With my own trip to India coming up in the next week, I thought I’d share some tips to make getting through airports less of a hassle via the various Trusted Traveler programs (including TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry) as well as CLEAR and VIP Meet & Greet Services offered at many international airports.
The goal is to get you from the curb to the gate as quickly as possible and to ensure your time is spent enjoying a cocktail or a spa service rather than waiting in long airport lines.
For domestic travel, sign up for TSA Pre-Check to breeze through a dedicated security line without removing your shoes, light jackets, liquids or laptops. It’s as easy as filling out an online application and scheduling a 10 minute interview at one of 380+ enrollment centers, where you’ll undergo a background check and fingerprinting. The application fee is $85 but you’ll enjoy 5 full years of benefits and there’s several credit cards, such as the American Express Platinum card, which will reimburse the fee. If you have children 12 or under, they can go through TSA Pre-Check with a parent who has this designation without having to apply themselves.
Depending on your preferred city, interviews can be booked up for months so plan ahead and try to find locations outside the major airports. In California, the enrollment centers are at Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego Airports but you can also go to the Long Beach Seaport or several other locations in San Diego. Also, keep checking for cancellations, it happens and you can get into your preferred location sooner than expected. For families, you will need an appointment for each family member. I had to make separate trips for my family of 5 as it’s difficult to get 5 appointments in a row. I opted to get TSA Pre-Check for all 3 of my kids and my teen boys have enjoyed this privilege when they travel alone to visit family. You’ll need to show valid ID for the kids at their interview, so this is also a great time to get passports for everyone. It really does eliminate much of the time sink and stress around flying.
Don’t let the interview scare you, it’s merely a few questions verifying past travels and seeing how truthful you are about any criminal activity (hopefully you don’t have any!). I had to fess up about my previous speeding tickets but that’s about as difficult as it got. For the kids, it’s a question or two about any travel they may have enjoyed. The drive to SFO actually took longer than the interview itself.
Once you complete the interview, you’ll get your Known Traveler Number (KTN) and card in a few weeks. In the meantime, you can access your KTN online. You must enter your KTN when booking your flights so the TSA Pre-Check designation appears on your airline ticket. This is the only way to gain access to the dedicated pre-check line. I’ve heard some people tell me that it doesn’t always show up on their tickets. The best way to ensure you get pre-check every time is to call the airlines initially and give them your KTN. You can also add this to your frequent flyer profiles. Check your boarding pass when you get it to ensure you have the TSA Pre-Check designation before you head to the airport. If it doesn’t appear, call the airline to ensure it’s in your confirmation or provide it at the check-in counter upon arrival at the airport.
If you plan to travel outside the U.S. in the next 5 years, I would opt for Global Entry. Not only does it include TSA Pre-Check for domestic travel but it provides expedited immigration processing when you return home. This has been a huge time saver for me and my family, especially when coming through clogged airports like Miami. Nothing ruins a beautiful Caribbean vacation than standing in long lines to get your passport stamped. With Global Entry, you go to a marked kiosk, slide in your passport, answer a few questions and BOOM you have a printed receipt with your photo that allows you to waltz through the immigration check line. It’s well worth the $100 application fee and like TSA Pre-Check, it’s valid for 5 years and the fee is reimbursed by several credit card companies.
Although Global Entry is primarily to ease your entry back into the U.S., there are now several Global Entry kiosks outside the U.S. Most are in Canada but there are some in the Caribbean (Aruba, Puerto Rico, Bahamas), Guam, Ireland (Dublin and Shannon), United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi) and New Zealand (Auckland). These countries allow expedited immigration through marked “Global Entry” lines in the customs area.
The application process is much like TSA Pre-Check but you must present a valid passport in addition to another ID during your interview. Unlike TSA Pre-Check, Global Entry will not allow family members under 12 to accompany parents with this designation. Every traveler must have their own Global Entry number.
Where TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry are government programs, CLEAR was created by a private entity. It works in conjunction with the government programs but allows you to skip the passport/boarding pass ID check in the regular TSA screening and TSA Pre-Check lanes via the dedicated CLEAR lane and head directly to the security area.
CLEAR uses fingerprint and iris identification technology to authenticate a traveler's identity and then escorts them directly to the baggage screening and metal detection area. Scan your boarding pass and either blink (iris technology) or press down on the pad with your fingers (fingerprint technology) and proceed directly to screening. However, once you arrive at the physical screening checkpoint, you will need the TSA Pre-Check designation in order to use the expedited screening lane. Otherwise, you’ll go through the standard screening lane since a private company cannot bypass the necessary government checks which must be performed by airport authorities.
You can apply online or at a kiosk at the airport with a valid form of photo identification whether that's a driver's license, passport, permanent resident card or military id. Kids under 18 can use the CLEAR lane at no cost when accompanied by a registered family member.
Currently available at 24 airports throughout the US and touting getting you from ticketing to post-security in 5-10 min, CLEAR could be a great addition to your Trusted Traveler portfolio. However, at a cost of $179/year, CLEAR may not be as transparent a choice as you may think!
So you’ve expedited through security on your way out of the U.S but what happens when you arrive in your international destination? Likely, you’ll once again stand in customs and immigration lines unless there happens to be a Global Entry option or you apply for a similar program through the country you are visiting.
Another great option for taking the stress and hassle out of customs and immigration is to add VIP MEET & GREET to your customized itinerary. Through this service, you and your family are met at the gate or skywalk of your arriving international flight. Depending on the region, you are either escorted through customs and the Premium Immigration Lane or, in some instances, you are escorted to a private lounge to enjoy a cool beverage while your paperwork is taken care of on your behalf. Although this service is not available in all airports, I highly recommend it to my clients where it is an option. After a long overseas flight, the last thing you want to do is wait in longer immigration lines. Wouldn’t you rather be on your way to the hotel so you can kick start your vacation?