With peak spring an summer travel seasons about to heat up, it’s a smart move to bypass long and frustrating airport TSA security and US Custom lines with one of the special VIP passes available to ordinary travelers like you and me.
Which one you need depends on how often and where you travel.
Here are the upsides and downsides of each.
Advantages of TSA PreCheck
TSA PreCheck is for domestic travel only. It is sometimes compared with an amusement park Fast Pass, because card-holders have designated lanes to breeze past long security lines.
The TSA PreCheck line is faster because you don’t have to remove your shoes, belt, jacket or sweater, or take your laptop or 3-1-1 compliant bag out of your carry-on. Just remove metal including keys, coins and smartphone from your pockets, and walk through.
The application process just as easy.
You can enroll online. Your info is checked for citizenship, criminal history and any ties to terrorism, including your name on the “No Fly” list.
If you clear the first-step identity check, you must visit one of nearly 400 application centers nationwide, including at major airports, to provide identification and submit fingerprints.
Again, if your info checks out, you wlll be issued a Known Traveler Number in two to three weeks, via regular USPS mail.
Who can apply:
- U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents.
- Anyone over the age of 12 can apply.
Airlines participating in the TSA Pre-Check program include:
- Air Canada.
- Alaska Airlines,
- Allegiant Air,
- American Airlines,
- Aruba Airlines,
- Boutique Airlines,
- Cape Air,
- Copa Airlines,
- Delta Air Lines,
- Dominican Wings,
- Etihad Airways,
- Frontier Airlines,
- Hawaiian Airlines,
- InterCaribbean Airways,
- JetBlue Airways,
- Key Lime Air,
- Miami Air International,
- Seaborne Airlines,
- Silver Airways,
- Singapore Airlines,
- Southern Airways Express,
- Southwest Airlines,
- Spirit Airlines, Sun Country Airlines,
- Sunwing Airlines,
- Swift Air,
- Turkish Airlines,
- United Airlines,
- Virgin Atlantic,
- Xtra Airways
Participating airlines print an indicator, such as TSA-PRE or PRECHK, on your boarding pass, generally at the top of the boarding pass, near your name, to identify those who can use the TSA PreCheck lane.
TSA Pre-Check is Best for:
- Travelers without passports who travel only within the USA and/or USA territories including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
- TSA Pre-Check costs $85 for five years, and is worth every penny for time and stress saved.
Disadvantages of TSA Pre-Check
Top of the list is that the TSA does not provide your Known Traveler Number to airlines.
You must register your number yourself with each and every airline you fly when you get a new card, or a renewal with a new Known Traveler number.
Some airlines make it easy, others don’t.
If you can’t find where to do that on the airline’s website, or even with assistance from the airline’s toll-free number, you can do it when you check in for a flight.
TSA Pre-Check is only for you, not for other adult members of your family or friends traveling with you, although children under the age of 12 traveling with an eligible parent or guardian are permitted to join the adult on the pre-check line.
- Recently, I was flying to a family event with my adult son, who does not have a TSA Pre-Check. I breezed through TSA Pre-Check security in less than five minutes at JFK, but had to wait for another ten minutes for him. It was the same on our return trip from LAX.
There often are no designated TSA Pre-Check lines at smaller, regional airports.
Even at larger ones in major cities, there’s often not enough TSA staff to open a special Pre-Check line before 7am, or even later.
As more frequent flyers opt for the program to bypass the regular lines, the TSA Pre-Check lines are getting longer.
Global Entry is an expedited program for low-risk travelers to clear US Customs electronically, at special automated kiosks, bypassing the regular passport lines and the routine questioning by a uniformed officer.
Global Entry now counts more than 2.7 million members – including me – with new members applying at the rate of 80,000 a month.
How to apply for Global Entry
As with TSA Pre-Check, you can apply online, filling out a comprehensive biographic form.
The next step is an in-person interview at a Global Entry enrollment center, including recording your fingerprints. It is your fingerprints, along with your US Passport, that identify you at the airport kiosks.
There are Global Entry enrollment centers in each of the 50 states, including at major airports. Find your nearest center here.
There also are enrollment centers in Canada, at the Calgary, Edmondton, Ontario and Montreal airports. And, oddly, one in Qatar.
There are some 600 Global Entry kiosks at nearly 50 airports in the United States, plus major airports in six countries popular with American tourists, including Germany, where they are used for pre-clearance for US-bound flights.
Global Entry reduces your wait time, and since it takes thousands of travelers out of the “regular” US Customs & Border Control queues, it also reduces their wait time, by as much as 70%. So it’s a win-win for everybody returning to – or visiting – the United States.
As with TSA PreCheck, register your Known Traveler Number with each international airline you travel, to expedite both check-in and arrival procedures. It’s easiest to do that when making your ticket reservation.
Who is eligible:
- U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of some countries.
- U.S. Passport required for enrollment
- Global Entry is member specific. Only Global Entry members can use Global Entry kiosks. Kids of any age can enroll in the program.
- Global Entry costs $100 for five years, and includes TSA PreCheck. That means it’s $15 more than TSA Pre-Check.
- If you plan to travel internationally just a few times in the next five years, it’s worth the extra $15 to speed through US Customs lines.
Disadvantages of Global Entry
You zip through the line so fast – an average of five minutes or less – that you have to wait longer for your luggage. Minor disadvantage.
You get a paper receipt, much like a credit card charge, to hand to uniformed officers when you leave the arrivals area.
But you don’t get a stamp on your US Passport, as you do with the “regular” arrivals process.
- If you are a stamp collector and want a stamp on your passport, you have to ask a uniformed US Customs officer.
Renewing TSA PreCheck or Global Entry
Easy to do online. Just fill out the renewal form and pay with a credit card. I just renewed my Global Entry card and received the new one in the mail within ten days.
- Renewals mean a new Trusted Traveler number, which means notifying each airline you fly of the new ID, so you can continue to receive TSA PreCheck perks (see above).
International Programs with Global Entry Reciprocity
Several nations offer reciprocity programs for Global Entry members.
Mexico: Viajero Confiable is a trusted traveler program operated by the Government of Mexico, also providing expedited processing at designated airports via automated kiosks.
Germany: Global Entry members can register for EasyPASS-RTP to utilize eGates at arrival and departure areas of six airports including Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin.
Netherlands: Privium is available at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport. The Basic program (€121) offers fast lanes for border passage and security checks. The Plus program (€205) adds lounge access and business-class check-in for 16 different airlines, even with an economy ticket.
New Zealand: U.S. citizens arriving at Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch International Airports can use expedited lines by presenting their Global Entry card, U.S. passport and arrival documentation.
United Kingdom: US citizens who make four or more trips to the UK in two years can register for the Registered Traveller expedited entry program, to use eGates at participating airports to avoid lines, and avoid completing a landing card or interview with a UK Border Force officer. The service costs €70 to apply and an additional €50 annually thereafter.
Look for additional nations to be added to Gobal Entry reciprocity, including Japan, Singapore, Columbia, Peru and Switzerland.