When my international flight lands back in the U.S., I have fun trying to beat my times from plane to curb (need to find a bit of fun at the airport). Flying back from Lima, I met Noah who played along with me at JFK as we landed and made our way to the specially marked kiosks. He won our Global Entry game and was at baggage claim first, the irony was that as business class priority passengers our luggage came off last!
Global Entry is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Securities Trusted Traveler Program. While there are four program types (domestic US travel, international, Canada and Mexico), I’m focusing on the two more popular options – Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck (Pre √).
As I travel to London once a year for work, I decided to enroll in Global Entry which is the expedited entry into the U.S.. at airports (think fast pass for travel). Rather than wait in line for an agent to ask you questions, scan and stamp your passport upon your return to the U.S., you get to go to the kiosk to process your entry (available at U.S. International Airports and Canadian airports with U.S. Customs). The cost of Global Entry is $100 for 5 years – $20 a year to not wait in line is so worth it for me! In Philly, the lines are only bad when all of the Caribbean U.S. Airways flights arrive at the same time. Global Entry is a superstar at JFK and Newark in my experience.
You must hold a U.S. Passport to apply for Global Entry (if you don’t have a passport, why not? everyone should have a passport!). You fill out a Global Entry online application and, if approved, schedule an in person interview at your local office. The interviews, depending on location, can often be months away so check other airports you may be flying to/through if you need to have an earlier schedule . My Global Entry interview at PHL lasted about 15 minutes as I was asked questions on where I’ve traveled to (having been to over 40 countries, I only mentioned the most recent ones I could remember) and then my fingerprints were scanned.
When you arrive in the U.S. and go to the Global Entry Kiosk these are the easy steps:
Step 1 – Scan passport
Step 2 – Press fingerprints on the screen to verify identity and look up at the camera (this makes my DMV photo look like a glamour shot)
Step 3 – Answer questions – the same ones on the blue form handed out on the airplane
Step 4 – Retrieve ticket to give to the Immigration agents as you exit the International Hall (note there is often a special Global Entry lane to bypass the wait to give your ticket to the agent)
Global Entry allows use of the kiosk or the flexibility to use the regular lanes for when I travel with others such as my niece.
Pre-Check (or Pre √)
You’ve probably seen the sign at the airport in the U.S. The Pre Check (Pre √) line allows approved travelers expedited security screening as you don’t need to remove belts, jackets, shoes, laptops or your liquids (3-1-1) bag. You still go through the detector but the goal is to have the approved travelers go through security quicker and lessen the wait times in the regular lines. Since background checks, fingerprints, etc. are on file, you are seen as a low security risk thereby needing less scrutiny. Enrollment in Pre-Check is $85 for 5 years ($17 a year) and similar to Global Entry, there is an in-person interview. Pre-Check is at certain U.S. airports and terminals so this may affect your decision to enroll. If not already a member take note of the lines on your next airport visit.
Global Entry vs. Pre-Check – Should You Bother?
The time and hassle saved in the security lines is worth the cost, in my opinion, no matter how often you travel. Or if you are like me and have gotten up close and way too personal with a TSA agent who has felt you up and down, then I’m sure you’ll agree, the money is well spent to avoid that invasive and uncomfortable pat-down. I’m sure you’ve wasted $17 or $20 on movie snacks this weekend so put that cost to saving time (and your waistline) when you travel.
It’s important to also know your home airport and your travel patterns when considering your options. For example, in Philly when my friends and I were traveling to Boston at 11 a.m., both the regular security line and Pre √ were empty so in this case, having Pre Check wasn’t a time-saving benefit. In the morning when the security line is over a block long, having Pre √ is a blessing to get to the gate, morning coffee or the lounge cookies quicker.
If you are a family, then I’d say you need to be more frequent travelers to make sense of the costs but that’s really your call on the cost of convenience. In New Orleans, the Pre √ lane was empty while there were three very, very long snaking lines of people in regular security lines. I walked past all three lines (to evil stares of course) and breezed security in about 2 minutes. Kids don’t always like to wait in lines so maybe the extra cost of Pre Check is worth it to avoid a meltdown?
Global Entry with Pre √ access costs $100 for 5 years
Pre √ only cost $85 for 5 years
Security Breeze – Good for All (willing to pay of course)!
Once you have your Global Entry or Pre √ Known Traveler Number (KTN), it’s important to manually add it to each airline’s online profile as well as give it to your travel agent to insert into each air booking. This allows your profile to trigger the Pre √ on your boarding pass. I forgot to let the travel agent know on a bespoke booking and waited in the regular security line for almost an hour! Lesson learned! For more information on adding your KTN, check out this TSA blog post.
Note that there may still be the “random” secondary screening. I’ve still been “randomly” selected for a residue test. This involves a swab of my bags and fingers (given how many times I’ve done this over the years vs. my frequent traveler friends who’ve never done it my random doesn’t quite seem so random).
For me, the Global Entry program with the added Pre √ has been worth every penny! Here are my Global Entry best times so far, can you beat them?
Philly (PHL) – British Airways plane to curb (includes waiting for checked bag time) 26 minutes
New York (JFK) – LAN Airlines plane to baggage claim – 15 minutes (walking time included)
New York (JFK) – South African Airways plane to curb to taxi to Penn Station (morning commute traffic)- 1 hour