Accelerate Intl Travel and Airport tips to avoid getting fondled by the TSA!

November 6th, 2011
by Christopher Kusek (PKGuild)

I was talking with the infamous Steve Kaplan @roidude about travel after he mentioned getting a “Checkpoint Friendly” approved TSA Bag!

So knowing he has a tendency to travel, as I know a number of you do as well, I asked if he was familiar with the “Trusted Traveler” program.   And as more and more of you are not familiar with Trusted Traveler or the GOES Program, I think it’s time to shout it out from the mountain tops! Time for the scoop!

Welcome to Global Entry

This is what a security line looks like without Global Entry

You ever re-enter the US after a long time away, or even only a few days and you get to the Customs and Immigrations lines and it looks like that photo above.   It’s a pretty normal sight, it HAPPENS, and now for the next 30-60 minutes you’re going to stand in line to answer a few questions so you can go pick up your bag from the baggage claim and then have to enter ANOTHER line looking almost identical to this one!

Well, On my recent return to the US from Asia… this is what I was awaited

 Global Entry Access Terminal Login and Walk :)

“What?! Seriously!?” Yes. Let me walk you through this.    I walk down this long path and line with a bunch of people all categorizing themselves into various lines, and instead of going into those lines I walk up to a computer terminal like this.   I put my Passport on the thing to read, and press firmly 4 of my fingers onto the Biometric scanner.   Then I answer several Customs form type questions as presented on the screen and I’m presented with a piece of paper to bring to the Immigration line.    If my print-out had an “X” on it, I’d have to go through special screening at the check point, but if it doesn’t (usually) then I simply go to my line which has NO ONE in it, hand them the paper and my passport and walk on through to pick up my luggage.

I know what you’re saying “WTF?! YOU JUST WALKED ON PAST?!?!?” Yea. but wait, there’s more!    At this point, I have to wait for my luggage to come out of the baggage claim (If I was traveling in a short amount of time I’d carry on everything but this was Asia so I checked a massive bag for my 2 week trip)

This was the part which totally SOLD me on this!   With my bag in hand, I go and to the “Global Entry” line, which is right next to the line where Pilots and Stewardesses stand in.  All around me are lines with hundreds of people back, and my line is ME. Where they take me BEFORE THE PILOTS! OMG OMG OMG right?!?   And then.. I’m done! I’m home free! YAY!!!!! What happened there? I shaved anywhere from 30-90 minutes off of my time spent standing in lines and dealing with trouble.   And it could be even MORE time depending upon how many flights get in at the very same time!

What does it take to JOIN the Global Entry Program?

Allow me to walk you through what it took for me to get into this program!   I was in Los Angeles at a meeting when I first heard about this program and all of the various successes of it decided to go check it out!   I went online to the Global Entry website and clicked “Apply Today”  I filled out this lengthy questionnaire of various facts about myself, things I needed to confirm and validate (Passport # was a challenge since I didn’t have it with me, but I found my PP# saved in an email from getting VISAs) So then I finished all of the steps involved, and paid $100 for the application.  This is a non-reimbursable amount, if for whatever reason I was rejected [Block against me as a citizen, seen as a threat, felony or warrants, etc] I’d basically lose that $100 bucks!

About a week later I receive an email that I was ‘approved’ in the background check it offered and to schedule my in-person Interview.   Initially I book my interview for a Friday morning in Boston (Because I was in Boston and heading back to Chicago) but not knowing my way around that airport I decided to reschedule it for the following afternoon in Chicago.    Oh, when I rescheduled it was 3hrs before I was flying to Frankfurt, so I not only was I going to be going out of the country but having this ‘benefit’ would totally rock when coming back INTO the country. What happened next surprised even ME!

The Interview Process

I arrive at my Interview in the Homeland Security Office of CBP (Customs Border Patrol) at the O’Hare International Airport.   I’m early, they do not take me early though.  My appointment is for 3:00PM (I arrived at 2:30PM) They take me at my appointed time.    Taken back into the Interview area, it’s me and a Homeland Security officer.   She asks me questions about information I filled out in my application, and validates it against information I have.    The paperwork says I need to bring paystubs and other proofs of address and residence.  In this case, my Passport and my Drivers License were good enough, so my other pieces of information went unused.    The questions are in no way incriminating and are VERY straight forward.   She takes my passport and places a CBP sticker in the back of the passport book.   This lets the CBP know who I am, and approves me for entry.   The RFID tag inside of my Passport is cataloged into the system, and then they take a picture of me for Nexus/SENTRI (The card of which says “Trusted Traveler” on it).  During this process she takes my finger prints using this digital fingerprinting device.   After all of that is settled, she takes me over to one of those computers like I have in the pictures above, and I test it by answering questions just like I’d normally encounter when entering the country.  It properly scans my passport and confirms my finger prints are mine and not someone else’s.    And then it prints out a piece of paper and I’m done!    She informs me that I should receive my Nexus/SENTRI card in the mail but that is only for GROUND Transport, but once I return back into the states I’m done and can proceed through the Global Entry lanes! OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!

Takeaways

  • I paid $100 for an online application process
    • This handles background checks, categorization and validating you are in fact not a ‘threat’.  Most business travelers fall into this category
  • Within a week I was able to schedule an interview
  • IMMEDIATELY following the Interview I was registered and available to RE-ENTER the country under Global Entry (Valid for 5 years)
  • This INCLUDED the NEXUS/SENTRI Program with it “Free of Charge” the Entry into CANADA still requires an interview there, but you’re half the way there, so embrace that and now you don’t hold up the entire process for re-entry into our fair country :)
  • Details about getting Denied from the Trusted Traveler Program


What about my Civil Liberties?!?!

