Thursday, July 30, 2015

Never Wait In An Airport Line Again...

I hate waiting in lines, and I especially hate waiting in lines at airports. Whether you are departing to an awesome destination or returning home from a trip, the worst way I can imagine starting or ending a trip is waiting in a line. Unfortunately, most trips start and end this way. You wait in line to go through security on your outbound trip, and coming home (from international destinations at least!) you wait in line to go through customs. So what if I told you that you could bypass all of these lines while flying in the United States? I bet you'd say it is well worth the time and small cost to do this every trip! Well- here is your answer for you: TSA Precheck or Global Entry!

Last year, I spent $100 to enroll in Global Entry, and it is one of the best travel investments I have made. You can choose to do this, or to spend $85 to enroll in TSA Precheck. You might be asking- what is TSA Precheck or Global Entry? Today, I'll give a quick explanation of both programs and why they are certainly a travel investment worth making.

Both TSA Precheck and Global Entry are run by the Department of Homeland Security. TSA Precheck is a program that enrolls you as a trusted traveler and provides you with a known traveler number (KTN), essentially allowing you to skip the security lines while traveling through airports. Global Entry is an extension of TSA Precheck, that gives you all of the precheck benefits in addition to allowing you to bypass customs lines on your way home from traveling internationally. Yes- you read that right- because I am a member of Global Entry, I get to skip the security lines before flying, and skip the customs lines when coming home from abroad.

What?! If you are thinking this can't possibly be true- it is. I enrolled in Global Entry last year, and since then feel that it is the best $100 I could have spent on traveling. Right now, I'm going to lay down the pros and cons of TSA Precheck, and why it is definitely worth your investment. So, let's get into the details!

In short, TSA Precheck will save you priceless time and energy. The first benefit- you no longer have to wait in security lines while going through the airport! On top of not waiting in line, you also are allowed to pass through security stress-free. You get to keep your shoes, belt, and light jacket on. You get to leave your computer, electronics, and liquids bag in your luggage. Essentially, all you have to do is place your luggage on the belt and walk through the metal detector...

Yes, metal detector. In certain airports, TSA Precheck members will go through metal detectors, and bypass the body scanners. Remember that big controversy a few years ago about the body scanners, and how people thought the TSA could either see them naked, or that the rays emitted were a danger to your health? Personally, I never bought into either of those theories- but in any case, as a member of TSA Precheck, I no longer go through these body scanners and rather simply walk through the metal detector and am on my way!

So far, I outlined how TSA Precheck would save you time and energy. In addition to these savings, TSA Precheck can also eliminate a lot of the stress that goes with traveling, and allow you to start your trip off on the right foot. No more waiting in security lines, taking items off yourself or out of a bag, and worrying if you remembered everything after passing security. Simply walk in, walk out, and be on your way!

The other week, I had my friend drop me off at LAX, where I was headed on to Napa Valley. LAX is the second busiest airport in the U.S., processing over 35 million departing passengers a year. Can you guess how long I waited in line? Whatever your guess, it is wrong- I walked straight through security, used the restroom, sat down at a restaurant next to my gate, and ordered a beer- all before my friend had even left the airport. That's right, it took my friend longer to drive out of the airport than it did for me to get through security and be comfortably waiting for my next vacation to start. What a dream!

Like I mentioned above, I originally applied for (and was accepted to) Global Entry. So in addition to the TSA Precheck benefits, when I return home from abroad I also get to skip the customs lines. Rather than waiting in line to see a customs agent, I simply walk up to a machine, scan my Global Entry card, scan my fingerprints, and enter my customs declaration. The machine takes a quick picture, and prints out my customs information for me to hand off at the final checkpoint before baggage claim. All in all, the process has taken me on average 45 seconds. Wow!

your destination awaits!
OK, I'm going to go ahead and assume that I've sold you on TSA Precheck (or Global Entry, for the international travelers). In the spirit of full disclosure, I will go ahead and share the fact that these programs are not 100% a dream, and they do have some downsides. So here we go with that:

It does cost time and money to apply. I spent probably two hours filling out my application, which included every place I have lived or worked over the last 5 years. The monetary cost was $100 for Global Entry, or $85 for Precheck. So with that, you should evaluate how much you fly- is the time and money necessary to apply worth more than the time and effort you will save while traveling? For me, hands down this was a HECK YES!

On top of the time and money commitment, you actually are not guaranteed to receive TSA Precheck status every time you fly. While this may seem contradictory, it just means you have to be proactive. Whenever you book a flight, make sure you enter your KTN. This way, the airlines- and the TSA- know that you are a known and trusted traveler. On top of this, check in for your flights as soon as you are able to- usually 24 hours. Again, this simply gives you more time to be identified as a known and trusted traveler!

One more potential downside of TSA Precheck- personally, I don't feel this way, but I know others do- is the level of screening it takes. There is an intensive background check. You are photographed, and fingerprinted, by the Department of Homeland Security. You know what though? To me, none of this matters. I'm not worried about the government having my picture or's just not a worry for me. And to be honest, for law-abiding citizens I'm not sure why it would be a concern.

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, there are a couple of 'downsides' to being a member of TSA Precheck. However, I can't imagine traveling without being a member of TSA Precheck and Global Entry, so I am so happy that I spent my time and money enrolling. After all, this is one of the best travel investments to make! Are you a member of TSA Precheck or Global Entry, and if not, why not?

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