AAA Magazine

How to Cut Airport Wait Times

Airport security

Whether you’re coming or going, here are programs that can speed your journey

Departures

When you depart from U.S. airports:

TSA PRECHECK: At some 200 domestic airports, TSA Precheck allows access to a separate security lane (typically with a shorter line) where travelers don’t have to remove their shoes or outer jackets and may leave laptops and liquids in their carry-on bags. 

How: Fill out an application online and schedule an appointment at an enrollment center, where an approximately 10-minute interview includes a background check and fingerprinting. 

Details: $85 for five years. tsa.gov/precheck.

CLEAR: At some 30 U.S. airports, a Clear representative escorts members to the front of airport security. (TSA Precheck members go to the head of the TSA Precheck line; others go to the head of the regular security checkpoint line.)

How: Sign up online at clearme.com.

Details: $179 a year.

Do you need both TSA Precheck and Clear? Probably not. TSA spokeswoman Jenny Burke said in May that more than 90 percent of Precheck members waited less than five minutes in a checkpoint line to present their ID to a TSA agent. With Clear, you go to the head of that line. Whether that advantage is worth the extra fee is up to you.

Arrivals

When you return to the U.S. from an international trip:

GLOBAL ENTRY: At 53 U.S. airports (plus some foreign airports where it’s possible to clear U.S. customs overseas), inbound travelers can avoid typically lengthy lines by using a kiosk with a document reader that verifies passports and biometric technology that confirms identity through fingerprints. Travelers receive a transaction receipt from the kiosk, bypass the customs agent, and proceed to baggage claim. Global Entry includes TSA Precheck and is also available at some U.S. cruise ports.

How: Apply online with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Create a Trusted Traveler Programs account and fill out the application. Then schedule an appointment at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. The process involves an in-person interview, fingerprinting, and a background check, which is completed after the appointment.

Details: $100 (nonrefundable application fee) for five years.cbp.gov.

MOBILE PASSPORT: At 26 U.S. airports and three U.S. cruise ports, users can access the designated (typically shorter) Mobile Passport lane. 

How: Download the Mobile Passport app on your mobile device. Then enter your passport information, take a selfie, indicate your port of entry, and answer questions about the goods and currency you’re bringing into the U.S.

Details: Free. A premium version costs $14.99 a year and allows users to scan their passport, so they don’t have to re-enter that information at the end of each trip. mobilepassport.us.

Do you need both Global Entry and Mobile Passport? Maybe. No statistics indicate which program saves more time getting through U.S. customs, but having both offers flexibility.

Randolph Diamond is a business reporter at the San Antonio Express-News in Texas.

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