Millions of people pay for the privilege of leaving their shoes and belts on and their laptops in their bags during airport security screenings. But a study out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says by making the TSA's PreCheck program free—it's currently $85 for the regular background check and a five-year membership—lines will be made shorter, the TSA will save money, and everyone's life will be a whole lot easier at our congested airports, the Los Angeles Times reports. The problem is hitting the sweet spot of having enough travelers going through the expedited PreCheck lines to justify the cost expended on staffing those dedicated lines. The original goal by this point was to have 25 million signees in the program and others like it (such as Customs and Border Protection's $100 Global Entry program), but by May, per Bloomberg, not even half that number had come aboard.
The study published in the Journal of Transportation Security checks out different scenarios to see which would end up paying off for both the TSA and consumers, per a release. Although getting rid of the five-year fee of $85 for 25 million travelers would result in losing $425 million a year, if every traveler who signed up went through PreCheck at least six times a year, the cost savings would amount to $459 million annually from decreased staff and equipment costs—a net savings of $34 million per year. "It will facilitate more people going through checkpoints more quickly, make the system more secure, and produce a cost savings for the TSA," Sheldon Jacobson, the study's lead author, says in the release. "It's a win-win-win situation." A noted drawback: If the fee were waived only for frequent fliers, occasional travelers might be miffed at having to pay, as would those already paid up.