International Travelers Like Global Entry VIP Speed Lane

International travelers arriving in the United States this summer are often faced with a waiting time of three hours or longer to clear U.S. Customs. If their first stop in the U.S. is not their final destination, that wait can easily add up to missed connections too. In March, with several international flights on my upcoming travel schedule, I took a look at what could be done to speed things up.

“It’s a major problem,” said Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president at Airlines for America in a Wall Street Journal report. “People get very, very frustrated when they spend seven or nine or even as long as 17 hours on a flight and then wait another two to three hours in line. People get really unhappy.”

I saw that unhappiness first hand at Orlando International Airport (MCO), my hometown airport and one that sees a bunch of families as the gateway to a number of central Florida theme parks and attractions. It has always been good to be an American at Orlando customs where the line for U.S. citizens is a fraction of what those from other countries face. Still, with recent government cutbacks, lines and waiting time for all had increased.Looking into the Trusted Traveler program, I liked the idea of speeding through the process of entering the United States. I rarely have anything to declare and travel enough internationally to make the $100 fee, good for five years, worth it. After completing an online application, U.S. Customs and Border Protection performed a background check, conditionally approved the application and then allowed scheduling of a one-on-one interview with a customs agent at a choice of local locations. That interview took no more than five minutes and off I went with my Global Entry ID card, something I would never need again.

Arriving in the United States, program members go directly to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport, scan fingertips for verification then make a customs declaration. The kiosk issues a transaction receipt, which is very much like a second fast pass, used to access a second fast line after baggage has been claimed and others are being checked again.

Entering the U.S. in Atlanta (ATL) on a flight from London, the process could not have been smoother. I walked from the plane to my connection with just a brief stop at the Global Entry kiosk, the luggage claim area and on through customs.

A bonus to Global Entry is that it also admits participants to the TSA Pre✓™ program, normally reserved for frequent fliers of certain airlines. In the dedicated TSA Pre✓™ lanes at participating airports screening might not require removing shoes, 3-1-1 liquids, laptops, belts or taking off a jacket.

The down side? If traveling with others who are not part of the Global Entry or TSA Pre✓™ program, I still have to wait for them but can do so at a comfortable airport lounge.

Gaining Global Entry: A Simple Process For Frequent Fliers

Today’s frequent travelers are looking for any way possible to cut lines and make the travel process shorter, faster and more pleasant. Now, for just $100, this goal is easier than ever.

The Global Entry program from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency allows “expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.”

The program is marketed at frequent international travelers, but there is no minimum number of trips needed to qualify for the program.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You arrive from an international flight and proceed to a small kiosk machine (located at these airports), where you’ll scan your passport, place your fingertips on a machine for recognition, and verify basic information about your flight. You’ll also make a customs declaration and have your photo taken.
  2. Next, you’ll get a receipt and head directly to the baggage claim.

Of course, travelers must be low-risk, meaning that they are U.S. citizens with no criminal or customs violations history and that they are generally upstanding citizens with no federal, local or state agency attempting to collect from them.

Sounds simple enough, right? What many travelers don’t know is that Global Entry also qualifies travelers for the new TSA Pre-Check program, which allows travelers flying certain airlines (Alaska, American, Delta, United and US Airways) to keep their shoes on and laptops and liquids in their carry-on bags at security.

After a marathon session in the customs line coming back from Toronto earlier this year, I decided to test the program for myself. The online application was no more difficult than a standard job application, and several weeks later, I was ready with a conditional approval. The fee was a non-refundable $100, which places me in the program for five years. The waiting period for an interview was long – about 60 days – but many airports do allow walk-in appointments.I watched a six-minute video about the program before a brief consultation with a security officer. The interview ran through basic background questions, I was asked if I’d ever been arrested, had moving violations other than basic traffic tickets, or had any other criminal history that they should know about. The officer took my photo, scanned my fingerprints, and sent me on my way. The next morning, my application was approved.

These simple steps could save me an hour or more in lines at the airport and cost only $100 for five years.

For frequent travelers, even those who travel out of the country only once per year, the program is well worth it.

[Image Credit: Flickr via CBP Photography]

Los Cabos becomes Mexico’s first destination for global entry and pre-clearance programs

Later this month, Los Cabos will become the first area in Mexico to offer Global Entry kiosks for international travelers arriving at the San Jose del Cabo International Airport (SJD).

