If you are tired of waiting in airport security lines, we may have the solution for you.
If you are a low risk traveler willing to pay $85-$100 and jump through some hoops, you can sign up for the TSA Pre-check or the Global Entry program and get access to the fast lane at the airport.
If you are a member of these programs, and you are traveling domestically, you typically don’t have to take your shoes, coat or belt off, or take your laptop or liquids’ baggie out of your bag as you speed through the special lane.
The TSA Pre-check program costs $85 for five years and you currently have to be a select frequent flyer with Alaska, American, Delta, United and US Airways who is invited to join. You can use the Pre-check lanes when you are flying on one of the above airlines and also Hawaiian and Virgin America. Virgin America, Hawaiian and other airlines are planning on starting their own invite programs, but they are not yet available. Once you are invited, you can fill out an application online then you will need to go to a TSA Pre-check enrollment center to verify your identity and provide fingerprints.
U.S. citizens who are enrolled in one of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Travelers program are automatically enrolled in the TSA Pre-check program. This includes members of Global Entry for worldwide travel, SENTRI for land or sea travel to/from Mexico or NEXUS for land or sea travel to/from Canada. You do have to make sure you include your pass number in the “Known Traveler Number” box when booking your tickets to use the Pre-check program.
The Global Entry fee is $100 for a five year pass. You need to submit your application and you will have to do a follow up interview in person and get fingerprinted. In most cases the interview process should take less than an hour, which is shorter than the amount of time you’ll spend in customs line if you are not a member. If you have medical issues, like if you need a wheelchair or you need to bring along liquid medicine that exceeds the 3.4 ounces allowed in a carry-on by the TSA, you should bring your prescriptions and doctor’s information to your interview and it may take a little longer to get approved. Visit www.globalentry.gov. In most cases both the Global Entry and TSA Pre-check interview offices are located near or in airports.
Even if you are invited by your airline to join the TSA Pre-check program, you should consider the Global Entry program instead because it is only $15 more and it has more benefits. The TSA Pre-check program is good for domestic security lines, but the Global Entry program can also speed you through customs lines. Allowing two hours when connecting from an international flight is usually sufficient, but with the elimination of overtime from the government sequester, those lines can take longer now.
If you already have a passport or you think you will be traveling internationally within the next few years, I don’t see why you wouldn’t apply for Global Entry. If you have no intention of flying outside the U.S. in the next five years, then the TSA Pre-check program would work fine for you. If you are not invited to the Pre-check program, a loophole is you can apply for the Global Entry and for $15 more you don’t have to wait for an airline invite to take advantage of the Pre-check benefits.
I have a friend who was traveling from Atlanta to Mexico City with a companion and my friend was approved for the Global Entry program prior to her trip. When they returned from Mexico, it took my friend 10 minutes to go through customs and security, but it took her companion three hours to go through because she did not have a Global Entry number so she had to wait in the regular line. A word to the wise, if you are traveling with a companion, make sure you both have Global Entry so you don’t have to wait up to three hours for your friend to clear customs.
Besides the benefits of speeding through customs, Global Entry qualifies anywhere where they have the TSA Pre-check program, which is at select gates at 40 U.S. airports. The downside of the program is that it is not available at every gate. The good news is that the TSA is increasing the number of airports and gates where Pre-check is available and plans to add 60 more airports by the end of 2013. To see a list of participating airports and gates, visit www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/tsa-precheck-participating-airports.
In recent years I’ve traveled to Argentina, Chile, Amsterdam, Prague and many other places around the world and I have found that the U.S. is one of the only countries that makes you remove your shoes and pull out your laptop and do other things that don’t make sense when going through airport security. Most of the rest of the world does not have these requirements. I guess this gives job security to the 65,000 plus TSA employees.
One thing to note is that if you have an American Express Platinum or Centurion card, you can get a credit for the $100 Global Entry fee, as long as you charge it on the card. Also, United Mileage Plus Premier 1K and United Premier Platinum members can receive a $100 credit to use towards the fee.
Now remember, just because you are preapproved and part of one of these programs, the TSA and customs can still pull you out of line to do a random check, especially if you’ve just spent time in coffee shops in Amsterdam.
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