Airport security lines became insufferably long in the spring, but improved over the summer as the TSA seasaws between absurd overcautiousness and prioritizing speed.
While airlines are spending some money on the problem, Delta bought into CLEAR and and redesigned checkpoints while airlines generally added staff to bark at passengers how to get through queues efficiently, overall airlines just want the government to spend more or security rather than fixing airport security.
TSA Agents in Charlotte Watch News of the TSA’s Failure to Detect Weapons and Bombs, Instead of Searching for Weapons and Bombs (HT: Tocqueville)
The best way to get through security is with access to TSA PreCheck lanes. The following airlines participate in PreCheck:
- Air Canada
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Cape Air
- Delta Air Lines
- Etihad Airways
- Hawaiian Airlines
- JetBlue Airways
- Seaborne Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Sun Country Airlines
- United Airlines
- Virgin America
It’s been expected that both Spirit and Frontier will get set up with PreCheck in the coming months.
I have Global Entry which allows skipping the immigration and customs queues when you return to the U.S. and provides PreCheck.
I didn’t love the fingerprinting or background check that went along with it, but I figured all my cell phone data was being logged anyway long before Edward Snowden was cool. So if the surveillance was inevitable I figured I might as well at least get the convenience.
Now that I have it, it’s hard to imagine life without it — and not just queuing up at immigration, but also that I always get PreCheck at TSA now rather than having it be hit-or-miss.
Playmobil Security Playset
Four programs provide expedited airport security:
- Nexus is the cheapest and most comprehensive. It’s expedited immigration for Canada, but gets you Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. It’s $50. But credit card and other fee credits don’t advertise rebating the signup cost. It takes approvals on both the US and Canadian sides and while appointments aren’t super-tough to get, it can take 2-4 months to be approved.
- Global Entry is expedited immigration. The fee is $100 and comes with TSA PreCheck. It’s open to US citizens and permament residents, UK citizens, German citizens and Mexican nationals. UK and German citizens have pre-registration requirements through their home country.
- TSA PreCheck is $85 and doesn’t come with any border benefits.
- Sentri is for US-Mexico land crossings, costs $122.50, and includes Global Entry (and PreCheck).
Most US citizens want Global Entry because it includes PreCheck, for an extra $15 gets expedited immigration (of decreasing importance as immigration kiosks roll out), and it reimbursed by more premium credit cards than PreCheck. Frequent Canadian visitors should get Nexus, and it’s cheaper, but the waits and dual approvals may discourage.
Here’s the rub in all of this. Wait times. If you sign up for Global Entry now, you may not get it this year.
As reader Steve G. wrote to me yesterday,
I can’t find an appointment available for my Philadelphia-based father anywhere nearby between now and November, with most enrollment centers having no available appointments until January. Some centers are even showing no appointments at all, and the earliest appointment available in DEN, for example, is in April!
When you get approved for global entry you have 30 days to schedule an appointment. But your preferred enrollment center may not have any appointments — for several months. You have to pick a date in the future. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait for that date. You can change your appointment date as many times as you wish.
Four strategies to consider:
- Consider a different location. When I first signed up for Global Entry I figured I’d do my registration in DC, but I wanted my appointment faster. There were available appointments at New York JFK so I made an appointment there when I could conveniently pass through the airport.
- Keep checking for available appointments. People make appointments and cancel them especially close in. The system updates in close to real time. Refresh the appointment times page and you may see dates open up.
- Just go in. I’ve had a few readers tell me that they signed up for an appointment in the future. As long as they were signed up for an appointment at some time, somewhere, they could show up at any enrollment center. And if the enrollment center wasn’t busy they could get their interview done on a walk-in basis. There is no guarantee this will work. They don’t have to take you, it may be dependent on who is there that day and their mood. Often appointments take much less time than scheduled and employees sit around, if they’re bored they’ll take you. At least 3 readers have shared they had success with this.
- Give up and consider PreCheck or pay more, getting both PreCheck and then Global Entry later (less annoying if you have more than one credit card rebating fees, and one includes PreCheck fees)
The government wants more people signing up for the program, TSA blames their lack of manpower on assumptions that more people would have access to PreCheck lanes, but programs providing that access don’t actually have the throughput to accomplish those goals. Global Entry is great, but it’s important to attenuate expectations. You’re dealing with government-provided services, after all.