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Global Entry: The journey to an easier journey, continued

May 13, 2013|By Catharine M. Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • The Global Entry System allows approved travelers to whisk through immigration, but it also affords faster processing through security for flights.
The Global Entry System allows approved travelers to whisk through immigration,… (Catharine M. Hamm / Los Angeles…)

After interviewing John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, late last year, I renewed my determination to complete my Global Entry System Trusted Traveler application. That’s a program that allows low-risk travelers to whisk through immigration.

The real appeal for me — and for many people — is that it allows you some of the same privileges as those travelers who qualify for PreCheck, which the TSA describes on its website as "a pre-screening initiative that makes risk assessments on passengers who voluntarily participate prior to their arrival at the airport checkpoint." Translation: You get to go through security faster because you're probably not a threat.

In a column after my Pistole interview, I confessed to PreCheck envy. Those travelers, who have elite frequent-flier status, are invited by the airlines to participate in the program. This means when they get to security (most of the time but not always), they don't have to remove their belts, jackets or shoes or dig a laptop out and place it in a separate bin.

Because I don’t have frequent-flier elite status on any carrier — leisure travelers are driven by price, generally, and not loyalty to one carrier — I am not going to be invited to be a PreChecker.

But going through security continues to be a source of anxiety and irritation for me. I know it doesn’t make sense; I'm law-abiding and try to be cooperative, but I get flustered.

To wit: Going through the Orlando, Fla., airport recently, I was detained at security for about 30 minutes and my bag X-rayed repeatedly.  

My hands and shoes were swabbed and so was my inverter — the device that allows me to use a car’s cigarette lighter for AC power. I had the pat-down, which was as respectful as it possibly could have been. Finally, I was let go. (Later, I asked Transportation Security Administration spokesman Nico Melendez what that might have been about and he said, “Could have been anything, fertilizer.…” I stopped him and asked, “So if you were in a botanical garden and a nursery the day before and you were wearing the same shoes, might that have been it?” He said it was possible but impossible to know for sure.)

That experience made me more eager than ever to become part of Global Entry, but....

I was stymied by the online application form. I found it a little cantankerous, which irritated me almost as much as the TSA because I spend a good deal of my life working on online stuff.

I finally gave myself a stern talking-to and sat down and got through it and paid my $100, which provides five years of speeding through security.

That was April 4.

On May 9, I received an email saying I had been conditionally approved and I had only to make an appointment to complete the process. Success! I’d be zipping through security on a couple of upcoming trips.

Not so fast, Lucille. The first available appointment was at 2 p.m. Aug. 6.  In fact, that 2 p.m. slot was the only available appointment for the entire month. I looked back at appointment availability for July, June and May. Nothing.

I grabbed it. If I’m lucky, maybe, just maybe, this journey toward Trusted Traveler status will end happily and my other journeys can begin without the hassle.

To be continued...

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