(Note: If you are standing in a passport line reading this, bookmark it and wait until you are home. It won't help and will only frustrate you. You should have applied for Global Entry last year.)
For the past months (years), all of the news about air travel, airlines and airports has been negative. The impact of the sequester has been feared and much discussed this week. Exasperated travelers, airport, airline, TSA staff and anyone who comes downwind of an airport has something bad to share. So I would like to point out a very bright spot. Something wonderful has been introduced for international travelers and you need it. Global Entry, I love you.
If you fly internationally, you know the feeling. You land in the U.S. after a long flight and proceed to passport control. Depending on time of day, number of flights arriving and number of officers on duty, this could be a 1-3 hour wait. Even those blessed with fast track passes can face up to an hour. With Global Entry, I have never waited more than three minutes. Correct, three minutes. Next you proceed to get your luggage and flash your Global Entry receipt to yet again bypass the lines waiting to exit. Worth it? Priceless to me.
When Global Entry was introduced, many corporate travelers signed on and few leisure. Had you asked me two years ago if the $100 fee for five years was worth it I would have calculated your number of trips and amortized accordingly to decide, but no more. If you take only two international trips per year, get it -- NOW. Also, several credit cards and many companies will now refund your application fee.
Global Entry is a program that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) uses to preclear travelers and allow you check in at computers and bypass passport and custom lines at most major airports upon reentry into the U.S. This also includes Toronto, where you go through U.S. customs prior to boarding your flight back. Last week there was a two hour line to get through passport control in Toronto on Friday afternoon. With Global Entry I was through in two minutes and made an earlier flight home. Worth $100? You bet.
Here is the link with the details of how to apply online. Once you apply and are preapproved you will receive an email instructing you to set up an appointment at an airport that has a CPB office. This could take up to eight weeks currently at some airports. You will be approved (or not) following that in person interview and if approved you are immediately ready to go.
Need additional incentive? If you are approved for Global Entry, you are now also approved for TSA's Pre-check program. This allows you to bypass security lines for domestic flights at many airports and proceed through the x-ray line without removing shoes, computer, belt etc. Two caveats: TSA precheck is only available if you are flying domestically and not connecting to an international fight, and you still can be randomly chosen for the full x-ray check. (But if you have already bypassed the long lines to get to the x-ray it is still wonderful.)
One final amazing tip. The customer service phone line for Global Entry is also amazing. This is the magic number: 866-530-4172. Of course, I lost my sign in password for the CPE website and I needed to retrieve my TSA precheck number. I called the number and within five minutes all was sorted out, pleasantly.
I do fear that my zeal and that of others will inspire too many to apply for this program and create lines at the computers at airports. But I have noticed that over the past year I have seen the number of computers (and CPB personnel at them to help) increase at both JFK, Miami and Dulles. They seem to be keeping up with the surge.
You may have had less positive experiences than I, and I would like to hear about them. (Well, not really, as I don't want my bubble popped, but I will share.)
Good job CPB. And thank you.