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Sometimes Global Entry Just Isn’t Everything It’s Cracked Up to Be

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Flyertalkers have experienced a mixed bag when it comes to renewing Trusted Traveler Global Entry privileges over the past twelve months, with some users reporting that after a quick online transaction, a new card was in their hands just days later – other members report waiting months just to schedule a required in-person interview. Now, it seems that these widely varying experiences are starting to be repeated at ports of entry as well.

What the Heck is Going on at JFK?

One Flyertalk member reports that a recent arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) was if anything, more of a hassle than traveling without Global Entry. The frequent international traveler was left wondering why, after using Global Entry kiosks, arriving Trusted Travelers were required to restart the whole process all over again – this time with an actual border control official.

“I came in from the UK to T7 at JFK and found the immigration hall was completely backed up the ramps,” Flyertalker Ravenswell writes in an October 14th post. “That wasn’t unusual but then I realised it was the global entry line/queue as well as normal immigration processing. Unlike many previous times at T7 and many entry airports into the US where GE means a simple walk through security in seconds, US immigration was doing an individual passport check including stamping and dating entry in the passport. It took over two hours for this ‘expedited’ entry process .. which previously would have taken a minute or so. Is this the new normal? A random enforcement check or …. ?? Makes applying for GE completely pointless as they only had one officer, and the ‘normal’ queue was chaotic but at least moving!”

Reports from the Field

It seems Ravenswell’s experience is, thankfully, the exception rather than the rule – so far at least. Other members of the Flyertalk community report smooth sailing at Global Entry-equipped airports across the U.S. A frequent flyer who arrived at Miami International Airport (MIA) during the same timeframe, described a scene in which Trusted Travelers were peppered with a few unexpected questions but were not required to go through the process of having passports stamped after entry.

Meanwhile, frequent flyers with Global Entry reported business as usual at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). Even Global Entry Trusted Travelers who suffered through hours-long lines at JFK along with Ravenswell, say other recent experiences at the airport have been relatively pain-free. At least one Global Entry member arriving at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) reported a similarly less-than-expedited experience with all arriving passengers having to be re-screened after visiting the Global Entry kiosk.

New Technology

It is not unheard of for all of the Global Entry Kiosks at a given airport to be out of order. At airports like ORD, for example, machines were recently updated to take more sophisticated biometric information. In cases such as this, Trusted Travelers are subjected to less high-tech entry procedures with a more personal touch.

This doesn’t seem to have been the case, however, during Ravenwell’s recent entry experience at JFK. Global Entry passengers were instead herded back to a more traditional entry point only after using the kiosks.

“The machines were all working perfectly,” the British Airways frequent flyer wrote in a later update to the original post. “Just having received your receipt, you then joined a very long queue to be seen by the immigration officer, who then checked visas identity, and stamped the passport!”

Intentionally Unpredictable Security Measures

Like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Customs and Border Protection reserves the right to subject travelers to “random, unpredictable screening measures.” The thing about random, unpredictable screening measures is that they are random and unpredictable. Because the goal of these out-of-the-ordinary procedures is to keep potential bad guys from being able to anticipate what security measures might be in place at any given port of entry, the Department of Homeland Security is loath to publicize even temporary or localized changes to entry procedures (for obvious reasons). Unfortunately, this means even Trusted Travelers are sometimes in the dark as to why Global Entry might not always feel like an expedited process.

A System in Turmoil

Long Global Entry lines at JFK entry points pale in comparison to the backlog the CBP is facing when it comes to processing Global Entry applications. The Homeland Security agency recently extended the expiration date of Global Entry memberships by 12 months for those who have already applied for renewal. The measure is intended to ease the pain of unprecedented delays processing renewals and new Global Entry applications, with some renewing members reporting as much as a 7-month wait to schedule an in-person interview appointment.

“The extended partial government shutdown has resulted in a substantial backlog of CBP’s Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) applications and renewals,” CBP advises in its most recent alert to Global Entry members as of October 17th. https://ttp.dhs.gov “Applicants for Global Entry (GE), SENTRI, NEXUS, and FAST should expect significant delays in application processing times and limited appointment availability at TTP enrollment centers. Conditionally approved GE members should seek to complete their GE interviews without an appointment upon arrival from an international flight at any of the 49 airports participating in CBP’s Enrollment on Arrival (EoA) program.”

Count Your Blessings

Unexpected and unexplained delays in the Global Entry lanes may result in hours of inconvenience but Trusted Travelers have found themselves on the wrong side of much more onerous “random and unpredictable” enforcement actions that have resulted in Global Entry privileges being revoked entirely. In one case, a flight attendant was booted from the program for inadvertently failing to declare “two whole pummelo fruits” in her lunch bag. In another case, a formerly-Trusted Traveler lost Global Entry after first losing his temper with a CBP agent and loudly announcing, “This is f—ing bull—-.”

Go to the Head of the Class

There is some good news for Global Entry qualified passengers who might find themselves in similar situations as Ravenswell in the future. Trusted Travelers who have to make use of non-global Entry lines, either because kiosks are off-line or because they were referred for secondary screening, still have some special perks. Global Entry passengers are allowed to skip to the front of the line in these circumstances, but not at the airports where there are no Global Entry lines in the first place.

“The head of the line privilege is only available at U.S. airports that have Global Entry kiosks,” CBP explains in the official Global Entry guidelines.  “The head-of-the-line privilege is reserved for program members if the kiosks are out of service, if a member gets referred to a CBP officer, and at the exit points.”

Have you had a recent Global Entry experience that didn’t live up to the promise of “expedited” entry? The Flyertalk community of expert flyers has plenty of strategies to make sure everyone is able to make the most of being a “Trusted Traveler.”

Comments are Closed.
Occupationalhazard December 9, 2019

Flew into JFK T4 on 12/3/19. Zero problems. Actually the machines were even quicker as they have streamlined the "question" process by not asking them. it was scan my passport, take my photo and done.

Bradhattan December 6, 2019

RSSrsvp.....it is!!!! I renewed online and within a day or two was approved and new GE card within a week+.

RSSrsvp October 19, 2019

IMO if you have GE and need to renew it should be a simple online process.

htb October 19, 2019

Why not just make the immigration process bearable for everyone rather than creating another system that causes more work and benefits only a few?

rylan October 18, 2019

The Global Entry program is a total unmitigated mess and perfect example of useless government bureaucracy. 5+ month wait for conditional approval, and then entire regions with zero interview appointment availability regardless of how many months out you look.