Under the harsh lights of the interrogation room, a bead of sweat slowly trickled down my forehead.
“You are self-employed? That’s a red flag,” declared Agent “Smith” as he scrutinized my passport and paperwork.
“What is it that you do?” he demanded to know.
“I’m… I’m a journalist,” I stammered.
“And just who do you work for?”
“AAA World … AARP … Consumer Reports.”
He silently scribbled down each outlet. Had I made a horrible mistake? How had I ended up in the Customs & Border Protection Office at Houston’s Bush InterContinental Airport?
Turn back the clock to October 2009. Entering the U.S. Arrivals area at the Houston airport after a trip to Guadalajara, Mexico, I encountered a line longer than the one for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Universal Orlando.
My travel companions and I spent more than an hour making small talk, mostly about the one passport control line travelers breezed through. It wasn’t for hoity-toity dignitaries, but instead savvy Americans enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s Global Entry program. High-tech, self-service kiosks at most major U.S. airports scan scan passports and fingerprints of Global Entry members, then send them on their way.
I lucked out and made my airline connection. Most of my pals didn’t. That’s when I vowed, channeling Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll never be stuck in an immigration line again!”
Soon after, I applied for Global Entry using the Global On-line Enrollment System (GOES). A week later I received an email invitation to “visit an enrollment center within 30 days to complete the process.” With no center at my home airport and the clock ticking, I opted for a trip to Houston where I could combine my interview and a visit with the parental units.
On interview day I followed the “special instructions” received with my confirmation including a phone number to call upon arrival (though darn it, no super-secret password). My mind raced. What if they quizzed me on my answers to application questions? Did I name Pal or Linus as my favorite pet? What was my best subject in school? Lunch?
The officer took me behind locked doors and…
All right, already. It wasn’t quite that dramatic. No Law & Order-style grilling. In fact, the CBP officer was really nice. Once he understood I was a globetrotting writer, not some nefarious smuggler, he was thrilled. Really. He said Global Entry is not only good for frequent international travelers, but makes life easier for immigration officers, who’d love shorter lines so they can focus on suspicious-types entering this country.
He asked me to spread the word. Which is exactly what I’m doing, but – nah, nah, nah fellow travelers — no longer in some endless U.S. Arrivals line.
In case you need one more reason to sign up for Global Entry, consider this. These days, Global Entry is your golden ticket to TSA PreCheck, which allows passengers to cruise through airport security without taking off their shoes or removing laptops or that plastic baggie containing tiny toiletries. You still have to go through security and walk through a metal detector, but most who go through PreCheck report waits of less than five minutes.
What are you waiting for?
- Sign onto GOES. You’ll find the link here.
- Set up a user account.
- Fill out the Global Entry application. Have your machine-readable passport and other I.D. handy (you’ll need the numbers) and be prepared to list residence(s), travel and employment history for the past five years.
- If approved, you’ll receive an email with a link to schedule an interview at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers. Cost: $100, good for five years.
- Officers verify your identity, take a photo and obtain fingerprints. Then they demonstrate how the kiosks work. Simply slide your passport, look at the camera and press fingers onto a scanner. You still have to declare any goods and verify your flight information. Unless there’s an issue, it spits out a receipt and you are good to go.