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Almost a ‘Trusted Traveler’: Are the airport hassles behind her now?

Almost a ‘Trusted Traveler’: Are the airport hassles behind her now?
A passport is required for admittance to the Trusted Traveler program as part of the Global Entry System.
(Catharine M. Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

I’m a step closer to Trusted Traveler status.

In a post that ran May 17, I wrote that I had received conditional approval for the Trusted Traveler program as part of the Global Entry system but that the earliest available appointment was Aug. 6.

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Besides allowing the traveler to whisk through U.S. Customs upon returning to the U.S., Global Entry also allows travelers to skip the security lines (usually) at some airports and speed through screening. Those who hold Trusted Traveler status don’t have to remove shoes, belts or jackets and don’t have to remove laptops from their cases.

I expressed my frustration at the wait for the appointment because the bulk of my summer travel would be over by Aug. 6. In a friendly call from Michael Friel, the media division director of the Office of Public Affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, I was offered an earlier appointment. I declined because that would be unfair to those who wait patiently.

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Friel offered me something else that proved valuable: an interview with John Wagner, acting deputy assistant commissioner for CPB, who confirmed that more appointment slots had been added.

Hot dog! But I promised to wait a few days after that May 17 post so I wouldn’t be guilty of “insider trading.” On Tuesday, I logged onto the Global Entry system and managed to snag an appointment for next week.

It’s unclear whether this turn of events is the result of a cancellation or additional appointments, but in either case, my wait won’t be nearly what it would have been.

After the last post, several readers wrote to tell me that there are other ways of getting in earlier besides just luck.

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Some suggested trying another appointment center.

“I ended up booking an earlier appointment in Las Vegas (May 6) as opposed to waiting for something to open up at LAX,” Dave Pyeatt said in an email.  “At the time [he was ready to book], the wait was mid-July. For the frequent travelers out there, any of the centers is available; you just need to get there.”

That’s the same strategy Paul Mesplou suggested. He did his interview at Chicago O’Hare (ORD). “It was scheduled a little more than three weeks after getting conditional approval,” he said in an email.  “Since I was traveling to LA the week after I received conditional approval, I looked to see if any appointments were available there during my visit.  I saw, too, that no appointments were available there until mid-August.  I kept my appointment at ORD. You may consider making an appointment at another location you may be traveling to sometime soon.”
 
Chris Raymond suggested this: “Check other international airports, such as the not-so-big hubs…To get my interview appointment, I was flying from Mexico through DFW [Dallas Fort Worth] to Miami, so tried to get an appointment in Dallas…nada. Then tried Miami. Mas nada…But Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was wide open! Now, I fortunately had a car because Customs and Border ‘in’ Fort Lauderdale actually means ‘near’ Fort Lauderdale airport. Nevertheless, easy to get, took 20 minutes out the door.”

Raymond reiterated what practiced travelers know: “Global Entry does not ensure a fast track through security. Turns out that TSA [Transportation Security Administration] makes that random so that a traveler can’t ‘depend’ on it…"

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Paula Reid found that to be true as well. “My husband and I both have Trusted Traveler status through the Global Entry program.  However, when driving back from a seven-day vacation in British Columbia and pulling into the appropriate line for trusted travelers, we were asked questions for five minutes and then pulled over to a parking area where we were detained for 20 minutes while three agents thoroughly searched our rental car and every single piece of luggage.  So having membership in Global Entry is not necessarily the time saver one would hope it would be. We were pretty dismayed that our ‘Trusted’ Traveler status really wasn’t!

“However, it was a huge time saver when flying into the U.S. from Rome earlier this year. We just walked up to a kiosk, scanned our passports and fingers (really! You just press your hand to the screen), and answered four questions; then we each received a receipt that let us walk to the head of the line, wave it at the customs official and walk on through.

“So same program, entirely different (and unpredictable) results.”

Which, with security, is part of security.

Meanwhile, travelers, if you want to share your experiences with Global Entry -- the process or the use of it in speeding through security or getting into the country -- send them to travel@latimes.com.

I’ll let you know next week: Am I a Trusted Traveler or a busted one? Watch this space.

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