Have you ever looked down at your boarding pass to see TSA Precheck and done a little victory dance?
If you ever have had this perk, you know how nice it is. Instead of joining the long, slow-moving line of weary travelers untying their shoes and pulling laptops out of their suitcases, you head over to the TSA Precheck checkpoint where there is rarely a line. You hoist your bag onto the conveyer belt – no need to take anything out – (not even your liquids!) walk right on through the x-ray machine and are on your way to your gate in record time. No more fumbling with your shoes, laptop, belt and liquids while trying to grab your suitcase and get out of everyone else’s way.
TSA Precheck is randomly assigned but did you know you can have TSA Precheck every single time you fly?
What is TSA Precheck anyway?
TSA Precheck is one of four “Trusted Traveler Programs” created by the Department of Homeland Security. It allows low risk, prescreened U.S. citizens to expedite the security screening experience. Once approved as TSA Precheck Trusted Traveler, you go through the TSA Precheck security line where you do not need to remove your shoes or take anything out of your suitcase. It is much simpler and quicker than the regular screening. It costs $85 to apply, and once approved and is good for five years.
What is Global Entry?
For International travelers, there is a program called Global Entry ($100 for five years), which gives you expedited processing through customs upon your return to the United States, and includes TSA pre-check. The beauty of this program is that instead of waiting in line for your passport to be stamped when you return to this country, you go to a self-guided kiosk and do it yourself. Global Entry is also good for five years.
What other Trusted Traveler Programs are available?
There are two other programs designed to provide an improved passenger experience and they are NEXUS, which is for people who fly primarily between the U.S. and Canada. And SENTRI, which is for those who travel primarily by land into the U.S. from Mexico. I don’t know much about these two since they didn’t apply to us, so you’ll have to google those for more information. https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs
TSA Precheck or Global Entry?
If you want the convenience of TSA Precheck and are thinking of doing any international travel in the next five years Global Entry is the way to go. Let’s see, $85 for the TSA Precheck privilege, or $100 for TSA Precheck Plus Global Entry? For an extra $15.00 for five years, this is a no brainer.
OK – It sounds great, What now?
My husband and I applied for Global Entry just a few weeks ago. It was easy and painless. Here are the steps we followed.
How to Apply — TSA Pre-check and Global Entry:
For eligibility and information on all Trusted Traveler Programs, visit www.dhs.gov/tt
Both programs require an online application and payment of fees, and an in-person interview at an enrollment center, usually at the airport.
- Global entry requires a valid passport, so make sure yours is up to date or apply for one if you need to, because that can take several weeks. I noticed mine had expired so I had to get a current photo, fill out a form, pay a fee, and wait for it to arrive in the mail, so that was my first step.
- Set up an account at GOES – Global Online Enrollment System
- Log into your account and fill out the required forms. The form is a bit lengthy and you don’t want to make a mistake, so allow at least 30 minutes for this step. Have your employment history, drivers license number and credit card handy.
- Make copies of everything and write down your password for later reference.
- Pay your application fee. The $85 or $100 is non-refundable if you are not approved.
- Submit your form and wait to be notified of approval. For us it took about a week.
- Upon approval, you will be instructed to set up an appointment for your interview. You can pick any enrollment center you want, and chose a time that is convenient for you. A calendar shows available time slots in 15 minute increments. Print off the email that says your application has been approved. You will need this for the interview.
- The day of your appointment, go to the enrollment center with the required paperwork (read and re-read what you need so you don’t waste a trip.) My husband and I arrived about half an hour early for our appointments at O’Hare airport. In a room that held about 25 people, most of the chairs were taken. Still it went fairly quickly and once we were called, (about 30 minutes later), we were in and out in ten minutes. During our appointment an agent reviewed our documents, took our picture and fingerprints. We weren’t asked any questions but that can be part of the process.
- Once we had both been processed we were instructed how to register our trusted traveler number with airlines prior to booking flights, and given a sheet list of participating airlines. The Global Entry card should come in the mail in a few weeks.
The Global Entry/TSA Precheck Difference
The Transportation Security Administration reserves the right to do anything they want, including making you go through security, or taking something off, should they deem it necessary. But more than likely for the next five years you won’t need to take off your shoes, make sure your liquids are packed near the top of your suitcase, or have to remove your belt, jacket or laptop. And you will most likely have a much shorter wait.
For Global Entry, upon entering the airport on an overseas flight, you will slide your passport into a kiosk, place your fingerprints in a scanner and fill out your Customs Declaration questions. Like the kiosks at airport check-in that resulted in shorter lines for agents, I would imagine the kiosks are much quicker than waiting in a line for customs agents.
For us the process was simple and painless and now we can alleviate the stress of long security lines that often plague us at O’Hare airport.
For more information: www.dhs.gov/tt
Disclaimer: Note that these services are available at most major airports and with major airlines, but not all. This blog post was based on my personal experience and that of my husband. Yours may be different. I don’t know how stringent the screening process is, just that it wasn’t difficult for us. It may not be the case for you.