Alaskan travelers rejoice: Your ticket to speedier airport security screening has come to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
If you're willing to throw down $100 and your personal information, you can apply for a Global Entry Pass with the U.S. Custom Border Protection (CBP), allowing you access to quicker airport security screening lanes run by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at select airports across the U.S.
What do faster lanes mean exactly? Shorter lines and less waiting, but also no need to take off your shoes, belts and jackets, or pull your laptop or liquids out of your bag.
The TSA's Pre-Check program, introduced last year, is part of the agency's effort to "implement risk-based security," according to a press release. That means low-risk travelers face less delays, while the agency shifts its focus to monitoring travelers considered "high-risk," and "about whom the agency knows less."
In order to be part of the Pre-Check program, you either have to be invited by an airline, or be a part of the CBP's Trusted Traveler program. While there are several passes available through the program, a Global Entry Pass is the one suited for most travelers.
Global Entry was originally created as a speedier way to go through Customs when returning to the U.S. from international travel. The TSA has "piggybacked" on that program, and now allows those same international passengers to participate in the TSA's program, according to CBP public affairs liaison Frank Falcon.
But, while TSA Pre-Check was introduced at the Anchorage airport on Dec. 4., Alaskans faced a challenge in enrolling for a Global Entry pass: There was no place in Alaska to complete the last step of the application process, which is a face-to-face interview at a CBP office.
Adding to that, interview offices around the country are "booked solid" for months out, Falcon said. That makes scheduling an interview an especially cumbersome process for Alaskan travelers, who would need to plan their travel dates around whatever slot was available in select cities across the U.S.
Now, Alaskans need fret no more. On Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol rolled out the first Global Entry Enrollment Center at the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, and they are open for business.
Falcon said that the move was prompted by "a lot of public interest," by Alaskans interested in the program but unable to book interviews out of state, what he called an "extreme inconvenience."
Frequent flyer and travel writer Scott McMurren got his Global Entry pass in January. He called the program a way of "getting through security in a more dignified process." It's faster, requires no de-robing, and is useful for both domestic and international travel.
So how does the program work?
What you give, and what you get
First step: Fill out the online enrollment form, including a $100 non-refundable application fee and detailed background information, like where you live and work.
It then takes around two weeks to have your application processed and be granted "conditional approval" – although McMurren said his application processing took only five days. After being granted approval, you sign up for an interview. During the interview, you'll answer questions from a CBP officer, have your photo taken and give them your biometric information, a.k.a, your fingerprints.
Once you're in the program, you'll get a Global Entry card. The number on your card is the ticket to faster security screening. Enter in that number while booking a flight, and that information is then embedded in your boarding pass.
What you get for your time and money: When you present your boarding pass at security, you'll be directed into an expedited screening lane, where you won't have to take off your shoes, belt, lighter jackets, or pull your laptop or liquids out of your bag. In Anchorage, you head through a metal detector instead of the full-body scanner.
And when returning to the U.S. from international travel, you'll get to bypass lengthy customs lines in airports that are equipped with Global Entry kiosks, like at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
One caveat: People in the program may still be randomly selected and required to go through the regular security lanes.
Not everyone who applies for a pass will be granted one – "it depends on what the investigators see," Falcon explained. People may be found ineligible due to criminal convictions, customs violations or immigration regulations.
Interested in applying? You can start the process at the Global Entry website. Anchorage's Enrollment Center is open for interviews Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm.
And while the office has not yet been flooded by applications, Falcon said that it won't last. "I am sure based on how things have gone throughout the country," that Anchorage's Global Entry Enrollment Center will be booked solid soon.
Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com.