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Global Entry, TSA Pre-Check and Clear

Added on by Scott Cline.

Global Entry, TSA Pre-Check and Clear

Fourth-amandement arguments aside, I have started on a mission to get through US Customs and TSA check points the quickest way possible. In many ways this means becoming complicit to the process. If you want to read some great coverage of why we should not be complicit about TSA screenings, take a look at Ben Brooks work. That aside, I decided to see how the two major programs worked and might get through both U.S. Customs and Immigration, as well as, TSA inspection points.

The first–TSA screening locations. Two programs attempt to expedite the screening process for low-risk, known travelers at US airports. The first is Clear and the second is TSA Pre-Check.

Back in late October I completed enrollment for both programs while traveling to the College Board’s National Forum in Miami, FL.


Clear is traveler paid program (currently $175 a year) that requires a background check. Pre-enrollment is completed online through their website and then final enrollment takes place at a Clear airport.[1] I signed up online (for a four-month Clear membership through an now-ended Living Social deal and got it extended to May 2013 through a promotion Clear was running) and then completed enrollment a few days later at SFO on a flight from SFO to MIA.

The in-airport enrollment process involved providing some additional details not provide in the original online application, having the Clear employee scan my driver’s license and passport as well as full electronic finger printing, iris scans and photograph.

The whole process took less then 15 minutes to complete before I went on to stand in the regular TSA screening line and my flight. My Clear (with RFID chip) arrived a day or two after I returned from Miami.

The purpose of Clear is to get a traveler to the front of the TSA line after confirming their information without having to wait for the regular TSA ID/ticket checking process. It does not get a person through less “screening” at this point and the only real selling point is that it makes the time to get to the screening process predictable. In most part, the largest wait time for screening by TSA is waiting for the ID/ticket checking process and not the actual screening process after you are at a screening station.

TSA Pre-Check

The other program is TSA Pre-Check. Some airports have dedicated TSA Pre-Check lines, while others do not. With TSA Pre-Check, you get to keep your shoes on, your belt on, your jacket on, and your liquids and laptops in your bag. But even if you are in the TSA Pre-Check program, you are not guaranteed to be get it every time or not be subject to additional screening. For airports that have dedicated lines, it can greatly reduce (as long as you are not selected for additional screening) wait times and the screening process. For airports that do not have dedicated lines, you might still have to wait in long ID/ticket check lines before going through the expedited screening process.

There are two ways into the program. The first is to be a frequent flyer on one of the major airlines and receive an invite from an airline that is part of the program. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways are the current participating airlines.

The other method is to be a member of Custom and Boarder Protections Trusted Traveler programs. The application for Global Entry is $100.00 for five years and includes not only TSA Pre-Check, but also expedited entry through custom and immigrations back into the US via air, land and sea for approved participants.

Since I spend most of my flight time on Virgin America, who is not a TSA Pre-Check participants at the moment, but I do still fly AA, Alaska and United from time-to-time, I went with the Global Entry route. It again has the added benefits of allowing to reentry the US much quicker for those occasional trips out of the United States.

I completed the online application, paid the $100.00 fee and waited about a week until I was invited for an interview. The hardest part was finding an interview time within 2–3 months. At the start of October SFO was booked until late December so I looked around for other airports that I was going to fly through between October and January. Turns out, Miami International had a few interview times about three hours before my flight from MIA to SFO.

I arrived at MIA rather early for my flight back to SFO.[2] During the interview, I answered a few questions about previous travel purposes, had my finger prints digitally scanned and a photo taken. I was then given a walk through of the program and was on my way to my flight. My RFID Global Entry card (not used for air travel entry) arrived in the mail about a week later with my welcome letter.

Current Conclusion

Since setting up both programs, I have been able to use both, but mainly Clear over the past two months and will have more to report in the coming months. But for now, TSA Pre-Check offers for the limited airlines a very streamlined screening process (unless you do not get it one-time and you miss your flight, you will never trust the wait time again). Clear has limited airports, higher cost and still puts you through the normal screening process, but does get you to the front of the line each and every time.

More to come in the next few months.

  1. Currently Clear is at SFO, MCO, DEN, DFW.  ↩

  2. Even early at an airport know for its long TSA wait times.  ↩