Breezing Through TSA Security

Why I Signed up for Pre-Check

by Nancy Bestor

I think we can all agree that the TSA security screening process, with its slow-moving lines and all the frustrating fumbling and juggling, undressing and re-dressing, and unpacking and re-packing of 3-1-1 bags, belts, shoes, laptops and more, is quite annoying. And at the end of a long, uncomfortable international flight, it’s never fun to stand in yet another slow-moving customs line, observing the entire time that far too many of the counters are unstaffed.

I’m not entirely opposed to lines. I once waited six hours outside a movie theater on cold, hard cement to see Star Wars (although admittedly I was 11 years old). I’m always willing to wait in line to ride Indiana Jones at Disneyland. And I’m the first one in my family to suggest we wait in line for a scoop of gourmet ice cream at Portland’s Salt and Straw. But lines at the airport? Well, they drive me just a little bit crazy. I get in those slow moving, cattle-chute lines and can’t help but focus on how many stations are not open, how many TSA officers appear to be “on break,” and how slowly those in front of me take off their shoes and take their liquids out of their suitcase, and how many of them still don’t understand that filled water bottles cannot be taken through TSA security checkpoints.

Thus I was delighted when Bob and I were approved for the US Global Entry Program. Global Entry provides expedited customs clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers arriving into the United States. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the Global Entry Program offers automatic entry into the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-Check Program.

Travelers can opt to apply for the Pre-Check program only, at a cost of $85 and good for five years. But if you travel internationally, it seems to us that the better deal is to apply for the Global Entry Program for $100, (also good for five years), which provides both expedited customs clearance and TSA Security Pre-Check. Both programs can be applied for online. The tricky part, however, is that you must visit a TSA Enrollment Center (for TSA Pre-Check) or a Global Entry Enrollment Center (for Global Entry) for a face-to-face interview. In the case of TSA Pre-Check, this appointment includes bringing valid identification, as well as citizenship documentation. The Global Entry program requires an interview as well. When we applied for Global Entry, interview appointments were being booked six months out, and the closest Enrollment Center was 350 miles away at the San Francisco Airport. While waiting for our appointment at SFO, we talked to another applicant from Los Angeles, where interviews at LAX were being booked 18 months out. She opted to make an appointment in San Francisco, and flew up specifically for it.

In our case, the rigmarole has been worth it. As advertised, since obtaining our Global Entry status, we have skipped customs lines every time upon re-entering the US. Instead we breeze directly to a Global Entry kiosk, where we scan our passport, answer a couple of questions on the screen, grab the receipt that the machine spits out, and we’re done. Yay!

Additionally, getting TSA Pre-Check status with the Global Entry pass has been a time and hassle saver as well. Most airports have specific TSA Pre-Check lines that are much shorter than the regular security checkpoint lines. As an added bonus, which is as good as bypassing lines, TSA Pre-Check travelers do not need to take off their shoes, belts and coats, nor do they need to remove their liquids from suitcases. I didn’t realize how much of a hassle these things were until I was no longer required to do them. I am delighted when I don’t have to take off my shoes, and walk (in my stocking feet) over an old and heavily trafficked airport carpet that surely has not been cleaned anytime recently.

Is the TSA Pre-Check or Global Entry program worth it for every traveler? Maybe not. You must measure how many times a year you fly against the cost and hassle of applying for the program. Additionally, travelers 75 years and older are not subject to the same security screening measures as younger travelers, so it might not be worth it if you are over 75. Eligible members of the armed forces also do not need to apply for either program, as their Department of Defense identification number already clears them for TSA Pre-Check. We fly often enough, are not over 75, and are not members of the armed forces. Additionally, we fly internationally at least once a year. Thus we decided that the Global Entry Program is well worth it for us.

Although it was a good decision at the time, especially since I had a crush on Luke Skywalker, I don’t see myself waiting outside a movie theater for six hours any time soon. Those days are over. And with the Global Entry Pass, my days of waiting in long airport security lines are hopefully over as well. Good riddance.

The US Department of Homeland Security compares the TSA Pre-Check Program and the Global Entry Program at this web address: www.dhs.gov/comparison-chart. The site also provides information on how to apply to each program.

—Nancy Bestor is the co-owner of Travel Essentials. She’s currently growing her hair out for Princess Leia hair buns.