The romance and excitement of flying are long gone, replaced with a new landscape of long airport security lines and sometimes power-hungry TSA agents. Clearing customs was once an exciting way to document your travels with a passport stamp; now it’s yet another inconvenience on an exhausting trip. The debate isn’t whether airport security needs enhancement but just how to integrate positive change safely without jeopardizing a country’s borders and inconveniencing low-risk passengers.
With nearly 65 million international arrivals in 2010, air travel hassles still topped travelers’ lists of frustrations as reported by the U.S. Travel Association in 2008 and 2011. That aggravation likely contributed to a decrease of U.S. international travelers to 6.3 percent in 2010 from 7.5 percent in 2000, with billions of revenue dollars lost in the travel industry.
Whispers Of Improvement in airport security clearance procedures have been circulating for a decade. Along the way, non-government early adopters of trusted traveler programs such as CLEAR, Preferred Traveler and RtGO all too quickly came and went by the wayside. But all was not quiet behind the scenes.
Expedited border travel by land or sea between Mexico and the United States was implemented in 1995 with SENTRI, Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection, a card embedded with an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chip. In 2002, the United States and Canada partnered to create NEXUS, a program expediting the processing of pre-screened, pre-approved travelers between their two borders.
It wasn’t until 2003 that the Department of Homeland Security created CBP, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to prevent terrorists from entering the United States. However, these new guardians of our borders got down to business quickly.
In 2008, CBP launched the pilot Global Entry trusted traveler program at 20 major U.S. airports with the goal of expediting clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. In February 2012, Global Entry officially became a permanent fixture. There are currently Global Entry kiosks at 24 major U.S. airports.
“Building off the successes of NEXUS and SENTRI,” says John Wagner, CBP’s executive director for admissibility and passenger programs, “we use a risk-based approach to identify trusted travelers to streamline and approve applications for the Global Entry program.”
Over the last three years, CBP enrolled more than 270,000 members (and counting) in Global Entry, and the kiosks have been used more than 2 million times at an average of 4,500 times per day; but Wagner says only 3 to 5 percent of the eligible population is using the kiosks at this time. With the recent announcement of its permanent status, though, new applications doubled to 9,000 in one week. Wagner says there are currently 150 kiosks, with more on order.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” says Wagner. “The program currently reduces average wait times by more than 70 percent, with more than 75 percent of travelers using Global Entry processed in under five minutes. Every time a Global Entry kiosk is used, it saves 60–90 seconds of a CBP officer’s time.”
Global Entry is only open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, along with countries that entered into a reciprocal agreement to perform background checks and disqualify on the same factors CBP uses. For example, the pilot program in the Netherlands allows U.S. citizens who are Global Entry members to participate in the FLUX (Fast Low Risk Universal Crossing) and Dutch Privium programs. Internationally, trusted traveler programs are also available in Canada and Mexico and as limited pilots in Germany and the United Kingdom. Soon, CBP expects to add more international destinations.
The application fee is so affordable that Global Entry is garnering attention from corporations sponsoring their employees and airlines getting behind the program through marketing. Wagner reports United Airlines plans to reimburse the $100 enrollment fee to their top tier, and credit card companies such as American Express are offering statement credits to offset the fee.
An Enthusiastic Early adopter of trusted traveler programs, Seattle-based Joel Chusid, managing director, North America, Hainan Airlines, was a member of the INSPASS program before 2001.When Global Entry opened four years ago, his application was one of the first. Despite the initial, time-consuming, online enrollment process and subsequent in-person interview, Chusid is a believer.
An online application makes the process more convenient, and the $100 non-refundable fee (good for five years when approved) is affordable. Once CBP reviews your information and conducts a background check, your next step is an in-person interview and fingerprinting at a CBP enrollment center.
“The application process is efficient, although for a frequent traveler remembering where you’ve traveled can be challenging,” recalls Chusid. “After the preliminary approval, even with my busy schedule, I scheduled an in-person appointment within a few days. Then the rest of the process goes quickly. The payout is something you can never get back — time!”
Chusid explains it’s also simple to use. “Gather my carry-on bag, disembark the plane, detour the long lines and advance to a Global Entry kiosk. I scan my machine-readable passport, place fingertips on a scanner for print verification and answer the agricultural and customs questions. The kiosk issues a transaction receipt and I proceed to the exit. I’m often on my way home within 20 minutes of landing. ”
He adds, “Now when I see frequent international travelers standing in line, I can’t help but ask them if they know about the Global Entry program and how easy, affordable and time-saving it is. I keep Global Entry cards in my pocket, and I hand them one, knowing they’ll thank me.”
