Over a Million People Now Have Global Entry, But the Program Doesn’t Work Right for Everyone

The Government Accountability Office produced a study of trusted traveler programs that they released on Friday.

We learned that there were a little over a million people enrolled in Global Entry as of January, and just under a million enrolled in NEXUS at that time.

GAO found a backlog of pending applications, about 90,000 at one time needing review, and no plan in place to improve efficiency.

GAO also found that trusted traveler interviews didn’t consistently follow published guidelines, and raised questions about denial rates. GAO and the Department of Homeland security disagree on the need for scripted interview questions.

While the US works on reciprocity with other countries for trusted traveler programs, they aren’t very careful about documenting other countries’ procedures for clearing people.

CBP has discussed information about other countries’ operational procedures for sharing applicant-vetting results, but has not documented this information for seven of the countries, consistent with internal control standards. Without such documentation, there is no institutional record that those countries’ procedures for vetting applicants help to ensure that only low-risk applicants are enrolled.

I finally signed up for Global Entry over a year ago, figuring the government knew everything about me anyway (and this was pre-Snowden). And I’m just glad not to get stuck in interminable immigration queues at New York JFK and O’Hare, and to pretty much always get PreCheck now (it was hit or miss before, although PreCheck queues can also be far longer than they used to be… and filled with people still taking off their shoes and taking out their liquids).

(HT: Carrie C.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Ran this experiment last week with a 7 pm SEA – LAX flight on UAL. Premier for me, PreCheck for my boss. Guess who had a 10 minute wait inside the terminal? That’s right, the PreCheck took 10 minutes longer and it took me at least 5 minutes to get through. Needless to say, I 100% agree: the “separate precheck” areas (not just a line off to one side) definitely appear hit and miss.

  2. My g/f did not have GE. At both ORD and SEA, with automated kiosks available for non-GE US citizens, she was through basically as quickly as I on trips in January and February. She also loathes the PreCheck lines – she actually gets through faster than I do nearly every time.

    TSA has ruined PreCheck by sending random people into the line but not explaining anything about it. GE only has value when there’s a crush of arrivals but even then the automated kiosks speed things up nicely – the CBP officer looks at the printed slip only slightly longer than my GE-printed slip and waves people through.

  3. How about the new kiosks for non GE US citizens and residents that I saw at ATL last week? They do not have GE but go through a kiosk and uses the same process as GE. Only difference is that they did not spend $100. Total BS!!!!

  4. @Santastico Initially, I also felt slighted by the “automated passport” kiosks which are roughly equivalent to GE. But ultimately I decided that any/all automation is a good thing. After all, those kiosks could reduce the wait time for your pal/partner, and now you both exit the airport more quickly.

    As for travelers not understanding the rules of Pre Check, I recently told the guy in front of me that he didn’t have to take off his oxfords. He glanced over at me and said “steel toed shoes”. So now I’m less righteous about assuming that I have all the answers and everyone else is ignorant…

  5. For US citizens returning to the US at ORD, APC kiosks have ended the horrible wait times to clear CBP passport control and get to the baggage claim area. For most of my entries at ORD, the APC kiosks had wait times in the 0-5 minutes range. If I have checked baggage, GE kiosks mostly save me no more than 5-10 minutes overall, in terms of time to get from plane door to the public arrivals area at ORD.

  6. @RobertF: Agree but how about the $400 I spent on GE for me, my wife and 2 kids? BTW, wife and kids still did not interview yet. So we pay and then everyone else gets same service for free?

  7. @Santastico – Ah yes, let’s have people wait in huge lines that move at the speed of molasses, just so you can feel like you got your money’s worth out of your $400.

  8. @Brian: I guess you should learn how to read. I am not saying that people should wait in line but if everyone will get the service for free just kill GE and stop charging people for a service that is now free. It is the same as you pay for a business class ticket on an international flight and after taking of people from coach are allowed to move there for free so they can have more comfort.

  9. @Sa – When every airport that has GE kiosks also has automated passport control kiosks, they probably WILL kill GE. And they should, when that happens. Meanwhile, the fact that someone paid $$ to get GE is no reason NOT to improve wait times for others.

    And what about airports that have GE, but don’t have automated passport control kiosks? There are far more airports that have GE than have automated passport control. If you enter into the country at one of those airports, you’re much better off with GE than someone without.

  10. Even when kiosks are ubiquitous, GE should have benefit. More likely to get Pre (yes, Pre has declined in advantage recently), but also hopefully less likely to get pulled for a secondary screening on entry (I have to assume that submitting to the background check makes me safer than the random person using the other kiosks?).

  11. What bugs me is how random my PreCheck status is. Sometimes I have it, other times I don’t. Yesterday, after a 12 hour flight from Asia, I didn’t have PreCheck on my domestic leg when I could have used it most. After all, I had just gone through customs and the agriculture check. To me, it just seems haphazard and unpredictable. But I have gone through the rather extensive background checks to enter the program, so the randomness doesn’t really add up for me.

  12. I find it astounding that a seasoned traveler would not have signed up for GE several yeas ago. Particularly when you have so many credit cards (and status??) that reimburse the fees. It’s such a no brainer that even my aging parents got it for their once or twice a year international trips.

    Even if you have to pay, isn’t it worth $20/yr to jump to the front of the line, not to mention the precheck benefits (which are critical for those who don’t already have free precheck). My parents are very frugal but felt it was well worth the $$.

    As for the GAO report, that just goes to the whole fallacy of the border control system – which is unneeded and ineffective. Bad guys and other illegals can easily enter the country via the Southern border, so there is no good reason to harass US citizens.

  13. My most recent USA immigration/customs clearances have been at IAD and YVR.

    Global Entry at IAD was, as usual, fast and trouble-free. But there’s no Pre-Check line to get airside for connections, so everyone had to go through the full disassembly/reassembly routine.

    Connecting from a Europe-originating flight to a USA-bound flight at YVR meant going through a full security check, and there’s no Global Entry there, so we had to wait for the regular immigration screening. Surprisingly, though, they showed us a photo of our luggage, asked us to confirm that it was ours, and that was that — no reclaiming and rechecking.

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