Credit: Pixaby

An alert pops up on my phone that reads, “Flight is now boarding.” This notification would be great except I’m anxiously sitting on a parking lot shuttle, and we are just pulling up to the airport. At this point, I’m frantic because the flight I’m currently running way late for isn’t even to my destination. It’s just a layover, which means if I miss this connection, more than likely I’ll be stuck in the airport all day.

I charge through the double doors with my suitcase in one hand and cellphone and license in the other. Before I’m even through the second set of doors I notice the security line has so many people that it snakes around the checkpoint barriers. No way I’d make my flight if I had to wait in that line. Luckily for me, I’m what the Transportation Security Administration likes to refer to as a “known traveler,” and therefore I am permitted through TSA pre-check—a program that expedites traveler screening through TSA security checkpoints.

I race around the snaking line of frustrated travelers and find the entrance for TSA pre-check. There, a woman who works for the airport takes on a nightclub bouncer-like role and checks the credentials of every single person who tries to enter that lane, denying anyone whose boarding pass is not properly marked. I pull up my mobile boarding pass and she waves me through. Like a VIP at the hottest party in town, I walk right up to the front.

There are five or so people in front of me, but it’s fine. This line always moves super-fast. That is because known travelers are not asked to remove their shoes, their liquids or their laptops, which substantially reduces wait time. TSA pre-check members also seem to be relatively frequent flyers.

I make it through security in less than five minutes and race to my gate. When I arrive, passengers are still boarding, so I sigh with relief. As I wait in line to board I can’t help but wonder why those hundreds of other passengers hadn’t signed up for the program. I had made it through security in hardly any time while they stood in a line that was hardly moving. My guess? They don’t know anything about it.

What are the Global Entry Program and TSA Pre-Check?

The Global Entry Program allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers to receive expedited clearance upon arriving into the United States. Members are able to clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection faster because of no processing lines or paperwork.

Instead of standing in a (usually long) line to be processed by a Customs and Border Protection officer after deplaning, members follow signs to the Global Entry kiosks. There you’ll just scan your passport, confirm the flight you were just on, answer a few customs questions (such as have you been in contact with livestock or do you have goods to declare), place your fingertips on the reader, and then the kiosk will snap a photo of you. Next you’ll just place that printout in your passport, mark the identification page, and head toward the exit. You’ll enter another members-only line, show that printout to the officer on duty, and then you’re done. Super-easy and extremely quick. This program can be used at any time when re-entering the country, but offers a great advantage during super-busy travel weekends. I once passed through customs an entire hour and a half faster than a friend who was on the same flight and was not a Global Entry member. It is worth noting that only Global Entry members can use the kiosks. Children, spouses and co-travelers must have their own profile, or they will have to be processed like normal.

Global Entry perks aren’t limited to travelers who fly. Members are given a Global Entry card that can be used at land and seaports to get back into the United States. However, these cards are not accepted at the kiosks.

All Global Entry members are given access to TSA pre-check. This program allows pre-screened travelers to expedite their security check. To receive pre-check, you’ll simply enter your known traveler number, located on your Global Entry card, when purchasing a ticket from any participating airlines, which are most major airlines. To save time and the hassle of remembering to enter your number each time, simply add it to your frequent flyer program. This number allows the Transportation Security Administration’s secure flight system to verify that you are a legitimate CBP trusted traveler.

How do I become a member of the Global Entry Program?

Becoming a member of the Global Entry program is relatively easy. First you’ll create a Global Online Enrollment System account. Then you’ll pay a non-refundable $100 fee before completing an application that can take anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes. Once completed, a Customs and Border Protection officer will review that application, approving or denying it. If approved, you will be instructed to schedule a mandatory in person interview at a Global Entry Program Enrollment Center (there is one located in John F. Kennedy Airport), where you’ll need to bring your passport and one other form of identification.

When I signed up three years ago, it took almost two months for me to get an in-person interview. But with nearly 50,000 people a month signing up for the program, I bet that is still the case. If you want to join the program for a specific trip, be sure to give yourself more than enough time to go through the process.

Citizens of the United States, as well as Colombia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Panama, Singapore, South Korea and Mexico are all eligible for the program.

You can become ineligible if you have been convicted of a criminal offense, have pending charges or warrants (including Driving Under the Influence) or have been found in violation of any customs, immigration or agricultural regulations or laws in any country.

It doesn’t matter if you travel once a week for work, or a couple of times a year for the holidays. Becoming a Global Entry Program member should be one of your travel priorities.

For more information, visit goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/goes/jsp/login.jsp.