No More Lines: How to Save (Significant) Time At the Airport

By Jonathan Spira on 22 April 2012
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Let’s face it.  Few people like waiting in lines and I’m more impatient about lines than most.  But one of the realities of air travel has been lines.  Lines for check-in, lines for security checkpoints, and lines for passport control. (For that matter I’m not a fan of supermarket lines either, and it drives my partner crazy when I look around for the Executive Platinum line at the local market.)

Early in 2011, I vowed to minimize the amount of time I spent waiting in lines and I am able to report that I have been rather successful in this quest.


The first thing I did was to enroll in Global Entry, a program run by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.  Global Entry members bypass long lines when reentering the United States and clear passport control at a kiosk that resembles an ATM.  Members get to bypass customs lines as well once they claim their luggage (if they checked it).

Enrolling was easy.  I filled out an application on the Web and paid a $100 fee (which was immediately credited back to my American Express account as Amex pays for Global Entry memberships for Centurion and Platinum cardholders.

A week later I went to John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 4 for an “interview.” I put the word “interview” in quotation marks because it turned out to be more of a Global Entry tutorial.  The CBP agent registered me into the system and showed me how to use the kiosk (pictured).  There was no waiting and the entire process took about 15 minutes.

A month after I enrolled I had the opportunity to try it out.  I was returning to the U.S. and entering at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.  As I reached the passport control area, I saw a long line.  “How long is the wait time?” I asked the CBP officer who was directing people.  The response: “45 minutes to an hour.”  I think my reply of “great!” puzzled him but I headed off to the Global Entry kiosk, where there was no wait at all, and I was through immigration and customs and sitting in the American Airlines Admirals Club in under 10 minutes.  (The kiosk prints out a receipt that one hands to the customs officer so as not to wait on a customs line either.)

Since then, I’ve used Global Entry eight times and, while the wait times for passport controls haven’t all been as long, I’ve probably saved at least a total of five hours of waiting in line.

Global Entry is currently available at 24 (soon to be 26) airports in the U.S. and five in Canada.  Enrollment is available to U.S. residents and citizens of Canada, Mexico, and the Netherlands.

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