Back in April 2010, I was approved for admission into the US Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) program, Global Entry, which promises to get frequent international travelers through the immigration lines quickly. In June, when I returned to the US for the first time since I was accepted, I was anxious to see what the user experience would really be like. Would the program really work? Would I blaze through the immigration lines? Or would the reality fall far short of the purported benefits CBP was promoting?
I am pleased to say that not only did the program deliver on its promises, I felt it exceeded what was promised. Yes, we are talking about the same US government which often suffers from the perception that it falls short on service delivery.
How My Global Entry Experience Unfolded
I entered the US from Bogota, Colombia, where I now live, via Houston. This airport is my favorite US entry point because it really seems to have been designed well to process people as quickly as possible (as opposed to Fort Lauderdale which is a true cluster*/&%). I took the red-eye flight that night and entered the immigration processing area around 5-5:30 AM.
I walked over to the machines designed for the Global Entry program. I entered my passport, gave my handprint, answered the required customs questions on the touch screen. Most importantly, I did NOT have to fill out the blue customs form. All of this took about a minute (first-time jitters and excitement probably made me take longer than it needed to).
Now came the moment of truth. Just because I get through the immigration line quicker, didn´t mean that I was not subject to random bag searches. I am still am and so would you be as a participant. To process me through customs, the Global Entry kiosk spits out a card summarizing my information for the customs officer. If the card has a big ´X´ on it, I must submit to a full baggage check. My concern here is the time delay that such a bag check would require. I´ve been through one before. It´s fine and a part of the travel experience but it isn´t a fast process since it is so thorough. A drum roll began in my head as I waited for the card to pop out of the machine. It dropped out and…no ´X´ on the card!
At this point, an immigration officer came over to double check everything. He was satisfied with my credentials and I was on my way to get my bags.
Now, what happened next exceeded my expectations. I approached the customs desk and I saw a sign directing passengers into the appropriate lines. There were the normal lines that I always went through. But, one sign routed airline crew, diplomats and Global Entry participants through a separate line. I was thrilled to see this benefit of the program which I had missed earlier in researching it. At this point of the morning, there were no lines overwhelmed with distressed travelers. But, I was glad to know that if I ever flew through an airport inferior in capacity to Houston´s, I would be able to get into the A-List line. Whoever on the government´s design team fought for this feature to be included, I thank you. As Joe Biden would say, ¨It´s a big effen deal.¨
Get Enrolled in Global Entry and Get Out of Line
Granted I´ve only had one experience with the program. And, who knows what will happen on my next trip back to the US. But, even if I had to wait in line for the Global Entry kiosk, even if I had to wait in line a bit at the customs desk, I still would be time ahead of the rest of my fellow passengers who are not Global Entry participants.
Right now, there are only 60,000 of us enrolled in the program with about 1,400 kiosk usages per day. Given the amount of international travel into the US, I´m sure there is room to grow that number significantly.
In my last post, I gave the details on what you have to do to enroll and what that experience was like. Take a look and get enrolled. The program is well-designed from enrollment to execution. And, I am so happy I took the time and paid the fee to become part of it.
Tags: Global Entry Program