I was returning in March from a short trip to Mexico and had 90 minutes in Atlanta to connect to the last flight of the evening back to my home in Wilmington. I disembarked first from the inbound Delta flight. I had intentionally not checked luggage to avoid any possible delays on that front. I strode purposefully towards immigration with no pressing concern about the connection. After 75 minutes I finally made it to the front of the arriving US Citizens line. I ran through customs and changed concourses, arriving at my departure gate with the aircraft still sitting there, door closed and a thoroughly unimpressed gate agent starting to rebook me on the first flight the following morning.
It was at that exact moment I decided it was time to enroll in Global Traveler. This is a fairly recent program by US Customs and Border Protection which effectively fast tracks an arriving passenger through the immigration portion of the international arrivals process. The following morning I completed the online application and within 3 weeks had received conditional approval. I then scheduled my interview online for one of their multiple processing centers around the country, e.g. major airports. The interview lasted for 15 minutes and was conducted by a professional and efficient US CBP agent. She asked me a few questions, took my picture and fingerprints and then walked me through the process using the same style kiosk that I would use when entering the US once I had final approval.
Within 24 hours I received an email with final approval and my return international journey to Philadelphia the following day would be the initial experience.
This week I used the system for the first time and it worked flawlessly. Slide in your passport like an ATM card, look at the camera, place your fingers on the scanner, answer four questions and a receipt is printed which you provide the customs officer as you exit baggage claim in lieu of the blue form which you no longer complete. Government at it’s finest.
One of the nice aspects of the system, is that it is tied to the person, not your passport, i.e. when you renew your passport you then only need to go online to update your profile in their system with your new passport details. The program is open to US Citizens, Permanent Residents and Dutch Citizens.
Last month American Express started a promotion whereby they would refund a cardmember the $100 enrollment fee if you charged it to your American Express card (only certain cards qualified). Regardless of whether it costs you some money or not, I believe that even for the twice a year international traveler, this is a worthwhile program to participate in. It may not take all of the hassle out of air travel but it will eliminate one potential frustration when you return from an enjoyable vacation or business trip.