According to frequent flyer Stuart Gustafson, an author and speaker based in Boise, Idaho, there’s a bonus. “Global Entry gives me peace of mind when traveling. Simply knowing I can skip the lines of crying babies, families and unseasoned travelers unfamiliar with the procedures allows me to relax and enjoy my return flight. On a recent long leg from Dubai through London and JFK, I breezed right through customs with my carry-on at the kiosk, and I was out the door in 10 minutes! I’ve already used the kiosks seven times in one year, and at $100 for five years, my cost per use is negligible compared to the time I’m saving.”
Glenn Haussman, editor in chief of Hotelinteractive.com, passes through security at JFK some 50 times per year. “Even though I know many employees by name, I’m treated no differently than travelers who might only pass through once. When it comes to security, one size does not fit all.”
After applying and receiving his Global Entry pass last month, Haussman reports, “What a difference. Global Entry takes the stress out of passing through customs. No lines, no hassle. A positive experience with government agencies is a welcome change.”
In Another Surprising positive proactive governmental move, late in 2011 the Transportation Security Administration introduced TSA PreCheck. The voluntary pilot program enabled TSA agents to prescreen eligible passengers for expedited screening in designated lines at one of four major airports — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta (ATL), Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County (DTW), Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW) and Miami International (MIA) — with more airports progressively being added. Eligible participants include elite members of certain airline loyalty programs and members of CBP’s trusted traveler programs.
Dallas-based frequent traveler J.J. Sorrenti, president of Safeguard Business Systems, flew more than 130 segments in North America during 2011. “Despite the TSA’s efforts to segregate travelers, security lines get crisscrossed, and I invariably end up behind an inexperienced traveler. The new TSA PreCheck is amazingly efficient for the traveler and, in fact, it’s the first thing TSA initiated that is a benefit for the traveler. No need to remove shoes, liquids or laptop.”
The program, however, doesn’t guarantee expedited security screening. Participants are still subject to random and unpredictable security measures, and that randomness can be frustrating, says Sorrenti.
“Yet the experience is so pleasant,” she adds, “that when you’re randomly placed back in the hassles of the old system, you look forward to being lucky enough to experience the TSA PreCheck next time.”
Whether you’re experiencing CBP’s trusted traveler programs or TSA’s efforts at expediting security lines, both have a long way to go before being truly efficient. Yet both programs are a positive move in the right direction.
In 2009, privately owned CLEAR closed without notice and relaunched with new owners in November 2010. CLEAR is different from trusted traveler programs in that it offers exclusive access through airport security checkpoints, allowing travelers to bypass long TSA security lines by checking in at CLEARlanes and going directly to screening. The pre-screening application includes a biometric-based secure identification program. CLEAR is open at Denver International (DEN) and Orlando International (MCO) airports. Airports to be added in 2012 include San Francisco (SFO) and Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW). Cost: $179 for one year with unlimited use; a family plan is an additional $50.
Fast Low Risk Universal Crossing enables membership in foreign expedited border passage programs normally only open to their own nationals through pilot programs with trusted traveler programs like Global Entry. Travelers are pre-approved based on application, background check, fingerprinting and personal interviews. Cost varies.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection program, Global Entry gives expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk international travelers upon arrival in the United States at select airports via automatic kiosks. Travelers are pre-approved based on application, background check, fingerprinting and a personal interview with a CBP officer. Cost: $100 for five years.
A Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative-compliant, cross-border joint program between the United States and Canada established in 2002, NEXUS is a pre-screened, pre-approved documentation enabling expedited travel at eight Canadian airports plus 33 marine and 19 border-crossing locations. Travelers are pre-approved based on application, background check, fingerprinting and a personal interview with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Canada Border Services Agency. Iris capture is required for air travel processing. Cost: $50 processing fee.
SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) is a WHTI-compliant, pre-screened and pre-approved card expediting travel via dedicated commuter lanes between the United States and Mexico. Pre-approval is based on application, background check, fingerprinting and a personal interview with a CBP officer. Cost: $122.25.
A Department of Homeland Security initiative, CBP partnered with the Transportation Security Administration in this pilot program launched at four U.S. airports in October 2011. The program expedites security processing of pre-screened, low-risk and eligible passengers. Eligibility is based on membership in Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI and is available to certain frequent flyers of American Airlines and Delta Airlines. To date, more than 640,000 passengers have experienced TSA PreCheck at 12 airports. TSA plans to expand the program to include additional airlines and airports that participate in CBP’s Global Entry program.
As more destinations around the globe reopen to travelers, we are ready to get back to one of our favorite activities. Join us over the next several weeks as we take you to places around the world saying #WelcomeBacktoTravel. Take a visual journey through New York’s Finger Lakes region with us.
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