Traveling with Global Entry TSA Precheck

plane2Even though I am British by birth, I am not found of queues, aka standing in line. So when I heard about Global Entry, the preclearance program that sends you to the front of the U.S. Customs line when you return from abroad, I signed up right away. And now that you can use your Global Entry Trusted Traveler number to join the TSA Precheck program, I couldn’t be happier.

Signing up for Global Entry requires a little effort and $100, but it’s worth it. You start by going to this website, filling out an application and paying the nonrefundable $100 fee. Your application is reviewed and if everything looks right, you get an email prompting you to go to the nearest Global Entry Enrollment Centers, usually at your local airport. You go in, chat with a customs officer briefly, give them your fingerprints and get your photograph taken. A week or so later your card is mailed to you and it’s good for five years.

For international travel, having the card means you don’t have to fill out the customs form on the airplane or wait in the often long line at U.S. Customs. Instead, you head straight for one of the Global Entry kiosks, insert your passport, picture page open, into the reader and follow the instructions on the screen. You’ll be asked the same questions that are on the printed form, but just have to touch the screen to answer yes or no. This is timed, so don’t take all day about it. Not all airports have Global Entry kiosks, but most of the big hubs are getting them, which is where lines tend to be a problem anyway.

Pro tip: You have to place your fingers on a glass panel to prove you are the owner of the correct set of fingerprints. Try laying your fingers flat rather than pushing down on the tips; that can warp the sworls. (Sometimes the machines act up, as machines are wont to do. In this case, you have the right to go to the head of a line, although make eye contact and wait for the officer to wave you on if you don’t want to start a small riot.) When things work right, you get a printed receipt which you show to whoever’s monitoring the exit line at passport control, get it checked, and then either pick up your bags at Baggage Claim, or, if you have just carry-on luggage, proceed to Customs, following the “Nothing to Declare,” sign, unless of course you do. There’s usually a dedicated line marked “Global Entry,” you go there and hand your printed receipt to the officer and that’s it.

For the TSA Precheck advantage,  you need to enter your Trusted Traveler number when making reservations. This number is on your Global Entry card. Also check your frequent flier programs, many will let you enter this number into your profile which is convenient. Make sure your boarding pass has the designation “TSA Precheck” on it and when you present this and your ID to the control officer at the front of the security line you’ll be directed to the Precheck line. Having this clearance means you can keep on most shoes, light coat, belt, and you don’t have to take your laptop and 3-ounce liquids out of your carry-on. I did this for the first time recently and it is so, so much less hassle than having to half-strip and then hurriedly get dressed at the other end, all the while keeping an eye on your iPad to make sure it doesn’t go, shall we say, astray.

If you don’t have a Global Entry number you can apply directly to the TSA here.

A few other countries are accepting Global Entry as a Customs shortcut including New Zealand. You can also apply for expedited entry through the Dutch Privium program, the Korean SES program, and the Mexican Viajero Confiable.

I suppose ultimately, everyone will be in the Trusted Traveler line, which will kind of cut into the whole shortcut thing. Don’t know what will happen then. But for now, being in these programs is as much fun as zipping across the Bay Bridge in the carpool lane at 8:30 a.m.

The only hard part is keeping that smug look off your face. I recommend thinking about the fact that airline seats have now shrunk to about 17 inches across.