Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting “How Global Entry Saved My Travel Day, Though Not Right Away and Not All the Time,” a Trusted Traveler saga of trials and triumphs of surviving airport security screenings, told in three parts.
The scene: John Wayne Airport, midmorning on a Saturday.
The scenario: Southwest flight from Orange County, Calif., to Denver.
I clutch my boarding pass in one hand and my coveted Global Entry Card in the other. After seven months, $100, a federal background check and having my fingerprints and retina scanned, I had finally received my Global Entry Card. The card has an intentionally distorted face shot that makes me look like Moe Howard from the Three Stooges if half his face swelled up from a spider bite.
This is a domestic flight, but one of the perks of having the Global Entry Card is you automatically can go to Pre-Check, the security entrance that lets select passengers skip the long lines, the dressing and undressing, the fumbling with laptops and shoving liquids into a little Ziploc bag.
My wife and children were traveling with me. I had briefed them: In the name of investigative journalism and serving you, the reader, I would leave them behind to endure the cattle call of the normal security lines while I scooted through and killed some time at the newsstand. I found an airport guide and asked which lane was for Pre-Check.
“There’s no Pre-Check in Terminal C,” she said. If I wanted to use Pre-Check, I would have to go to Terminal A, at the opposite end of the airport.
I joined my family in the regular line and started taking off my belt.
The scene: Denver International Airport, a Sunday afternoon.
The scenario: Icelandair flight from Denver to Reykjavik, Iceland.
Denver is the airport big leagues. It has Pre-Check all over the place. I stepped up to the security agent and handed him my card. He tapped away for a second on his keyboard, then in a monotone announced, “You’ve been randomly chosen to go through enhanced security. Please join the line.”
I knew one of the safeguards of Pre-Check and Global Entry was that you would be randomly asked to go through regular security. It makes sure no one goes rogue after being named a “trusted traveler.”
But the first time? Come on!
By the time it was my turn in the conga line of bags, purses, laptops, carry-on rolling bags, I found my bored family sitting on a bench inside the terminal.
The scene: Los Angeles International Airport, international arrivals, Terminal 2. A very late Wednesday night.
The scenario: Tired and disheveled from 11-hour, nonstop Air New Zealand flight from London.
I’m lugging my laptop, photo bag and a rolling bag full of books, magazines and newspapers I had accumulated on the trip but not yet read. My exhausted family lopes along with me.
We get to the immigration hall and there are thousands of people. Jumbo jets from Mexico, the Middle East and London had showed up at roughly the same time. My 19-year-old son heaves a big sigh.
I told my family I was going to give it another try. They went right toward the “U.S. Citizens” line, while I headed to the far left edge of the hall and saw two Global Entry kiosks, looking like fancy ATM machines, against a wall.
As instructed, I slid my passport under a scanner, pressed my right hand onto another small scanner that read my fingerprints, while an eye scanner checked out my retina. I answered some customs questions on a touch screen (the ones everybody else has to fill out on paper). Out spit a slip saying I was in.
That was it.
An agent confirmed I had the slip and directed me down a narrow aisle, past the huddled masses yearning to breathe the smog at LAX.
My elapsed time from entering the hall to baggage claim: Five minutes.
Additional time until my family made its way through security: 40 minutes.
Global Entry could save the travel day for me — this time.
One important note, though.
There’s no global entry for bags. It was another 35 minutes before my two bags plummeted down the chute and onto the shiny stainless steel carousel.
I am a “trusted traveler,” but the government still isn’t so sure about my dirty laundry.