenience and airport security can coexist.
The most recent change marks the second move that forces travelers to pay the $85 fee for PreCheck. In September 2015, the TSA ended the “Managed Inclusion” program, which allowed “low-risk” travelers to utilize PreCheck lanes with clearance from agents. However, the USTA claims the system could benefit from better management, from how much travelers pay for PreCheck to how the application process is handled.
Although the TSA reports more than four million frequent flyers have signed up for PreCheck (which is available at more than 180 airports and 30 airlines), the number of vetted passengers is currently far below the agency’s stated goal of 25 million by 2019. Is it possible to improve the program to attract more travelers? According to the USTA, there are steps the agency could take to encourage more enrollment:
1. Lower the Cost for Families and Corporate Groups
Currently, there are four ways travelers can access PreCheck lanes when they fly. Frequent flyers can either sign up for PreCheck by itself, or sign up for one of the three international trusted traveler programs: Global Entry, NEXUS or SENTRI.
The fees for convenience at the airport can climb as families sign up multiple travelers. Global Entry requires a non-refundable $100 fee per applicant, while applying to PreCheck costs an $85 fee per applicant (both for five-year memberships), with no discounts given for multiple applicants within a corporation or a family. By lowering the fees for multiple applicants (such as companies that require employees to travel, or families with multiple children over 12), the TSA could encourage more travelers to sign up for the program.
In truth: Certain credit cards do allow travelers a credit for Global Entry or PreCheck enrollment, including The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and the Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you already have membership in these programs, you can pay the application fee with your eligible card to cover someone else’s enrollment fee. This can help reduce out-of-pocket costs if you want to sign up multiple family members, but you’ll need several premium travel rewards cards if you want to get enough fee credits to cover everyone.
The USTA’s suggestion of discounting enrollment for families is not a foreign idea, as Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a sister agency under the Department of Homeland Security, applies a similar policy for SENTRI. Furthermore, corporate subsidies are already being used in the private sector; Microsoft currently reimburses employees who sign up for PreCheck.
2. Roll REAL ID Compliance Into the Application Process
With provisions of the REAL ID act set to go into place by 2018, many travelers will soon need to carry approved state identification or another compliant document, such as a passport card, to pass the TSA checkpoint. The USTA suggests that the TSA could leverage these increased security requirements to encourage affected travelers to sign up for PreCheck.
Currently, travelers applying for PreCheck must provide one or two forms of identification during their in-person interview, with options including a driver’s license or state ID, a passport and a birth certificate. To improve the number of applicants signing up at an airport application center, the USTA suggests allowing those from a REAL ID-compliant state to provide only their driver’s license or state ID during the in-person interview. The organization claims this step could increase more spontaneous applications when travelers transiting through airports.
In truth: As it stands today, 26 states and territories issue a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or ID card, with 20 more receiving extensions through October 2017. If the additional states become compliant by the deadline, the TSA suggests up to 90% of the American population would carry a REAL ID. The idea of a single-document PreCheck application could hold merit, as passengers from all but five states would be able to sign up by holding one identification card only. However, if the remaining states don’t become compliant, travelers from those areas would potentially carry two identifications anyways — allowing them to spontaneously sign up for PreCheck at an airport enrollment center, but inconveniencing those who come from a REAL ID-compliant state.
3. Clarify the Relationship Between PreCheck and Third-Party Programs
Going through the TSA PreCheck application process is not the only way you can currently get access to faster airport security lanes. Private aviation security partner CLEAR operates in 19 airports across the United States using biometric information to confirm travelers’ identities, and charging a $179 annual membership fee. From the CLEAR kiosk, passengers who have PreCheck are escorted to a PreCheck lane, where they are screened according to the program’s standards.
With the proposition of more private airport security companies launching in the years ahead, the USTA is calling for a more defined relationship between the TSA and other agencies. In particular, the trade group wants a clear regulation structure easily understood by airlines, airports and frequent flyers.
In truth: Currently, CLEAR is the only company providing third-party identity confirmation at airports across the United States — and its deployment is quite limited compared to that of PreCheck. As the product grows to serve additional airports, the need to educate travelers about the different programs will grow. Until then, those who are enrolled in CLEAR may already understand the difference between the program and traditional PreCheck.
While the TSA claims PreCheck will be the future for airline passengers, there’s certainly room for improvement in the program. Although not all of these ideas may be feasible in the near future, the USTA’s suggestions are a starting point to improve the PreCheck application experience and encourage more travelers to sign up.
Featured image courtesy of Joe Raedle via Getty Images.