Global Entry failure: The expedited program was the slowest way through immigration

Nov 5, 2021

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My traveling companions always have two words for me: Slow down!

I’m all about speed.

I’ve uploaded all my information to every travel app you can imagine, check in on my phone for flights and often use my phone as my hotel room key.

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And as any road warrior will tell you, there are a few chokepoints at the airport that can kill that speed — namely, security and immigration.

That’s why I have Global Entry — and in turn TSA PreCheck — along with Clear. The last thing I want to do is wait in an unnecessary line.

Related: Clear expedited airport security program — is it worth it?

Normally, that all makes my trip through the airport seamless.

But that was far from the case when I arrived in New York Thursday at lunchtime.

Coming down the ramp in the Customs and Border Protection hall, I made a beeline for the Global Entry kiosks. No scanning of my passport was needed. There was a quick check of my biometrics and a receipt was printed out like normal.

Welcome back to the United States of America — or so I thought.

Related: Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck

Normally at this point, you show your receipt and passport to a CBP officer and then ease your way into baggage claim, customs and then out to the street.

Except at 12:44 p.m. Thursday, the officer who normally checks your Global Entry receipt was missing.

A quick aside: Global Entry is one of the government’s “trusted traveler” programs. You pay $100 to join and renew every five years. (You can learn more about the program and which credit cards cover the fees in our guide here.)

The theory behind the program is that the government has already done a background check on you and — in most cases — an in-person interview. Because of that, you get less screening during the actual airport arrival.

Related: 5 reasons your Global Entry can be revoked

Now, back to my arrival during Thursday’s lunch hour.

My British Airways flight from London came into JFK’s Terminal 7. There are two dozen lanes for CPB officers to question travelers and run their passports through online databases.

On Thursday afternoon, only two were open. And neither officer was interviewing the Global Entry passengers.

One officer was laboriously interviewing British passport holders (and other foreigners). The other was processing the line of American passport holders who didn’t have Global Entry.

Like many others in the travel business, the government is facing a staffing shortage.

A Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman was looking into this particular issue for us Thursday but could not get any more clarity ahead of our Friday afternoon deadline.

I would not normally advocate for one group of passengers to skip ahead of others. Except that is exactly what the government set up here. Instead of an officer interviewing an unknown passenger for five minutes, they can process a Global Entry member in seconds.

If the program isn’t going to live up to its promise, why should travelers spend all the time applying — or renewing — and paying the processing fee?

Related: Best credit cards for free Global Entry

The U.S. is reopening its borders to many more foreigners Monday. Transatlantic flights will once again be full.

Based on my experience — and yes, I was just one traveler on one flight — there is no way the U.S. government is ready for the influx of visitors.

TPG will be there to find out.

Featured photo courtesy of Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images.

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