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Global Entry's zip through security, customs is money well spent

On the Spot: The TSA program works as advertised: Quick trips through immigration and customs. Plus, thanks to its PreCheck component, easier security screens at some U.S. airports.

By Catharine Hamm

11:00 AM EDT, October 20, 2013

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Here's the most amazing thing that happened the first time I used Global Entry for getting back into the country and speeding through security: nothing. In these days of governmental shutdowns and bipartisan squabbling, this Trusted Traveler program worked exactly right. It saved me time and significantly reduced my going-on-a-trip stress.

Global Entry, which gives you Trusted Traveler status if you're approved, costs $100 for the airport equivalent of a five-year hall pass. If you're returning to the U.S., you don't have to wait in line to see a human in immigration or customs. It also includes a PreCheck component; if you're flying from an airport that is part of the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck program, Global Entry also lets you (usually) go through the security screening without removing your jacket, shoes, belt, laptop or your liquids. This doesn't mean you can carry a quart of gin through security — your liquids are still limited to no more than 3.4 ounces — but it does mean you don't have to advertise to the world that you use Dermalogica Ultracalming Cleanser and Sensodyne toothpaste. (You're probably saying, "Excuse me, but you've just done that," to which I would reply, "Yes, but you're a reader, and I've shared by choice, not chance.")

My first expedited screening was on a recent flight to upstate New York. My boarding pass was stamped with PreCheck privileges, which gave me access to life in the fast lane. After my zip through, I stood and watched the non-PreCheckers who were doing the security line striptease. This cast of characters included the hubs, for whom having Trusted Traveler status doesn't make financial sense. And, truth to tell, I felt no guilt watching him struggle with his shoes and his liquids. I paid my money (The Times did not pay my $100 tab), did the paperwork and went through the interview before receiving my OK in June. For leisure travelers, it's rare that "entitled" and "airline traveler" are uttered in the same sentence, so I savored it.

That didn't last long. When we returned from our trip, I was ready for a repeat, but Buffalo, alas, doesn't yet have PreCheck. (Signs in the airport say Buffalo will soon join the 40 other airports that have the program; you can see the list at http://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/tsa-precheck-participating-airports.) The TSA website says Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, United, US Airways and Virgin America participate in the program. Or, said another way, if you're flying Southwest, JetBlue or any of the other budget airlines, you'll be hanging with hoi polloi.

The PreCheck pass is really just an added bonus to Global Entry. In fact, since I received my Global Entry card in June, TSA has said it will roll out a program that offers expedited screening for $85, which makes sense if most of your travel is domestic and if you're not an elite traveler who is going to be invited to PreCheck by your favored airline.

But then you'd miss out on the expedited immigration process. I travel internationally only a couple of times a year, if that, but I was glad to have the fast-access stamp of approval after hearing some stories about long lines in some airports as travelers tried to get back into the U.S.

My first opportunity to use Global Entry's fast reentry into the U.S. came at the Newark, N.J., airport, through which I was routed after a trip to Britain. A two-day stay-over in the New York area meant this was my port of entry.

Signs directed me to a kiosk. I scanned my passport, offered my hand so my fingerprints could be matched and waited less than a minute before it spat out my all-clear slip. I glided over to customs, which took the slip and the landing card, and I was out of there; the whole thing must have taken seven minutes. In fact, I waited far longer to get my bag off the luggage carousel.

As I write this from Newark airport on my way home, I have just come through the expedited PreCheck process, once again without incident. It is a great feeling to be fully dressed and shod with electronics intact.

I know that part of the security is that one of these days, I will get sent again to the slow lane, just to make sure. It will be a good reminder of the bad old days — and make me grateful, I hope, for this new airport/airline era in which we are treated like plain old people and not suspects in a terrorist plot. You may argue that one shouldn't have to pay for that, but for now, I'll say it's money well spent.

Info on Global Entry: http://www.globalentry.gov.

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