Southwest Airlines flight landing.

Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check

Global Entry is a trusted traveler program offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. If you’re able to pass a background check, interview process, and willingness to pay $100, you get five-years of inclusion in this program that offers two main benefits for me:

  1. Accelerated customs processing
  2. Accelerated airport security via TSA Pre-Check and others

You can get access to TSA Pre-Check by itself for a little bit less, $80-$85 or so, but for the extra $20 if there’s any chance you’ll go international is worth it.

Customs Processing
Re-entering the United States at entry points with Global Entry kiosks is stupidly easy. Those annoying little forms that you get on the plane that you never have a pen ready for and end up chicken-scratching something while trying to stay steady while using the seat back tray? In the past. When entering the country, you can proceed directly to a Global Entry kiosk, scan your passport, provide fingerprints on the digital panel, smile for a picture. The kiosk will walk you through a couple of customs questions—anything to declare?

You’ll get a receipt with your picture on it to present at the customs official. I’ve been painfully honest, declaring the chocolate bars I’ve brought back from Belize and Ireland. This earns a big printed circle surrounded an alert on the receipt for the official. The official asked me what I’m bringing back, they laugh at the mention of a chocolate bar, and I’m on my way. I’ve used Global Entry in Vancouver, Dublin (both have US Customs Pre-Clearance, so you don’t have to clear customs domestically on a layover), and Houston. Each time took less than five minutes from getting to the customs area to leaving cleared.

If you live near Canada, joining the NEXUS program may make sense to you too. That’ll give you accelerated entry into Canada as well. All of the interview stations are at the U.S./Canada border or in Canada and I don’t travel to Canada enough (twice in three years) to merit the effort to figure out the logistics.

Airport Security
TSA Pre-Check is all the rage. With horror stories of 2+ hour lines in Chicago this summer, TSA higher-ups being kicked out, airlines putting warnings on boarding passes, people suing the TSA for missing flights, airport security has a bad rap. Without getting into the merits or effectiveness of current security measures, it is a fact of life for now if you’re traveling the friendly skies.

When accepted into the Global Entry program, you’re given a “known traveler numbers” that you can provide to airlines when making reservations. While not guaranteed, it virtually will always give you access to TSA Pre-Check—I’ve never not received it. This is absolutely worth it. $20 a year is a no-brainer if you can qualify with the background check.

Two quick examples. My wife and I, along with two of our kids, traveled to New England for the wedding of a dear family friend. I have Pre-Check, Vanessa doesn’t. I’m able to take my kids through with me, since they’re under 12, but the rules do not allow me to bring Vanessa in with me. When we were traveling back to Austin, the shuttle from the rental car station to the terminal took longer than we expected and there was more people in the terminal then we were expecting at 4 am.

Vanessa went straight to the security line while I took the kids to the ticket counter to check our bags. The ticket counter line was insane. It filled the queue and spilled into the passageway. Checking the clock, I started to get concerned we were going to be cutting it too close. Finally, bags were checked and we went to security. Practically, we walked through security and looked to find Vanessa, assuming she made it through already.

No. Still waiting through security, where she ended up getting an extra check because she put her boarding pass and ID in her back pocket, which set off all the alarms of the scanner. Once she got through, we walked right to the gate as they started the boarding process.

For my work trips, I aim to carry-on or use the skycaps when available to eliminate the bag line. For my last trip, it was only a few days in Florida in the summer, so light clothing and easy for an carry-on. My Wingz driver dropped me off at half-past the hour, I stopped at a bench to prepare myself for security1, then went through the Pre-Check line. After getting through and collecting my things, it was 35 minutes past the hour. Literally five minutes from curb to being completely through security. Absolutely worth it.

Lastly, Global Entry (as does NEXUS) gives you access to Canada’s version of the Pre-Check line. The security process is still pretty similar to normal folks—notably you must take your laptop out of your bag. The U.S. TSA-approved lay-flat computer bags do not count in Canada, as a very direct Canadian airport security agent reminded me I “wasn’t in the United States. Our rules.”

I fly a handful of times a year, at least, and there are extra fees everywhere—$25 for a bag, $100 for a change fee, the price of airport food. This $100 for five years has been the most worthwhile “extra” expense.

  1. Even with Pre-Check, I strive to streamline processes. I keep my wallet in my work bag and wear those silly travel wallets with my ID, phone, and boarding pass to minimize things to take out. I attach my fitness tracker to my bag, just in case a particular metal detector is sensitive, so when I hit the line, I drop my work bag, my wallet necklace, and my carry-on without needing a tray or trying to dig things out of my pockets. 






2 responses to “Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check

  1. Chrissie Avatar

    I love the TSA Pre-Check when it works. But out of the first 6 flights my husband and I took last year, 4 didn’t have that pre-check option we paid for 🙁 The last two we took together did, as did a couple of my own tickets, so maybe it took us a while to really get in the system. I don’t know. Hopefully it’s all clear now. Wish I knew about Global when I did the pre-check paperwork and fees. Great post showing all the options.

  2. Richard A. Avatar

    I always put everything in my backpack as well, other than my passport or Nexus card, and my boarding pass. Everything else (walled, phone, and everything else) can enjoy the ride in my backpack for a few minutes. Make going through any security check so much faster, and I’m amazed that other people don’t do the same.

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