The beginning of a trip often sets the tone for the whole adventure, which, for better or worse, puts a lot of pressure on the airport experience.
Were the ticket agents or self-check kiosks agreeable and efficient? Did you have luggage hassles along the way? Was it easy to find your terminal, gate, and, if you’re lucky, first-class lounge?
For me, the make-or-break often rests on the airport security experience.
I like to arrive at the airport early. The sooner I can find my gate and feel settled, the sooner I can relax and feel like I’m on vacation. But sometimes the security lines can last forever, and no matter how precisely you’ve packed your liquids and gels, emptied your pockets, and prepared your paperwork, it can be an unpleasant experience.
Behold the wonderfulness that is Global Entry.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program is the best of all travel worlds. When you’re leaving America, Global Entry includes the same benefits as TSA Precheck, which means you don’t need to remove your shoes, laptops, belts, light jackets, or bags of appropriately-sized liquids and gels when you’re going through airport security screenings.
Since you’ve been prescreened in one way or another, Global Entry means you’re also eligible for the TSA Precheck security lanes, which tend to be significantly shorter than general security lines.
When you return to the United States from another country, you use an automated kiosk at select major airports instead of waiting in line for an in-person customs interview. You slide your passport into the scanner, have your fingerprints read digitally, and complete a customs declaration form via touchscreen. The kiosk prints a receipt with your photo on it (not flattering, if yours are anything like mine usually are), and you present that to the agent on your way to baggage claim. Piece of cake!
You get all of these benefits after you’ve been cleared as a low-risk traveler. This involves completing an online form, paying a $100 USD fee, and, after your application is prescreened, participating in an in-person interview with a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent. It works for some citizens of other countries, too; check out the entire list of eligible travelers.
Mike and I did our interviews at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Since we had to be at an airport anyway, we used it as an excuse for a long weekend in Key West, where we got our PADI Advanced Open Water dive certifications.
Like TSA Precheck, Global Entry clearance is good for five years, which makes it well worth the trouble and the fee if you’re planning to travel at least a couple of times within that period.
If you aren’t ready for travel’s equivalent of “pass go” in Monopoly, then perhaps you’d rather plan your travel around airports that are making the security process more technologically advanced and also more aesthetically pleasing, like Dubai International Airport. They’ve built a new security tunnel where you pass through an aquarium while 80 cameras take photos and scan your face. At the end of the hallway, you will either be allowed to move on to your gate or asked to stop for further screening. Finding Nemo meets travel Inception.
Either way, bon voyage!