Reduce your TSA and border control airport hassle with Global Entry

Global Entry Kiosks, photo courtesy of CBP

Are you a terrorist? I’m not. I’m just a middle-aged writer and photographer who travels frequently for work and leisure. Like many air travelers, I’m unhappy with TSA’s (Transportation Security Administration) and CBP’s (US Customs and Border Protection) approach to security, which lumps me together with criminals and terrorists to be scanned or frisked in order to travel by air as if I’m a public enemy.

I know many leisure travelers who have substantially reduced the frequency of their air travel due to the hassle of TSA’s and CBP’s “one size fits all” approach to security, which they consider too onerous, too time consuming, too unpleasant, a waste of their time and a poor utilization of taxpayer dollars.

There is a program, administered by Customs and Border Patrol, which can eliminate much of the frustration, angst and hassle of going through TSA security. Plus, if you’re returning to the US, from another country via air, US passport control and customs.

The program is CBP’s Global Entry. Through it, CBP and TSA finally, and significantly, get away from their “one size fits all approach.”

With Global Entry, individuals apply to the Federal Government to be vetted by CBP, then, if approved and subsequently enrolled in the program, are considered “trusted travelers.” “Trusted travelers” can proceed through an expedited passport control, and customs process when returning to the US from abroad.

My recent experiences when returning to the US from Europe have been “slow.” I found that while CBP personnel fulfilled their duties with professionalism, unfortunately, at passport control there were too few booths manned, causing the lines to be long, and the wait time for processing more than half an hour. Then, after retrieving luggage, the time it took to exit customs was also longer than necessary.

If the airport is a Global Entry point (At this time, 20 US airports are Global Entry points.), “trusted travelers” proceed to a kiosk, while other travelers wait in line to see a CBP officer. At the kiosk “trusted travelers” scan their passports, look at the camera, then scan their fingerprints to confirm their identity. They fill in their Customs Declaration on the kiosk too. The kiosk will issue a receipt.

If everything goes right, “trusted travelers” proceed to pickup their checked luggage, then exit the Customs area turning in the receipt. If there’s a problem, as indicated by the receipt, or if the kiosks aren’t working, “trusted travelers” must see a CBP officer, but go straight to the front of the line.

Typically “trusted travelers” go through the entire CBP process in five minutes or less.

There’s also huge benefit for Global Entry “members” at TSA airport security.

Global Entry “members” are automatically eligible for TSA’s Pre✓ program which provides expedited screening at TSA airport security checkpoints, for both domestic and international travel.

TSA’s Pre✓ expedited processing means:

  • Travelers use a special lane to go through security more quickly,
  • Travelers may keep their shoes, belt and and a lightweight jacket on,
  • Laptops don’t have to be removed from carry-on luggage,
  • Liquid’s baggies don’t have to be removed from carry-on luggage, and
  • Travelers get to walk through a metal detector, rather than a full-body scanner.

Traveling through a Pre✓ line is like going through security, pre 9/11, when air travel was much easier.

To use the Pre✓ line all you need to do is enter your Global Entry “trusted traveler” ID when purchasing your airplane ticket, where asked, so it will become part of your boarding pass.

Before you start cheering, “At last, at last!” there are a few caveats of which you should be cognizant.

Global Entry requires a $100, non-refundable application fee, even if you are found ineligible for the program. Not all US “international” airports are Global Entry airports. When they’re not, Global Entry “members” don’t have front of the line privileges. Global Entry “membership” must be renewed every 5 years.

In order to be unpredictable, periodically, individual “trusted travelers” won’t be permitted to use the TSA Pre✓ line.

Right now the TSA Pre✓ program is just being rolled out nationally, having completed testing. As a result, it’s currently operating in only 11 airports, and is limited to those flying on American or Delta Airlines.

This year, fortunately, the TSA Pre✓ program is being expanded to 24 more airports across the country, which will mean that the US’ 25 busiest airports will be participating in the program. In addition, US Airways, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines are joining American and Delta in the program this year, so of the five largest US airlines, only Southwest is not currently slated to participate in TSA Pre✓.

I recently went through the process of becoming a Global Entry “member.” It was easy. The online application took about 15 minutes to submit. Within a couple of weeks I had my interview with CBP, at my local airport, which is a Global Entry airport, and received final approval for the program. I received my Global Entry card a few days later.

