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Global Entry - The TSA Trusted Traveler Program - or - How to Go In The Short Line At The Airport Security

Ever since September 11th, 2001, flying has been a hassle. With each failed attempt to smuggle explosives on an airplane, the TSA makes us get more undressed at airport security. In fact, for really early morning flights, we should probably all just show up in our jammies and then get dressed once we are through the scanner because currently we get up, get dressed, go to the airport, get half undressed, go through security, and then get dressed again.

For quite some time, people have been asking the TSA so implement some kind of pre-screening program where travelers could have a background check in advance, and then be allowed to go in a shorter line. That day is finally here, and the TSA is now rolling out a Trusted Traveler Program known as Global Entry.

In a nutshell, you pay $100, fill out some online forms, go in for an interview, present your proof of ID, and get fingerprinted and photographed. Yes, it sounds like some red tape, but then, every time you make an airline reservation, you will put in your "Known Traveler Number" and your boarding pass will have some special info on it. If your airport has the expedited lane at security, then you will be able to show them your fancy boarding pass and they may decide that you don't have to take off your shoes, belt, and jacket, or take your laptop out, etc. You may have noticed some weasel words in there. Not every airport has an expedited security lane, but the TSA officer that screened me said that most should have them by the end of 2012. The other part is that they *may* decide that you don't need to take off your belt and shoes, etc. The TSA prints in bold type on the instruction sheet for the Global Entry Program that they reserve the right to implement "random and unpredictable" security measures. Maybe that's the part where they frisk old ladies and small children.

The civil libertarians among you may argue that the Constitution is supposed to protect us from unreasonable search and seizure, and that it also gives us a right to privacy, and the right to travel, and that people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty so you should not have to give all of your information to the government in order to not be hassled by the TSA when you want to fly on an airplane. I agree with your sentiment and I will cheer you on as you collect the money to take that to the Supreme Court. In the mean time, I paid the $100, filled out the forms, and now I get to go in the short line at security while you work all of that out.

So, how to do it:
  • Scan your passport and save it as a .jpg. Once you start filling out the on-line forms, they are going to ask for it, and if you don't have it then you will have to stop and finish your application later. I also saved my scan on Evernote just in case I am ever traveling and get my passport stolen
  • Next, go to and register as a new GOES User. You will use this login and password to get to the application for the Global Entry program. If you are a Web design snob you will find the site very governmental and slightly tedious, but it works. You will enjoy the email that you get that explains what a login is and why you need to have it. Every single time you log in you will be prompted to accept the terms and conditions. Sigh.
  • Once you get logged in and accept the terms and conditions you will be taken to a screen where you can click on the "Enroll in a New Program" button. Click on that, select the Trusted Traveler program, and fill out all of the on-line forms that come up. They are going to ask for your contact info, driver's license info, passport info, employment info, etc. This is all for the background search. Needless to say, if you are some kind of known criminal then you are probably not going to pass.
  • Eventually you will make it all the way through the application and they will send you an email that says that you are supposed to check back frequently to find out the status of your application. I never did check back, but they sent me an email, anyway, to tell me that there was a status change and that I needed to log back in. When I did, I found that I was tentatively approved. You then need to print out that acceptance letter from the GOES site so you can take it with you to the interview. It also has your "Known Traveler Number." 
  • You have 30 days to show up for an in-person interview which you schedule there on the site. They have "Enrollment Centers" in Atlanta, Lansdowne (Ontario), Boston, New York, Charlotte, Denver, DFW Airport, Detroit, Newark, Honolulu (no word if you will need a long form), Sterling (VA), Houston, Jamaica (NY), Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, Miami, St. Paul, Chicago, Ft Lauderdale, Philadelphia, Phoenix, SeaTac Airport (Seattle), Sanford (FL), San Francisco, and Isla Verde (PR). The "Conditional Approval Notification" letter has all of the addresses. 
  • Once you schedule your appointment on-line, there is another letter to print out. It has all of the interview info including the address, directions, and a list of what to bring.
  • On the day of the appointment, just go and take your 2 forms that you printed, above, your passport, and driver's license. They will ask you a couple of questions, take your fingerprints and photo, and there you are. It was pretty easy. I had my interview at SeaTac and I was in and out in 30 min, and that included airport parking.
Basically, if you are not a criminal, and if you can pay $100 and follow some instructions, then you can get approved to go in the short line at airport security, to use quick kiosks when coming back into the country, and you will even get a Nexus card for crossing the Canadian border in the fast lane.

Update October 3rd 2012: When I went in for my in-person interview, the officer told me that I would not be receiving an ID card, or anything. Two weeks later I received a nice ID card in the mail. It has your Trusted Traveler number in the upper, left-hand corner of the back of the card.

Anyway, last week I made my first flight since receiving the card. I flew on Alaska Airlines out of SeaTac Airport in Seattle. Before you book your travel on the Alaska Air site, go to your profile and put in your Known Traveler Number. Then book your ticket as normal. When you go to the security line at the airport, there is the main line where everyone else goes, but you will take the small line on the side. Show your Global Entry card and boarding pass and you are in. When I was there, the line was short and quick and I didn't have to get half undressed, backspattered, or groped. It was much nicer and faster. On my return trip from Kansas City, there was no such luck. The TSA guy running the line at MCI said that their airport didn't have it yet, so I had to go through the normal line. I really appreciated the faster, easier boarding process in Seattle, so I hope that they roll this out to all airports, soon.


Matt said…

How long was the wait between application and approval? Just put in my app a few days ago.

Tod Bookless said…
It was just a couple of weeks, Matt
Unknown said…
Yes, it gets you into a shorter line, and the Global Entry kiosks are damn simple to use. But I have yet to avoid any of the undressing that you started out with in the article. Have you had any luck with that?
Tod Bookless said…
Kevin, they retain the option to make you remove your belts and shoes, especially if you are a known Canadianista. :-)
QualMod said…
In San Francisco area, I received the pre-approval in August, but the system did not have any TSA interview appointments available for 3 months (until mid-November). SFO appears to be backed up appointment-wise... Really looking forward to that interview - thanks for the great write up on the process!

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