How to Save Time and Bypass Long Lines at the Airport

By Paul Riegler on 25 October 2013
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Security checkpoint at JFK's Terminal 1

Security checkpoint at JFK’s Terminal 1

No one likes to wait in line but it’s become an accepted part of the air-travel experience.  Here are some tips, based on our own experiences in travel, on how to save time.


Global Entry allows travelers returning from international destinations to bypass the traditional passport control and customs lines.  Instead, users proceed through a kiosk for which the line and wait time are never long.  They are also not required to complete a customs declaration form; the kiosk provides similar questions on the interactive screen.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which operates Global Entry, has agreements in place with other countries that allow their citizens to use the system as well.  This includes travelers from Britain, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Qatar, Mexico, and South Korea.

Individuals who have been convicted of a criminal offense or have been found in violation of customs or immigration laws or any criminal laws are typically ineligible for Global Entry, as are individuals that the CBP believes pose a potential risk of terrorism or criminality.

The agreements also benefit U.S. travelers going abroad.  Earlier this year, travelers who are members of Global Entry or Nexus/Sentri became automatically eligible to use Australia’s SmartGate automated border processing system when arriving in the country. No enrollment is required and travelers can bypass the passport/immigration lines and proceed to a SmartGate kiosk.

Nexus is a program operated in conjunction with the Canada Border Services Agency that provides members faster clearance across the shared border when travelling by land, air, or sea.  Sentri is a similar program for the U.S.-Mexican border, and Fast is a program for commercial truck drivers for both those borders.

Enrollment in Global Entry costs $100 for five years and American Express will pay the fee for U.S. Platinum and Centurion cardholders.

Global Entry is currently available at 44 airports.


Another way to zip through lines at the airport (albeit in the other direction) is by using PreCheck, the Transportation Safety Administration’s trusted-traveler program that debuted in 2011.  Membership in this elite group was originally limited to top-tier frequent fliers as well as members of Global Entry, Nexus, or Sentri, but in July, the agency announced plans to open up the program to all who qualify. The first two enrollment centers are slated to open up in Washington, D.C. at Dulles International Airport and Indianapolis International Airport.   The application will require a background check, fingerprints, and the payment of an enrollment fee, which is expected to be $85.

The PreCheck program allows passengers to leave their shoes on, leave their laptops in their bags, leave their belts on, and not have to take off a light jacket.  PreCheck passengers can also leave liquids in their bags.

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