For frequent air travelers, especially if you fly internationally and return to a Global Entry airport, I think the $100 application fee to enter the Global Entry program is well worth it.

  • Anonymous

    Ned:  I’ve been meaning to enroll and even have the information. Thanks for the push.  

  • Dfedmonds

    I have been a Global Entry member since late 2008.  It is one of the greater programs the federal government has ever implemented.  Since there is typically no line at the kiosks I can get through the process in a minute or two.  As a priority passenger my luggage is generally on the carousel early and I am one of the first out of the door.  My regret is that it has taken TSA so long to implement the Pre Check program which is still not even available on United.

  • Michael Anisfeld

    I have used GE since the program opened in Chicago, and as it happens this morning using GE took all of 2 minutes at O’Hare (and of course as I never check baggage, it was 2 minutes and out the door to a taxi – which took longer to arrive than GE to clear me). But I’ve never heard, not have, a GE card – is this new? The next step is, of course, to combine GE with Nexus (teh trans-Canadian border card), but then we’d have to negotiate with the Canadians as Nexus works in both directions across the border.

    I agree with you, Global Entry was the best thing the government did for frequent travellers.

  • Ned Levi

    Thanks for your comment Michael.

    US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began issuing Global Entry radio frequency identification (RFID) cards on July 12, 2011 to new GE members. There is no additional cost for the RFID card for new members as it’s now included in the application fee.

    For Global Entry members who were approved for the program prior to July 12, 2011 and wish to obtain a RFID card, they may request one via their Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account for a $15 fee.

    At this point Global Entry cards will not be valid for entry into Canada via the NEXUS lanes and kiosks. That being said, Global Entry members, can use their GE cards in SENTRI lanes, but must register their vehicle with CBP and schedule an appointment at a SENTRI enrollment center to have a 7-point vehicle inspection conducted before using the SENTRI lanes. GE card holders can use their cards in the NEXUS lanes returning to the US.

  • Ned Levi

    Thanks for your comment.

    At least precheck is coming to the busiets 25 airports this year, and United is one of the new participating airlines. There is no clear timetable at this point, however, so it’s unkown when United will be an active participant, and have it at the airports you frequent.

  • Ned Levi

    Thanks for the comment. You’re welcome.

  • Michelle

    Once you can apply when living outside USA I am in!  Can you interview at an Embassy?  Any word on when non-domestic airlines may be included in the TSA Pre-check program?  (if ever?)  Flying in/out a lot, I find the non-american airlines offer me better service.

  • Anne-Music and Markets

    So very worth it! Breezed through IAD yesterday on our way home from Europe with Global Entry, and believe it or not, our luggage was first on the belt! Think it was the fastest we’ve ever gotten out of the airport!

  • Charlie Leocha

    Global Entry works in Nexus lanes, just not in the Nexus kiosks.

  • Ned Levi

    Global Entry interviews are not conducted at any US embassies or consulates. The interviews are conducted at Global Entry Enrollment Centers only. The Centers are located solely in the Continental US, plus one in Honolulu at Honolulu International Airport, and one in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at San Juan-Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport. Perhaps you could apply a bit before you return to the US on a trip, so you could schedule your interview at the Global Entry airport near where you come into the US. That might work.

    Not even all domestic airlines are included in the TSA Precheck program. Southwest Airlines, for example, is not currently slated to participate in TSA precheck, and they are the 3rd largest US airline. I suspect the roll out to non-US airlines might be a long way off, but you never know.

  • Griefanpain

    IMPORTANT: Anyone with a misdemeanor conviction within the last 10 years or two misdemeanor convictions in their lifetime is NOT ELIGIBLE for the program. I assume felons are also ineligible. Of course, you are not told this before you spend your $100. While I was being interviewed, another gentleman was denied entry into the GOES program because he had a DUI eight years ago. TSA and CBP do not do a good job of publicizing this requirement before they get your money, so make sure you are squeaky clean or you are throwing your money out the door.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, Ned. How could this possibly make sense to any thinking person? By submitting to an unreasonable personal invasion by the government and $100 you can have your constitutionally guaranteed 4th amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure by the government restored to you!   

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