“Place your four fingers on the digital screen. Now your thumb…”
No, I was not being arrested and locked up in some foreign jail (but that would likely make for a far more interesting post), I was at Newark-Liberty International Airport (okay, like a jail to some) having my Global Entry Interview.
Global Entry is a program offered by the United States government’s Department of Customs and Homeland Security. It basically clears you as a “good citizen” and enables you to go to a special counter, a VIP kiosk, if you will, when going through immigration upon returning to US airports. It also qualifies you for something called TSA Pre-Check, which enables you to have a possibly more attractive benefit – the ability to cruise through security in a special lane where you do not have to remove your shoes, your jacket or take out your liquids or laptop. It’s like a time machine basically transporting you back to 1999, when things were calm and easy for all at our airports. Security was a breeze.
But nowadays this comes at a price. $100 to be exact. This gets you in the program for five years before having to reapply again. It’s only $20 a year and considering all the traveling and flying I do, I finally decided it was worth it. In fact, I really have no good answer as to why I hadn’t signed up sooner except that it’s been slowly evolving and improving. It wasn’t until I realized that it came with the TSA pre-check security perk (which I read about on a recent post over on MileNerd.com), that made me give it a second look. Since I don’t travel internationally as much as I was during my round the world trip and am always saving money where I can, Initially I didn’t think it was worth it.
But now that I have it. I’m never going back.
The Old Days
It is kind of sad that nowadays travel has changed so much in that we have to pay extra to bring luggage, pay so many change fees, or pay extra to not take an hour in the security line. But on the flip side, travel is also more accessible than it’s ever been with savings from budget airlines (I heart Southwest) and different flight sites like OptionsAway.com that allows you to lock in the airfare price of a flight before booking for a small fee (again like we used to do for free).
How do you get it?
When it first started about two years ago, Pre-Check was harder to participate in. You had to go through your airline of choice and it was usually reserved for high-status, million-miler types. Then PreCheck also became open to those who belong to Global Entry. Global Entry costs $100 for five years and requires a background check, fingerprinting and a personal interview.It is now available in about 30 airports TSA recently announced that they are expanding to 60 new airports by the end of this year. As of now, the participating airlines are Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, United, US Airways and Virgin America. Jet Blue and Southwest are said to be coming soon.
- Go to GlobalEntry and apply. You will now have an online account. Next you will be notified that you have been approved or not and can schedule an “interview” date and time. I was approved in just a day or two (the government was ‘open’ then).
- Schedule your interview appointment. Next, you have to go into an airport that has these offices (your local one or any one you’ll be flying through). Some airports are booked up more than others. I checked O’Hare for October, but nothing was available the day of my next flight so I tried my returning airport (Newark) and times were open. Voila! I made an appointment for about two weeks after I applied.
- Have your interview. By the way, no interviewing really happens. I was asked into the tiny, makeshift office at Newark International Airport with three other applicants. We all watched a video about how Global Entry works. The officer called me up to the desk to check my passport and license and digitally took my finger and thumb prints. They gave us little info booklets and sent us on our way. No red flags…so I guess I passed!
- TSA Pre-check sign up. I was now officially ready for Global Entry, but there was one more step to make sure I got the pre-check. You have to go to any of the big airline carriers’ websites listed above and go into your account info and enter your new “traveler ID number” in the correct field.
That’s it. Now when you print your boarding pass for your next flight, the little TSA Pre-check logo should be printed on it.
Using TSA Pre-Check
My first experience was at the tiny Green Bay, Wisconsin airport which had literally started observing the program THAT very day. But their printers weren’t equipped for that special logo, so technically they could not let me do it, even though it was coming up in the computer. Turns out if I used the mobile phone QR Code…that worked, so I was allowed to go through without taking off my shoes, but since they have a ‘smaller’ program, I still had to remove my laptop from my bag.
But a few days later, I was flying out of the shiny new Indianapolis Airport where TSA Pre-Check was in full effect: signs, logos, printing capabilities and everything! It was great.
I was able to get on a special line for VIPs like me (or saps that paid the $100 for this ‘privilege’).
I walked through and was able to keep my boots and jacket on and all I had to do was throw my suitcase and backpack on the belt and stroll on through…no need to take out anything. Done in sixty seconds. It felt good. Well, it felt like it always used to feel before security went off the rails after 9/11.
Note: check the site for the current participating airports. More are being added all the time. Also, keep in mind to see where to find the special lines as not all terminals have it yet. Happy flying!
What do you think? Is it worth it?