Become a Trusted Traveler Now More Than Ever
Trusted Travelers Save Time and Hassles
By Susan Kraus
When I first started flying, especially internationally, getting there was half the fun. Now I’m talking way back, pre 9/11, when flying the friendly skies was actually a lot more … friendly.
Families could go with passengers all the way to the gate to hug, kiss, and wave goodbye. Stewardesses (not flight attendants) brought you cocktails and cute, little meals with real silverware (not just in First Class, but coach.) My favorite airline (before it folded) baked chocolate chip cookies on every flight. You could smell them baking, resting your head on your tiny pillow, and anticipate how good they would taste with cold milk (yeah, they brought you milk too.)
It’s been so long that I wonder now if it was really like that or just something that I saw in a movie. Nostalgia can do that to you.
But, no, it was like that. Flying was exciting, even magical. Getting somewhere was half the fun.
So, what was my tipping point?
Was it ‘one-time-too-many’ dragging out my laptop and quart size bag of mini-bottles, taking off my shoes, emptying pockets, removing my sweater, coat and even belt, making sure I collected everything at the other end of the tunnel? Or being pulled over, again, for a hands-on inspection, watching my underwear get tossed about as an agent-in-training dug for the culprit— that pesky curling iron?
Or being so discombobulated that I forgot my sweater until I was boarding my flight. To Japan. (A long flight without my cozy sweater.)
Or was it entering the massive customs ‘welcome’ hall at O’Hare, where lines twisted so far back that I couldn’t count the rows? It didn’t matter if I had a tight connection, no special treatment. Or getting halfway to the front and realizing I had 2-minutes max to make it to a bathroom? Ooops.
Bottom line: I wanted to not have to do all that shit (maybe some but not all). I wanted the agents, who are just doing their jobs, to look at me and know I’m harmless.
How to Become a Trusted Traveler
I wanted to be a “Trusted Traveler.” It’s that ‘fast lane’ through security and customs, like the fast lane at the tollbooth. To Customs and Border Control, to Homeland Security, the ‘fast lane’ people are “Trusted Travelers.”
This is a “how-to” article, the nuts and bolts of what is required to become one. The good news is that it’s not that complicated (once we walk through the application process) and packs a big bang (metaphorically speaking) for your buck. Here are the steps:
Find the official website to apply. If you google “Trusted Traveler,” an assortment of websites will pop-up that really look official (like “trustedtravelerservice.com, globaltrustedtraveler.com, passport-visa-service.com) but they’re not. They’ll ask you questions, help assemble your application, and charge you a hefty fee. The websites you want are acronyms that make no sense: ttp.cbp.dhs.gov (translation: Trusted Traveler Programs, Customs & Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security.) Look for acronyms and a “.gov” after the letters.
Select the program that best fits your travel habits. All of the programs have a fee, but you’re approved for FIVE years for the one fee. Each program meets different needs. For example, TSA PreCheck simplifies departure protocols for travelers for all flights. It’s $85. Once you’re approved, you can keep on your shoes, leave your laptop and quart-size baggie of liquids in your carry-on bag, wear your jacket, etc. You just walk through the machine and smile. Sometimes the agents even smile back.
Global Entry Gets You TSA Pre!
But (more good news), if you apply for Global Entry, at just $100, TSA Pre is included. So, almost a 2-for-1 (just $15 more) Global Entry gets you expedited re-entry into the United States after traveling overseas. Many airports have special kiosk lines where you slide in your passport, place your finger on a scanner, complete a customs form and then exit to collect your luggage. Or designated booths with very short lines. Plus you get to use a ‘fast lane’ at land border crossings.
For the math-challenged, that’s $20 a year. Take even 2 trips a year, $10 a trip, $5 for each end. At 4 trips a year, $2.50 to go hassle-minimal.