First thing I know you’re going to ask is this: “WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT READ YOUR FINGER PRINTS?! i DONT WANT THE GOV HAVING MY FINGER PRINTS!” Yea. It did.  I know a lot of you will stand up and say “I WILL NOT STAND FOR THE GOVERNMENT HAVING MY INFORMATION!” What I really enjoyed about this initially is that, this is not the TSA but instead if the CBP.   However some things are coming out of this program entirely.    There is a “Trusted Traveler” program which is currently in pilot phase in SOME Airports and SOME Airlines (AA and Delta at the moment) which allows a vetted “Trusted Traveler” to be able to do the following when it comes to the TSA and Domestic Travel (And more details here!)

Totally Borrowed/Stolen from Trusted Traveler!

  • Keeping shoes on
  • Keeping 3-1-1 compliant bag in carry-on
  • Leaving laptop in bag
  • Leaving on light outerwear/jacket
  • Leaving belt on

So, what I’m seeing here is the potential to not only go through a FAST Lane, similar to that which Service Members, Pilots and Stewardesses do, but I also don’t have to deal with so much crap going on with my bag?! Whoa! Where do I sign up?!? (Apparently, you’re pretty much OPT’d in with Global Entry ;))

Does this mean you are exempt from special screening? Not in the least bit.  People are still ‘randomly’ chosen to have the respective pat down or special screening, but at the least, especially if you’re a real traveler, or go through multi-multi airports a week like I do, adoption of this program will be a GODSEND! OMG! SERIOUSLY AND REALLY!  So the concern of ‘Terrorists’ using this to exploit the system is less-so, and in the respect of Airport Security I won’t go into details about why this is definitely not the avenue to pursue (or even discuss in this forum :))

I’m a Permanent Opt-out Anyway!

Whether you knew this about me or not, this is something I started when I took a traveling role for the community (and for my own health).   I officially became a permanent opt-out, in that if I am not offered the Metal Detector I ALWAYS Opt-out and receive the Pat Down.   And I usually tweet about the results of it, and the respective happy-ending or lack thereof! :)   I’ve received ~30 or so ‘invasive pat downs’ all across the country and have yet to personally experience any major pains, qualms or problems with it.  I’ll share some of my experiences on what I think made it easier.

  • I inform them this Opt-Out is about me, not them.   It’s nothing personal, I’m not trying to hold up the lines of ‘prove a point’.   I don’t want to receive the back-scatter because I travel through hundreds of airports and don’t really see the need to do it. Thus establishing myself as a human and not a rebel.
  • Usually by them having knowledge that I HAVE been through this before, it tends to go VERY smooth.  I received more than one times “Oh, you’ve been through this before?” I stress that I know they’re doing their job, and I’m just doing mine.    Again, no problem whatsoever yet!
  • I try to make them laugh.  Hey, I like to laugh, and at the very least, if you can break through their shell of angry passengers day in and day out, what’s the worst that can happen? :)   I do advise them very firmly I except a good massage because I’m paying for this! And I’ve yet to have a hand go up more than half-way up my thigh.   So apparently I’m doing SOMETHING Right!
  • I don’t be a dick about it.    I’ve seen those guys and girls who are total dicks to them.  Guess who TSA tends to deal with a lot? Uppity dicks who try to bring A BELT MADE OF BULLETS THROUGH THE LINE. Day in and day out.  If I’m not a problem for them things can go by VERY smoothly.

What have been some of the results of this ‘experiment’ so far? (An experiment I’ve been documenting EVERY encounter and experience of incase anything goes ‘wrong’)

  • My time spent during the pat-down process is usually less than a minute. Yes. Seriously. I get through it faster than people going through the body scanner.  It is LITERALLY that FAST!
  • I get a very brief but firm massage (I am a man, and you only get same-gender pat downs ;))
  • They’re only doing their job.  And as a business traveler I’m also just doing my job.

Let’s sum this up and rock and roll!

For those of you who follow my exploits know that I went from basically not traveling at all.  To traveling almost every single day, and I’ll tell you.  I enjoy that.  I enjoy my job, I absolutely LOVE my customers and any barriers or roadblocks I can find to help enable that and make it easier I’ll take.

Adoption of these programs does require you to ‘give up your information’, but lets be honest.   Unless you’re a drug trafficker or someone who runs a sketchy investment fund you really shouldn’t have a whole lot in your life to worry about.    Especially if you work for any Fortune 1000 companies, I’d hope your background check doesn’t reveal anything too troubling you wouldn’t be accepted into the program.   And from that point, as you travel you can save yourself a lot of time, heartache, trouble and do what you do best; travel and service your customers and community like a rockstar!

Who do I suggest should check this out? Any of you big time travelers who do even remotely a little Int’l Travel, I mean seriously. $100 to save several hours? Yea, that’s worth it to me.    And once Trusted Traveler takes off and you don’t have to be fondled nearly as much by the TSA? That right there is worth the price of GOLD!    So EMCers, folks in Global Roles, Your frequent and Infrequent travelers, and all of my peers, partners and competitors!     Check this out and see if this is right FOR YOU.   Some of you won’t be able to get past the ‘civil liberties’ parts. I respect that, but please don’t be offended when I blow past you in the ‘fast lane’ and don’t get my junk handled ;) <3 <3 <3

Please share your experiences with this or other programs, or violations by the TSA as well! I’m always constantly vetting and analyzing this data because I’m WAY too much of a geek.   Also if you find GOES and other programs to be successful for you, rock star, and let us all know so we can grow together!

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