In light of recent events in Brussels and Paris and the state of the world, you can expect to endure tight airport security in the U.S. and around the world from now on. What exactly does this mean? The biggest impact for travelers will be long security lines. Obviously, you have to adhere to TSA packing guidelines too. But back to the lines. According to experts, travelers should be prepared to wait an average of two hours at major airports during peak travel times, such as summer and holidays. It may not take that long but if you aren’t at the airport 2-3 hours before your flight you run the risk of missing your flight if security lines are long. So is there any relief for travelers?
Yes! Travelers have a couple of options to make things a bit better. You can apply to be pre-screened and skip the long lines. There are currently two programs: Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. Here’s how they work:
Global Entry is run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and allows “pre-approved, low risk” travelers an expedited means of clearing customs upon reentering the country. Travelers with Global Entry use kiosks that read their passports, fingerprints, and customs declarations, allowing them to bypass the customs official and the accompanying line. Though this is primarily to benefit travelers coming into the country, some international customs authorities also recognize Global Entry. One thing worth noting is that Global Entry travelers are automatically qualified for TSA PreCheck. To be eligible you must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Dutch citizens, South Korean citizens and Mexican nationals are also eligible. Canadian citizens should use the NEXUS program. You cannot have been convicted of a criminal offense and you must have a valid passport or U.S. permanent resident card. You must fill out a lengthy application that includes your employment history and much more and then schedule a meeting at the closest global enrollment office (which will most likely be 2-3 hour drive unless you live in a major city) to complete a long interview and fingerprinting. You have already passed a background check by the time this interview is scheduled so this is supposed to be just a formality. This process initially happens pretty quickly with pre-approval occurring within a few days. However, depending on where you live, it can take weeks or months for an interview opening to complete your application. Global Entry costs $100 and is good for five years. I have read posts from other travel bloggers highly encouraging travelers to get Global Entry. My opinion is that if you don’t do a lot of overseas travel it is not worth the money and hassle.
TSA PreCheck is another Trusted Traveler Program designed to make clearing security at airports much easier. Having TSA PreCheck means you go to a separate line and do not have to remove your shoes or take out your laptop and liquids or go through a body scanner. This saves you a lot of time and aggravation. Also, this is a much simpler and easier process. You go to the closest facility (and there are a lot more of them than global entry offices) and you can walk in or schedule an appointment. I walked right in and was told that I was next in line. A woman who had scheduled an appointment was taken in before me but she was done in less than ten minutes. I, too, was done with my interview process in less than ten minutes. All told, I spent seventeen minutes in the TSA PreCheck office. Nice! They scanned my valid passport (required documentation) and then asked me to confirm my contact information. I was fingerprinted and then signed my application. I was given a receipt and told that I would receive a phone call in about two weeks to give me my Trusted Traveler Number. I provide this number every time I book an airline ticket so that when I show up at the airport my ticket proves that I am pre-screened and pre-approved. The average wait time is 0-5 minutes on average for TSA PreCheck travelers. Nice! The fee is $85 and TSA PreCheck is good for five years.