I’m not sure if there was an exact moment when I realized just how frustrated I was with the hassles of air travel.
Maybe it was when I dragged out my laptop and quartsize bag of mini-bottles of liquids, took off my shoes, emptied my pockets, removed my sweater—all those tedious demands of airport screening. Maybe it was when I finally got to board my flight and realized I had left my sweater at screening. Or perhaps it was when, with a tight connection to make, I entered the massive customs “welcome” hall at O’Hare and saw lines twisted so far back that I couldn’t count the rows. Or perhaps it was when I made it halfway to the front of these lines and realized I had two minutes at most to make it to a bathroom. Oops. Or maybe it was simply turning 69. This is a time of life when I want to travel more but have to face that my energy levels and patience (like after flying 12 hours from Barcelona via Heathrow to O’Hare) have limits.
Flying is no longer fun. And I want to have more fun. One answer is to become a “Trusted Traveler,” the term U.S. government officials use for people pre-approved for shorter lines at borders and boardings.
Becoming a Trusted Traveler is not that complicated and does provide big benefits for the cost. Here are the steps to become one.
1. Find the official website. If you search for “Trusted Traveler” online, you will likely find an assortment of professional looking websites popping up. They will help assemble your application and charge a hefty fee, but they are not official. The official sites have acronyms like ttp, cbp or dhs (translation: Trusted Traveler Programs, Customs & Border Patrol and Department of Homeland Security) and end in the domain “gov.” The one most commonly used is ttp.dhs.gov.
2. Select the program that best fits your travels. There are a range of Trusted Traveler programs. The NEXUS program, for example, is directed at travelers who make regular trips into Canada. The SENTRI program is for travelers going into Mexico and Canada; the FAST program is for commercial truck drivers. The option that fits most tourists from Kansas would be the TSA Pre Check or the Global Entry programs. TSA Pre Check costs $85 and simplifies departure for all flights. Once you’re 2. approved, you can keep on your shoes, leave your laptop and quart-size baggie of liquids in your carry-on bag, wear your jacket, etc. Just walk through the machine and smile. The Global Entry program, with its $100 fee, includes all the benefits of TSA Pre Check but also gets you expedited reentry into the United States after traveling overseas. Many airports have special kiosk lines for Global Entry travelers where you slide in your passport, place your finger on a scanner, complete a customs form and then exit to collect your luggage. Other entries have designated booths with very short lines for Global Entry travelers. At land border crossings, there are usually “fast lanes” for Global Entry travelers.
3. Complete the application. This looks simple but can get tricky. For example, first you fill out a Profile Page. I put down my name as Susan (first) Jane (middle) Kraus (last). But, when they asked for my passport info, my name is Susan Jane Kraus, with Jane not listed as a “middle name” because the birth certificate I used 56 years ago to first apply for a passport did not define it that way. Until I realized that, I could not figure out why my application kept getting rejected on grounds that the information did not match the data. Suggestion: Passport information always trumps other ID. However, this isn’t true when they ask for driver’s license information. On this section, you just fill it out as the license reads, middle initial and all. Another hurdle comes with the address information, where the form requests your address for the last five years. Since I moved into my home in 1991, I entered August 1991 and ended with September 2019 (when I was completing the application). It was rejected. Turns out that when they ask for “Five Years” they want that exactly. Start with 5 years prior to the application (month and year) until current month and year. So, for me it was September 2014 to September 2019. On the employment section, use the same protocol. Start with exactly 5 years prior to application and end with month of your application.
4. Make payment. Once the system accepts your application, you pay the fee. It’s nonrefundable, but the payment of $85 for TSA Pre Check and the payment of $100 for Global Entry both last for five years.
5. Schedule the interview. Within a week of submitting my application, I received an email that my application for the Trusted Traveler program had been “conditionally approved.” Then I was told I had 365 days to schedule an interview. The interview location closest to Lawrence is the Kansas City International Airport (Terminal C). So I logged on to schedule an appointment and was told “None available at this time.” I tried again a few days later and found a few slots listed for three months later. The government describes the interview procedures on the website: they cross-check ID, take a photo, take fingerprints, and then validate your passport with its new status. It is possible to bypass months of waiting for an interview if you are taking an international trip in the near future. “When arriving in United States on an international flight, conditionally approved Global Entry applicants can complete their interview without an advance appointment at any of the 52 airports with a Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival program,” explains Jeffrey Quinones, with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). You can find more information about this on the CBP’s website.
So that’s it. If you follow these steps at your leisure, you should have approval for five years of fast-track status as you go through screenings and customs. And every time that happens, you will likely be glad that you made the effort in advance.
OFFICIAL WEBSITES FOR TRUSTED TRAVELER PROGRAMS
Entry portal for all Trusted Traveler options, including TSA Pre Check, Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST. https://ttp.dhs.gov
Information on applying for conditionally approved applicants to finalize Global Entry application at international entry point: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/ trusted-traveler-programs/globalentry/enrollment-arrival/locations.
Because Trusted Traveler is a government program, it is affected by any government shutdown. As of writing this article, the official site continues to have a “significant delays” notice from the previous government shutdown. Keep this in mind when planning your travel and application process.