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Global Entry: Help may be at hand for those who wait to get OK'd

May 17, 2013|By Catharine M. Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • The passport is key to the Global Entry program; you must have one (not just a passport card).
The passport is key to the Global Entry program; you must have one (not just… (Catharine M. Hamm / Los Angeles…)

If you’re waiting…and waiting…for an interview appointment to complete your application for the Global Entry fast-pass-through-customs program, help may be at hand.

In a blog post Monday, I  explained that I had been conditionally OK’d, receiving an email saying so on May 9. It instructed me to make an appointment for the required interview near LAX.

But the first available appointment--in fact, the only available one--was at 2 p.m. Aug. 6. I took it, despite my dismay at the wait.

It’s not that I travel in and out of the country that much; it’s mostly that Global Entry approval gives you the same privileges as the PreCheck program, which allows you to get through airport security faster.  But PreCheck is predicated on an invitation from an airline, and it’s frequent fliers who usually get the nod.

Like most leisure travelers, I book my tickets based on price, not airline loyalty. Or, said another way, I’m never going to be an elite flier, and I will always have to take off my shoes, belt and jacket and disgorge my laptop, which the frequent-flier/PreCheck travelers don’t have to do.

That was the real appeal of Global Entry for me, so I finally finished the application. (I found the website cumbersome and less than intuitive; its designers may blame a less-than-intuitive user and they could be right.)

The post on Monday prompted an email, then a call from Michael Friel, the media division director of the Office of Public Affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. After a friendly exchange, he offered to let me move up in the line.

I told him that wouldn’t be fair to those who are waiting. But he explained that some time slots had opened.

“CBP regularly monitors Global Entry application activity and adds additional time slots when we see a spike in volume,” he said in an email. “Applicants can monitor the website after they’ve scheduled an interview, and if there’s a better time that becomes available, they are welcome to reschedule.”

I haven’t gone back into the site to reschedule and won’t until this post has been up for a couple of days.

Friel also put me in touch with John Wagner, acting deputy assistant commissioner  for CPB, who told me the program is catching on. It’s receiving as many as 50,000 applications a month. All must be screened, and those who are conditionally approved have to go in for an interview, where their paperwork is perused and their fingerprints taken.

Not all applications are OK'd. What gets you the gong? Applicants are  rejected “mostly for past criminal history, for any kind of Customs infractions, any kind of agricultural penalties [such as] undeclared agricultural products or merchandise [and] any kind of criminal record,” Wagner said.

If you’re disheartened, as I was, about the length of the wait for the interview, Wagner encouraged me to keep checking back. In that regard, it’s a bit like getting a reservation at a sold-out hotel: You keep calling to see if any rooms have opened up.

Might the sequester mess with the extra manpower needed to create more time slots? “We’ve had to make some cutbacks due to the sequester,” Wagner said of the federal budget cuts. “We were looking at furloughs; that is still a possibility.” He said CBP is looking at how that would affect operations.

I’ll try to let you know next week if I find an earlier appointment. Meanwhile, if you find an earlier slot, let me know at travel@latimes.com. Good luck!

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