There are also specific programs directed at travelers who go back and forth more regularly to Canada (the NEXUS program at $50) or Mexico and Canada (SENTRI program at $122.50) by air or car or sea. And FAST, but that’s for commercial truck drivers.
Global Entry: For Frequent International Travelers
The obvious choice for most domestic and international travelers is Global Entry.
Complete the application. This looks simple but can get tricky. For example, first, you fill out a Profile Page. I put down my name as Susan (first) Jane (middle) Kraus (last). BUT, when they asked for my passport info, my name is Susan Jane Kraus, with Jane not listed as a ‘middle’ because the birth certificate I used 58 years ago to first apply for a passport as a teenager did not define it that way.
I could not figure out why the application kept getting rejected, stating the data did not match. Suggestion: Passport trumps other ID. If no ‘middle’ name, then you have no middle name. The Profile must match the passport.
However, when they ask for Driver’s License, just fill it out as the license reads, middle initial and all. (The ‘block’ happens between the Profile and Passport.) Then you’ll be asked for your address for the last five years. Since I moved into my home in 1991, I entered August 1991 and ended with September 2019 (when I was completing the application). It was rejected.
Turns out that when they ask for “Five Years” they want that exactly. Start with 5 years prior to the application (month and year) until the current month and year. (No brownie points for 30 years of stability.) So, for me it was Sept. 2014 to Sept. 2019. On the employment section, use the same protocol. Start with exactly 5 years prior to application and end with the month of your application.
Once your online application is accepted (meaning no errors), you pay a $100 fee. It’s non-refundable. Within a week, I received an email that my application for the Trusted Traveler Program had been “conditionally approved.”
Then I was told I had 365 days to schedule an interview.
Scheduling the Interview: Here is another “tricky” piece. The availability of interview sites depends on your state. I discovered (and this changes so check their website for up-to-date info) that there were no approved interview sites in Kansas. Zero. Nor in Oklahoma, Nebraska or Arkansas. But Missouri has one at Kansas City International (Terminal C). So I logged on to schedule an appointment. Under Missouri, it said, “None available at this time.”
I’d read that appointment availability is updated on the 1st and 15 of each month, so I tried again a few days later. They had a few listed. I grabbed one, but, in the end, didn’t need it because I ended up doing what is described below. Regardless, the interview is brief. Detailed instructions are on the website. They’ll cross-check ID, take a photo, fingerprints, and validate your passport with your new ‘status.’ A photo “Global Entry” card will follow in the mail.
Enrollment on Arrival: You can bypass waiting months for an interview if you’re taking an international trip sooner.
“When arriving in the United States on an international flight, conditionally approved Global Entry applicants can complete their interview without an advance appointment at any of the 52 airports with a Global Entry Enrollment on Arrival program,” explained Jeffrey Quinones, with Customs and Border Patrol.
“Additional information about Enrollment on Arrival, including a list of participating airports, can be found here.
I completed my application process for “Trusted Traveler,” in the fall of 2019, just before most travel got squished by Covid. But now that I’m traveling again, I value my Global Entry and TSA PreCheck even more: It’s safer, as far less time squished in lines where people are breathing down my neck; and it’s safer because, overall, I spend less time in airports with people breathing down my neck.
Also, I love seeing a long-long-long line, strolling right past it to the TSA PreCheck, keep on my shoes, unpack nothing, and smile. Customs is even sweeter. Like being in the cool kids club.
So that’s it. Follow these steps, jump through the hoops, at your leisure, and for five years you’ll get fast-tracked through both screening for flights and customs. And, every time that happens, you’ll feel happy you made the effort now.
Because, in a world of suspicion and fear, of hassles and frustrations, we all hope to be treated just a little bit special— as “Trusted Travelers.”
Susan Kraus is a therapist, mediator, novelist, and travel writer in Lawrence, Kansas, who is getting more cranky as she ages. For more of her work, go to www.susankraus.com or visit Wabi-Sabi Journeys’ on Medium.