Some paperwork and hassle now will save you hours in airport lines later

February 15, 2012

If you travel frequently for business or pleasure, you might want to look into joining the Global Entry Program, in which I enrolled last week.

 It was not an easy process, but I believe that it will end up saving many hours in airport lines. This topic is important to our company because many of us travel frequently and because we represent the Metro Nashville Airport Authority, which might soon be affected by this program.

 If you hold a Global Entry credential, you can bypass long U.S. Customs lines when re-entering the country. You simply walk up to a kiosk aside from where other travelers are standing in lines, and you swipe your Global Entry pass and your passport to re-enter the country.

 The airports that allow use of the credential are the 18 facilities that have the most foreign travel, plus San Juan, Puerto Rico.

 Perhaps even more appealing about this card is the fact that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is now allowing travelers to bypass many of the rigors of outbound passenger security screening if they hold the pass. No more removing shoes, coat, belt, laptops from bags, etc. – if you have this privilege.

 The reduced screening program, called TSA-Pre, is a newer benefit of the Global Entry program, and is not accepted everywhere. As of now, it is being used only for foreign and domestic passengers who fly on Delta or American Airlines, and who are traveling from airports in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami and Minneapolis.

 But there are indications that the pilot program is growing rapidly. United Airlines, US Air and Alaska Airlines are scheduled to become part of it this year. And an additional 28 airports were added to the list by the Department of Homeland Security last week and will begin the process during 2012.

 Now here’s the catch: It costs $100 for a five-year pass, and it involves about 45 minutes of paperwork and a personal interview at a Customs office. And that’s not just any U.S. Customs and Border Protection office. You have to go to one of the offices set up for Global Entry, and the closest one to Nashville is in Atlanta.

 Here are the steps that I had to take to get the credential:

  • I went to and called up the application form. Warning: It has a lot of questions. Aside from providing background about the places you have traveled and other information about yourself, you need three documents handy: your driver’s license, your birth certificate and your passport.
  • I couldn’t find my birth certificate and had to write to the state of Ohio. Add another $20 and a week’s wait to my experience.
  • I found that if you have to jump off of the online application, they make it easy for you to go to and from it over the course of several days. Just put in your username and password, and you are right back where you left off.
  • Once completed, you pay the $100 by credit card and send the application. The way I found out about this credential in the first place was that my American Express Platinum card was offering to pay the full cost of enrollment. So my wife and I didn’t have to pay for ours. United Airlines has a similar payment offer. You might check around to see if any of your cards or airlines memberships help.
  • The Customs folks processed my application in a day or two, and then I was on the clock – I had 30 days to schedule my interview. If you travel a lot through big airports, the interview process shouldn’t be much of a hassle. Many of the airports with Global Entry kiosks, like Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, also have interview centers in the airport. In Atlanta, it’s in Terminal E.
  • While you have 30 days to actually book the interview, you have 90 days to have it. In my case, I booked mine at a Customs office near Atlanta’s airport for about 45 days after receiving my preliminary approval. I drove to Atlanta to do the interview on Friday, when I was meeting one of my daughters anyway.
  • The address given on the Global Entry website for Atlanta was wrong, but I found the right building and the right office after a few minutes of searching. (This office was outside of the airport property since I wasn’t an air passenger.)
  • I showed up 40 minutes early for my interview, but they whisked me right in because they didn’t have any others in line. The Customs official asked me about four easy questions about my travel habits and occupation; he fingerprinted me and shot my picture.
  • He explained some of the basics of the program, with the most interesting piece being that you avoid outbound security screening (TSA-Pre) by filing your new Global Entry number with the Delta and American Airlines frequent flyer clubs with which you are enrolled. From then on, the airline issuing your ticket will mark it to show you are a Global Entry enrollee. You still have to show your card at the beginning of the security line.

 The theory behind this program is that by speeding up screening for frequent travelers with passports (comprising 22 percent of the U.S. population), more time can be spent screening the others. You can decide whether you want to be among “the others.”

 I will be interested to see this all works out. I am hoping for a day when Southwest Airlines and Nashville are added to the list of places using the system. I know, however, that we will appreciate skipping those long customs lines after a long international flight.

 Might be back in a few months with a follow-up report about how this is going.




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