Earlier this year I was wheeling my carry-on through the security line at the Minneapolis airport. The gentleman in front of me did not at all look the part of a traveler. Not because he looked like he’d just finished plowing a cornfield, but because of his bewildered stance. As in, “I have to take off my belt?”
His belt was not a decorative part of his wardrobe and the only thing between him and a puddle of denim on the floor. I looked away, my attempt to giving the guy some dignity because I understood. Not at baggy jeans but at having to strip off my blazer revealing the bumps and bulges I wanted to desperately hide. So much for appearances.
These three airport options not only speed up then process but can also help you keep more of the dignity you deserve.
Who’s it for
If you travel often within the USA or you just hate waiting on the infrequent times when you do travel, you can’t go wrong with TSA (Transportation Security Administration). TSA just means you’ve been pre-checked. You do ONCE what you’d normally have to do every single time you go through the airport.
TSA is for US citizens or permanent residents. That said, the US government has arrangements with several others countries.
Fill out a short online application. After you’re notified of “conditional approval”, go online and set up an in-person interview at one of the indicated enrollment centers. (The interview is only ten and unless you’ve robbed a bank recently, nothing to stress about.) They’ll get your fingerprints too. Finally, you’ll be notified of approval and given a known traveler number (you won’t be issued a card of any sort).
Next time you book a ticket, just enter your TSA number, also known as your PASSID/Known Traveler Number, something you’ll find on the Trusted Traveler program website.
Experience the joy of not having to unpack everything you stuffed into your carry-on bag, including your laptop and the liquid foundation inside your makeup bag. You can keep your Toms® and jean jacket on too, thank you very much. Oh…and my farmer friend above would have been spared the indignity of having to hold up his pants with one hand and remove his belt with the other.
First, as more people realize the benefits of TSA, the lines are getting longer. The wait time to get for an interview can also vary, depending on how many people are applying at your particular enrollment center.
$85 for 5 years
NOTE: TSA has an app which gives you rough wait times and answers questions about what can/can’t go through security.
Who’s it for
If you travel internationally more than just occasionally, you’ll definitely want Global Entry. Why they call it “Global Entry,” I’m not sure. It’s primarily for those entering the USA. It’s for US citizens and permanent residents but those from a few other countries are eligible to apply too.
Follow the same process as TSA (see above). There’s an online application. Once you get conditional approval, go online and set up a follow-up interview at an enrollment center. (Again, unless you’re on America’s Most Wanted list, this is nothing to stress about. My interviewer actually smiled. Gasp.). After a ten-minute interview and fingerprinting, you’re on your way.
Unlike TSA pre-check, you will be issued a Global Entry card along with a Known Traveler number. After five years, you can renew your card–for a fee of course.
When I’m on my way home after a fourteen-hour flight from Seoul, the last thing I want is another line. Thanks to Global Entry I head straight to a separate elite section (yes, elite because that’s exactly how I feel when I strut by the crowds of bleary-eyed travelers in line for passport control.)
On top of everything, you get TSA PreCheck.
Not all US airports have Global Entry ports, so check to make sure your main airport is on the list. Like TSA, the wait times to receive approval can vary. The good news? You can check wait times if you want to get Global Entry before an upcoming trip.
$100 for 5 year, only $15 more than TSA
Who’s it for
This is the new kid on the block but it’s gaining momentum. This is for the business traveler whose time is money. If you travel a lot within the US, this is a great program. You also need to be a US citizen or permanent resident.
Register online or in-person at a CLEAR center. Then go to an enrollment center and give them your fingerprints and an eye scan. There’s no need to make an appointment. Just show up. Be sure though to check the hours ahead of time if you’re doing it in person.
The application process is fast and convenient. It can take less than twenty minutes and can be done right at the airport before a flight. There’s no need to make an appointment or wait to get in for an interview.
It’s also extremely secure.
Once you have CLEAR, you move directly to the front of the security check. This may leave everyone else who’s been standing in line feeling slighted, but you’ve paid for the privilege. Use it. New York Mets fans will be pleased to know CLEAR also gives them special security status at Citifield. And if you rent a car from Hertz, you won’t wait in a line to pick up that rental either.
If you’re not comfortable handing over your biometrics, you might hesitate considering CLEAR. Each time you use the expedited service, they’ll take an eye scan and your fingerprints. Those are compared with what they have on file. Security comes with a price.
You still need to go through the regular security process like everyone else. So please remove your blazer, high heels and laptop and set them on the conveyor belt.
CLEAR isn’t available in all nationwide airports (60 to date). Check to make sure your primary airport is included.
$180 per year
Individual Airline Programs
Besides TSA, Global Entry and CLEAR, most airlines offer expedited check-in and security through their elite programs.