Beginning on May 24, Global Entry kiosks will be stationed within the airport to allow pre-approved, low-risk travelers to avoid standing in line and proceed directly to the kiosk for expedited clearance upon arrival to Los Cabos. Additionally, Los Cabos is in the final stages of government approval to become the first destination in Mexico to offer border pre-clearance, which will provide added convenience for travelers upon arrival as well as departure. In the case of the latter, U.S. Customs Agents will be stationed at SJD to provide streamlined border and Customs procedures, significantly reducing the amount of time required to clear customs upon re-entry to the U.S. This new service, beginning later this year if approved, will also enhance ease of travel and expediency from regional gateways, where airports may not be equipped to process Customs directly.

“Los Cabos is proud to pioneer these exciting U.S. Customs and Border Protection programs in Mexico for international travelers,” said Gonzalo Franyutti, President of the Los Cabos Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The establishment of Global Entry kiosks at SJD confirms that Los Cabos is one of the most desirable tourism destinations in the world.”

Although this program is intended for frequent travelers, there is no minimum number of trips necessary to qualify.

While we’re thrilled to see it become faster and easier to visit one of our favorite vacation destinations, we can’t help but wonder if this is a good idea, given the violence in other areas of the country. Could making it easier for travelers to enter and exit Los Cabos open this heretofore safe area to problems? We surely hope not.

[Flickr via Brenda Blue]

Cockpit Chronicles: How to bypass U.S. Customs with Global Entry

Sometimes it seems like there’s more time spent standing in line than actually flying when you’re traveling. There’s a line at check-in, security, customs and immigration, the gate, and on the other end while deplaning, going through customs and immigration and finally baggage claim. International travelers know that the U.S. immigration line that forms when coming into the United States can be one of the longest lines they’ll experience.

Fortunately for crew members while at work, we’re given either an employee line for security or allowed to move to the front of the line. Customs in many other countries are abbreviated for pilots and flight attendants, but back at home, the crew line can be even slower than the line for passengers.

After flying for many hours to get to the U.S., overseas pilots and flight attendants, experience even longer delays while going through our immigration lines. Each time they come here, which can be as much as five times a month, they have to submit fingerprints and have their photo taken. And for some reason, the computer takes quite a few minutes to process for each crew member. It’s especially irksome for them, since U.S. crews arriving in their country experience little or no customs interrogation at all.

So we cringe anytime we see a 747 that has just arrived before us in Boston, since it often means we’ll be behind the 18 crew members coming from France or Germany. But we’ve discovered a way around these lines that’s available to all U.S. travelers.
The best way to bypass all this hassle is by using the new “Global Entry” program. This almost secretive ‘line-skipping’ club is available to frequent travelers as well. Imagine arriving from your trip, and instead of waiting in line, you simply walk up to an ATM style kiosk and after just 60 seconds, you’re on your way.

But the first step to be registered for Global Entry is to sign up at their website and answer a few questions in preparation for the background check.

The process took me about 15 minutes, mostly because because I had to list all the countries I had visited in the past year. After submitting a fee of $100 to be in the program for the next five years, I was told that I’d be contacted when the checks were complete, after which, I could then schedule an interview with a Customs agent.

I never actually received that notification, but I looked up my status after a few days and discovered that my background check was complete and I could schedule an interview online.

The options were wide open for times and dates, so I picked the soonest available slot. I was anxious to sail through customs after my next trip, while waving at the rest of my coworkers as I passed by.

The interview took place at the airport, not far from where we normally exit the terminal after our screening. After collecting all ten fingerprints and answering a few simple questions, I was good to go. No card was needed-my passport would serve as the key.

At the interview, they took a moment to demonstrate the steps involved when I used the ATM style kiosk next to the customs line. First, I had my passport, a non-RFID chipped older style version, scanned while a camera looked at my face. Then I placed my fingers over a scanner before answering a few questions. In the future, if I’m carrying less than the maximum exemption of goods for crew members, I won’t have to fill out any declarations paperwork, a nice bonus I hadn’t expected.

The kiosk knows which flight you were on and, after confirming the flight information, it prints out a piece of paper that you then take to the customs officer just before leaving the terminal.

I’ve now been using Global Entry for almost a year and I have yet to stand in line for a kiosk in Miami, New York, San Juan or Boston. In the beginning, there was a bit of confusion as to how much was required of someone using Global Entry, but they now just look at the receipt before letting me pass.

It seems to be the best kept secret for frequent international travelers, since I’ve never encountered anyone else in line.

If you fly more than three times a year, I’d recommend taking the time to get registered with Global Entry. I only wish it could be made available for foreign crews and travelers as well.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out Plane Answers or follow him on Twitter @veryjr.