- Global Entry is a government program that allows pre-approved travellers to quickly go through customs when returning to the United States.
- I recently used my Global Entry status on a recent trip back to the US, but didn’t get the expedited experience it was cracked up to be.
- Because of computers that were out of order and a system that didn’t seem to be up to date, my family spent more time in the Global Entry line than some passengers did in the regular customs line.
In 2017, more than 340,000 incoming travellers were seen each day by US Customs and Border Protection agents at airports across the nation. Among the millions of US citizens who travel internationally each year, more than 5 million Americans now come and go with Global Entry status.
Global Entry is meant to expedite the customs process for international travellers arriving into US airports. The program costs $US100 for five-year membership, and requires a thorough background check and an in-person interview. When travelling internationally, those granted Global Entry status are diverted to a separate area of customs, and they check in using a cluster of touch-screen kiosks, as opposed to standing in line to speak with border control agents.
My parents and I all have Global Entry status, and we recently got to use it when we landed at Newark Liberty International Airport following a trip to Israel. After more than 14 hours of travelling, we arrived late at night and were relieved to bypass the growing customs line for re-entry into the US.
The Global Entry process uses a series of electronic machines, rather than a customs agent sitting behind a protected booth. As such, Global Entry members are processed individually instead of as a family or group. There is a police presence at the end of the Global Entry cluster, and if you don’t look closely for the kiosks, you may miss them all together.
I was the first of my family to reach the semi-empty row of kiosks, but was immediately thrown off by the number of machines that were out of order.
I had to step back into the growing line and wait for an available screen. Once one opened up, I stepped up and scanned my passport. I was asked to scan my hand and my fingers for a digital copy of my prints. The kiosk took my picture, confirmed my overly-travelled-looking-self was indeed me, and granted me entry back into the country.
My parents didn’t have as swift of an experience.
When my mother stepped up to check in, her screen flashed an error message. After trying a few machines, she pointed out the message to the nearby officers and was led to a customs booth with a long line of not-too-pleased travellers.
The customs agent spoke to my mum, checked her passport, and let her through. As it turned out, the system indicated her Global Entry status had expired – even though she hadn’t received any notification or warning about her status in the prior months. (A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said they notify members by mail when their memberships are close to expiring. But other travellers’ stories suggest the agency can be inconsistent in notifying members when their status has expired.)
My father wasn’t so lucky. When he stepped up to the kiosk, the machine again flashed “error,” but when he brought it to the attention of the officers, they ushered him into a separate room altogether.
In his case, my father told us afterward, the system indicated there was a flag against him preventing him from using Global Entry. The flag did exist – years ago – but had long been cleared as a requisite to get his Global Entry status to begin with. Apparently, the kiosk computers weren’t in sync with the computers the agents were using, because no flags showed up when they looked themselves. It was clear the kiosks needed an update.
Without knowing what was going on, my mum and I waited an additional 10 minutes while my dad spoke with the Global Entry agents. He was eventually cleared and brought to baggage claim, but he was released a floor away from where we were waiting for him.
While we waited to get reunited with my dad, I noticed that several families were having similar problems. Some members would pass through without a hitch while others were ushered to overcrowded customs lines or taken separately to a private room. It was hard to believe this process was meant to hasten the customs experience, not hinder it.
What was meant to be a quick and painless border-entry process didn’t shape up to be the expedited experience we expected. I saw several passengers from my flight go through the standard customs line more quickly than my family got through ours. My impression from this experience was that the holdup wasn’t the fault of the Global Entry agents, but rather a computer system that could benefit from updates and repairs, especially when several kiosks weren’t functioning.
With that being said, I still recommend anyone considering Global Entry to apply. Even though our process was slowed on this particular trip, it could still be well worth the shortened line and agent-less process. Just be ready for additional issues to pop up when you’re travelling internationally.
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