Buffalo Trace

Buffalo Trace
From a few years ago, me mugging with the bronze buffalo sculpture at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Global Entry: It's Not All It's Cracked Up to Be

I travel a fair amount -- not nearly as much as I used to, but still a fair amount by most people's standards. Because of this, I decided to pony up the $100 for the TSA's Global Entry.

Ostensibly this is a program through which American citizens are prescreened for speedier reentry into the country after foreign travel. It's advertised as providing participants an avenue that avoids the long lines at customs and at least some of the hassle.

I don't have that much over-sea's travel -- although I do have a little jaunt to Curacao coming up -- so the avoid-customs-hassle aspect of Global Entry only has limited appeal to me.

No, what I was primarily interested in is that Global Entry also qualifies participants to go through the Pre Check security lines at domestic airports. This is a limited program, but in airports that have it -- like Atlanta that I utilize a lot -- participants don't have to go through the full-Monty X-ray, remove our shoes, remove laptops and toilet articles from our carry-ons, and so forth.

I like that idea! I was especially excited about the prospect of wearing my cowboy boots when flying again. I stopped wearing them because they are too difficult to remove for screening.

So, I was happy to fork over the $100 application fee, and make the 5-hour round trip to the TSA center in Atlanta for a one-on-one interview.  The interview, by the way, required all of 15 minutes, and consisted of asking me a half-dozen questions and having my photo snapped for the ID card that arrived in the mail two weeks later.

I was pretty pleased with myself. I wasn't thrilled with the cash outlay -- I can party for a week in Greenville on a hundred bucks -- but the thought of whisking through security at the Atlanta airport had great appeal.

Imagine my disappointment when upon my second visit to Atlanta-airport security with my new status, I was directed to the regular Premium/First Class lane.

"But I'm a Pre Check flyer," I whined.

"It's random," was the curt response.

"Random?" I cried.

"Yep, it doesn't apply every time."

Gee, the TSA forgot to mention that when they were trying to get my $100.

I am now 2 for 3 in sailing through the Pre Check line in Atlanta.

I'm not as happy as I was. I mean, what's the point? Sure, on those days when I happen to be in the Pre Check bucket, I'll avoid a little hassle, but it's not something I can plan on. I can't get to the airport 15 minutes later, pack my toilet articles in my suitcase rather than an outside pocket for easier access, or, for the love of God, wear my cowboy boots.

I'm sure I will feel somewhat differently if Global Entry lives up to its advertising when I return from Curacao, but because I only go out of the country once a year or so, I wouldn't have bothered investing the $100 or the day I spent going to Atlanta for the interview.

What should I have expected? It is the federal government after all….

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