If you fly three or four times a year and don’t have Global Entry, you’re crazy.
I know that’s a bold statement—and I have no way of actually judging your mental capacities—but give me a moment to explain why it’s an essential tool for any traveler, even those staying within the country.
Global Entry is a Customs and Border Protection program that, after a background check, allows travelers to skip lines at immigration and customs, using a kiosk to quickly reenter the country. The online application process takes a bit of time, and a subsequent in-person interview is required.
Once complete, though, you’ll not only laugh at long immigration lines but also race through airport security. That’s because the TSA considers Global Entry members “trusted travelers” and automatically includes them in the affiliated PreCheck program. And entry into that program is priceless.
The Transportation Security Administration (a.k.a. TSA) is opening its first Precheck enrollment center, at the Indianapolis International Airport today. Until now, PreCheck has been available only to loyalty-program members of the TSA's partner airlines and people enrolled in one of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Trusted Traveler programs, such as Global Entry. Today marks the first time any traveler, regardless of frequent-flier status, can sign up to get expedited security privileges. All you need is $85 (which covers five years), proof of citizenship (though not necessarily a passport), and a little extra time at the airport. The TSA plans to roll out an additional 300 such centers by spring 2014—with the next ones coming to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
Have a travel dilemma? Need some tips and remedies? Send your questions to news editor Amy Farley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tltripdoctor on Twitter.
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In fiscal 2012, travelers left $531,000 in pennies, nickels, and dimes at airport security checkpoints, according the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Nearly 95% of the loose change collected came from domestic flights, with $22,000 coming from LAX alone. Altogether, the TSA has amassed over $2 million in the last five years.
What is the TSA planning on doing with all the money?
Currently it sits mostly untouched in an “aviation security fund,” but Florida representative Jeff Miller last week issued a committee report recommending the unused coins go toward upgraded travel amenities for members of the U.S. military and their families while traveling.
Congress is set to vote later this week on Miller's bill.
Peter Schlesinger is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure, and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @pschles08.
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Keep your belt on!
Southwest Airline’s frequent-flyer members need no longer undress to pass airport security. Today, the carrier became the eighth domestic airline to offer TSA PreCheck, a program to pre-approve travelers for expedited security screenings.
The president of the US Travel Association, Roger Dow, calls the initiative “decidedly pro-traveler.” It’s meant to make travel easy, so that people fly—and fly often.
By the end of December, Pre-Check will be available to all members of the military at every airport in the country offering the service. At this time, military personnel can enjoy the perk at 10 domestic airports.
Delta Air Lines, fed up with long lines its passengers face when arriving at Customs in New York City's JFK airport, is footing the bill to install automated passport machines.
Lines at the airport are the worst in the country, averaging over 90 minutes during peak hours, and nearing five hours on some occasions. Automated machines can shed 40 percent off of waiting times to clear customs, and at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport—the only U.S. airport to already have such machines—interview times with Customs officers have been halved to 30 seconds.
Delta views the new automated machines as a step in the right direction, says spokesperson Leslie Scott. She hopes the airline's contribution—whose price is undisclosed—will spur increased staffing, especially at peak times for international arrivals.
Waiting in line—perhaps the most dreaded aspect—of the air travel experience—is improving by leaps and bounds this year at U.S. airports. For one, the TSA PreCheck expedited screening program, which is now available for international flights, is growing rapidly: the TSA has installed PreCheck lanes in 40 airports, with planned expansions into 60 more domestic airports by the end of 2013. Meanwhile, in-airport PreCheck enrollment centers will also soon start rolling out—opening up the program to all U.S. travelers willing to pay the $85 fee—no passport or frequent-flier membership required. The first will be in Indianapolis and Washington Dulles this fall, followed by some 300 locations across the country.
You know you have a broken entry process when there’s an entire website devoted to complaining about the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) system—and that’s exactly what the U.S. Travel Association launched this month in an effort to voice the concerns of our unhappy visitors.
Included on the travelersvoice.org are spotlights from dozens of travelers—foreign and domestic—whose concerns range from long lines to missed connections. The most common gripes? Customs queues are understaffed, with too many checkout lanes closed during peak periods, and with no automated technology to ease the process, our methods appear utterly outdated.
Here’s some news that will make you squirm in your airplane seat: complaints filed against airport security workers have increased by 26 percent over the last three years, according to a new study the Transportation Security Agency released yesterday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
About half the cases—9,622 in all since 2010—had to do with attendance and leave (32 percent) and screening and security (20 percent). Shockingly, those screening and security offenses included allowing travelers or baggage to bypass screening, sleeping on the job, drug and alcohol use while on duty, mishandling of classified information, and inappropriate or sexual misconduct. The report also cited a case in 2011 where a transportation security officer at Orlando International Airport pled guilty of embezzlement and theft charges for stealing more than $80,000 worth of laptops and other electronics.
It’s official: the days of long airport security lines are over—if you want them to be. At least that’s what TSA Administrator John Pistole promised on Friday, when he announced that the PreCheck program will be opening to the general public before the end of the year. To sign up, travelers will have to pay an $85 fee, provide identification and fingerprints, and undergo a background check at an established PreCheck enrollment center—all for the luxury of walking through the x-ray machine with your shoes on.
Almost one year after the service’s launch, 12 million travelers have signed up—all frequent fliers—and complaints of longer lines in these expedited service lanes have already started to bubble up. Another 3 million will join by the year’s end if the TSA’s predictions ring true—so will PreCheck lose its advantage? This much remains to be seen, though we’re encouraged by the volume of airports that are angling to meet the program’s growing demand.
Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.
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Q: How can I get through the airport faster? —Kathleen Francis, Oakland, Calif.
A: Over the past decade, between tightened security and the increased attention airlines are paying to premium fliers, airports have become as hierarchical and labyrinthine as the Sun King’s court. Lanes and lines have become defining features, and status has become essential for getting around.
So rule number one for a better airport experience: become an elite member of a frequent-flier program. If you travel often, stay loyal to a carrier, and follow the advice of loyalty-program experts such as the terrific Brian Kelly, founder of thepointsguy.com, you may be able to break into the upper tiers, gaining expedited check-in, private security lines, and priority boarding.
But good news for everyone else: status is no longer exclusively available to high-ranking frequent fliers. You just have to be willing to do a little extra legwork—and pay. Privilege, after all, has its price.