Vanessa and the Law

Once, Vanessa was given an “enhanced security” screening for having a hair tie in her back pocket. You better believe I’m never going to forget that.

“Don’t forget to check your pockets for lint!”

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. 

Travel Secrets: Grab Airport Food Quick

While I don’t travel that often for work, I still travel a good amount. I scaled back and I’ve only flown to or have air travel booked to Belize, Ireland, Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, and Canada for 2016 between business and pleasure. Here’s the first of an occasional series of tips and tricks I’ve picked up.

I use Grab when grabbing a quick bite in the airport. The Grab Airport Mobile Ordering app is straight forward—order from eateries in the airport via your phone, get notified when your food is ready, then pick up. An app version of the ole “pick up order” in a market that hasn’t seen improvement in awhile.

Even in airports that they do not offer mobile ordering or particular places within an airport that doesn’t support it, their app still lists the various places and what gate. I travel a fair amount and typically not to a place more than once, so trying to figure out what’s available at an airport is a pain.

Austin was one of the first two airports with mobile ordering options, so I gave it a spin. Again, pretty straight forward. The only hiccup I’ve had is working with restaurant partners to be a bit more clear that a single order equals two tacos at the particular place I ate at. 🌮🌮

Order on the phone, confirm it, get a notification of the ready-by time, get a notification that the order is ready for pickup. Additionally, there is an option to order ahead of time and “hold” the order until you’re at the airport and confirm it.

Personally, since I’m Global Entry/TSA Pre-Check and know my security time will be short, I order right before heading into security, then head straight to the restaurant to pick up my food. Once, I had to wait a minute or two for the food to be ready, but otherwise, it’s a straight shot so I can spend more time working, reading, strolling through the airport and less time standing in a line hungry.

Use my invite code, AA6B98D6, when signing up, and we’ll both get some credit.

Southwest Is My Airline

Soon after getting married, I realized that I would be flying Southwest quite a bit more. It is the only airline to fly Austin to El Paso direct and, being the city of my wife’s family, it would be a common destination during the holidays. For five years, I’ve only flown Southwest.

Now, working for Automattic, and needing to travel some with them has exposed me to a few others: United and American so far. I can choose to fly with any airline, but those are the ones that are pre-programmed into the company’s travel purchasing site.
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