Moving through the airport is becoming increasingly high-tech and, for many frequent fliers, faster. The percentage of air travelers who used automated methods (like Global Entry kiosks) during the international arrivals process soared to more than 50 percent in fiscal year 2017, up from about 3 percent in fiscal year 2013, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. And that number is expected to rise.
In February, the Transportation Security Administration expanded its expedited screening program, TSA PreCheck, to Air France, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Philippine Airlines and World Atlantic, bringing the number of airlines participating in the program to close to 50 across some 200 airports.
The Global Entry program — where members scan their fingerprints and passports at kiosks instead of waiting in immigration lines — is also growing. It added Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival at 11 international airports in November (including Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Dallas/Fort Worth International and Phoenix Sky Harbor International), with more to come. That program allows applicants to complete their required interview upon returning to the U.S.
Facial recognition tested
Customs and Border Protection has increasingly been pushing beyond fingerprint biometrics, testing facial recognition exit technology (not without concerns from privacy rights groups) last year at eight U.S. airports, including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, John F. Kennedy International and Miami International. Facial recognition technology is also being tested during the boarding process at certain airports like Hartsfield-Jackson, Kennedy and Boston Logan International.
Free way to speed re-entry to U.S.
The most effective airport timesavers, like Global Entry, require background checks and fees. Yet in the past year or so a free program that expedites the immigration process has become more popular, even with members of Global Entry.
To join Global Entry you must complete a comprehensive online form about your travel history, have an in-person interview with a customs official, be fingerprinted and pay a $100 application fee (good for five years). It’s the most seamless way to move through customs: You simply stop at an automated passport control kiosk, identify yourself with your passport and finger biometrics, and tap a screen to answer a few questions.
But a number of travelers (Americans and Canadian visitors) have been discovering a free program called Mobile Passport Control — the use of which has increased threefold from fiscal year 2016 to 2017.
While not necessarily as quick as Global Entry, Mobile Passport Control still saves users the time and hassle of filling out a paper declaration form. And it doesn’t require any sort of advance approval or interview. Rather, it works through a free Customs and Border Protection app for iOS and Android called Mobile Passport and can be used at about 25 airports, including MSP.
To use the Mobile Passport app, users create a profile by adding their passport information (along with the passport information for each family member traveling with them). Then, when their flight lands at a participating airport, they follow signs to a designated fast Mobile Passport Control lane, open the app and answer five questions about their trip (on behalf of their entire family), submit it and receive a receipt with an encrypted bar code. When they reach the Customs and Border Protection officer in their lane, they show their passport, scan the bar code on the receipt and go on their way.
While the Mobile Passport app is not as comprehensive or ubiquitous as Global Entry, Customs and Border Protection says they are complementary programs.
As veteran Global Entry members know, at certain times of the day and at particular airports, there can be a line for the kiosks. Or a kiosk may not be working, slowing up an ordinarily smooth process. For that reason, Customs and Border Protection suggests having both programs so that whenever possible, you have the option of choosing the shorter line.
Members of Global Entry typically also receive membership in TSA PreCheck, the expedited security program that allows them to use designated airport lanes that don’t require members to remove their shoes or their liquids and laptops from their bags (if you don’t do much international travel you can apply just for TSA PreCheck; the fee is $85 for five years). For a while, some travelers who weren’t members of the program were being allowed to the use the PreCheck lanes when they weren’t full. But last year the TSA began cutting down on that practice.
Nexus, Sentri and Clear programs
Frequent travelers may also want to check out Customs and Border Protection’s Nexus and Sentri programs; Nexus is for those who travel between the United States and Canada (Canadian citizens and residents enrolled in Nexus are allowed to use Global Entry kiosks), while Sentri is for travel into the United States by land from Mexico.
Another program, Clear, costs $179 a year for individuals and is not a government-run program. Although TSA PreCheck allows you to join a lane with fewer security requirements, you must first still wait in line (albeit usually a shorter one) to reach a checkpoint where someone looks at your ID. With Clear, you go directly to a kiosk (where you scan your iris or fingerprints) and are then escorted to the physical security check, bypassing the lines. If you’re also enrolled in TSA PreCheck, you can step into that particular lane. If you don’t have PreCheck, you join the regular lane where you must remove your shoes, belt and the usual items from your bags like liquids and laptops.