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.