4 Programs that will help you breeze through airport security

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You know the drill. Hurry up to get to the airport two hours or more before takeoff only to wait in long, winding security lines at the airport. Get off your international flight, jet-lagged and then wait once more, this time in slow-moving customs and immigration lanes.

Fortunately, there are several travel programs that can help you breeze through security and customs lines.

TSA Pre✓ and CLEAR are two programs that help propel passengers to the front of and through security lines. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol runs four Trusted Traveler Programs: Global Entry (for international travel), NEXUS (for travel between the U.S. and Canada), SENTRI (Secure Electric Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection: for travel via land into the U.S. from Mexico) and FAST (Free and Secure Trade: for commercial vehicles traveling between U.S and Mexico and U.S. and Canada) to help travelers breeze through borders.

Globetrotters can simultaneously enroll in the quartet of Trusted Traveler Programs, TSA Pre✓ and CLEAR as each program offers specific benefits based on where you are headed. We break down the who, what, where, when, why and how of the four most popular programs: CLEAR, TSA Pre✓, Global Entry and NEXUS.

Josh Hallett, Atlanta Security Line via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Josh Hallett, Atlanta Security Line via Flickr CC BY 2.0

CLEAR

This program is ideal for travelers in the U.S. who hate standing in long Transportation Security Administration lines.

What is it?

CLEAR is a non-governmentally administered membership program that lets departing passengers breeze through airport security via designated Clearlanes at select U.S. airports.

Who can apply?

U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents 18 and older can apply. Children under 18 are free and can use the CLEARlane when accompanied by a CLEAR family member (no enrollment is needed for children).

Where can travelers use CLEAR?

CLEAR is available at 12 U.S. airports, including Las VegasMcCarren International Airport, Orlando International Airport and San Francisco International Airport. Members head straight to the designated CLEARlane at TSA security checkpoints where a CLEAR representative scans each passenger’s boarding pass. Then, members tap their fingers on a sensor before being escorted for security screening. Members who are part of TSA Pre✓ are escorted to TSA Pre✓-expedited screening lanes. There is no membership card to keep track of; members use their boarding pass and biometric scans to prove their membership.

When can travelers apply?

Travelers can apply anytime. Those who register online must complete their registration at one of CLEAR’s airport enrollment centers. Travelers can also register and complete the application process the same day at enrollment centers. The company boasts that registration takes only five minutes to complete.

How do travelers apply?

There are two ways to apply: register online or at a CLEAR Enrollment Center. In addition to the application, travelers must visit an enrollment center with their government-issued photo identification (i.e. driver’s license, U.S. passport, U.S. issued permanent resident card, state issued identification or U.S. military identification). During the visit, the passenger’s form of identification is verified, fingerprints are captured and an IRIS image scan is performed. Membership is $179 per year. Additional family members can be added for $50 per year; children under 18 are free and can use the CLEARlane when accompanied by a CLEAR family member (no enrollment is needed for children). The company also offers corporate plans.

Why should travelers consider CLEAR?

The benefits include:

  • The company claims it gets members through security in less than 5 minutes.
  • Discounts with CLEAR’s partner network that includes Hertz and Visa Signature.
  • Keeping your family together when passing through security.

TSA Pre

Transportation Security Administration
Scan and go on-the-go. (Image: Transportation Security Administration)

This program is ideal for travelers in the U.S. who hate having to take off their shoes and unpack their laptops and liquids during a TSA screening when traveling domestically or departing from a U.S. airport to a location outside the country. 

What is it?

Affords “low-risk” travelers expedited security screenings when flying one of 12 participating airlines (listed below) departing from 150 participating U.S. airports.

  • Air Canada
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines
  • Delta Air Lines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • JetBlue Airways
  • OneJet
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Sun Country
  • US Airways
  • United Airlines
  • Virgin America

Who can apply?

U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and legal permanent residents can apply. Canadian citizens who are members of NEXUS are also eligible to enroll in TSA Pre✓. Foreign citizens enrolled in Global Entry may participate in TSA Pre✓.

NOTE: Members of “Trusted Traveler Groups” do not need to apply to the program and are automatically accepted. Trusted Traveler Groups include:

  • Members of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry, SENTRI and NEXUS programs.
  • U.S. active duty military, National Guard and reserve members.
  • DoD civilian employees and certain other federal government employees.

Where can travelers use TSA Pre✓?

Travelers flying on one of the 12 participating airlines can utilize TSA Pre✓ at 150 airports in the U.S. as long as a Known Traveler Number (KTN) is provided at the time of ticket reservation.

When can travelers apply?

Travelers can apply anytime and the approval process takes 30 to 45 days from the time the application information is received.

How can travelers apply?

Applicants must complete an application online or in-person at an application center, appear in person at an application center to provide fingerprints and submit documents and pay an $85 non-refundable application fee. Membership is good for five years.

Approved members receive a written notice in the mail and are assigned a Known Traveler Number (KTN) that is used when making flight reservations. There is no membership card; members provide a KTN when booking airline tickets. Participating airlines then print a TSA Pre✓ indicator on the ticket that lets TSA agents know you are part of the TSA Pre✓ program. Members use the TSA Pre lanes at the airport.

Why should travelers consider TSA Pre✓?

The benefits include:

  • Expedited screening process full-time or during peak times at participating airports (NOTE: Due to the unpredictable nature of airport security, expedited screening is not guaranteed).
  • Family members ages 12 and under traveling with an eligible parent or guardian with a TSA Pre✓ indicator on their boarding pass can participate in expedited screening.
  • No need to remove shoes, laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, belts or light jackets.

Global Entry

Global Entry Program
Cut the customs line with Global Entry. (Image: David Lisbona, Checkout from USA via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

This travel program is ideal for folks who travel internationally.

What is it?

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol administers the Global Entry program, which allows members expedited clearance upon arrival in the U.S.

Who can apply?

“Low-risk”

There is no minimum age requirement. Children under 18 must have parental or legal guardian consent (parents and legal guardians do not need to be Global Entry members); however, the parent or legal guardian must accompany the child to the interview.

Who cannot apply?

Applicants can be disqualified for a variety of reasons, including providing false information on the application, having been convicted of criminal offenses or having pending criminal charges or being the subject of an investigation by law enforcement. Citizens of Canada cannot apply, but Canadian NEXUS members can utilize Global Entry benefits.

Where can travelers use Global Entry?

There are 58 airports that have Global Entry kiosks, including major airports like Boston-Logan International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Miami International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport and international airports like Abu Dhabi International Airport, Dublin Airport and Vancouver International Airport.

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When can travelers apply?

Travelers can apply anytime but should allow several months for application processing, the interview and receipt of their membership card.

How do travelers apply?

Travelers must be pre-approved via an online application, extensive background check and in-person interview.

Applicants must create a Global Online Enrollment System account, pay a non-refundable $100 application fee and complete an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. If the application is approved, applicants are sent instructions for scheduling an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Applicants must bring their passport(s) and one other form of identification like a driver’s license. U.S. Citizens, legal permanent residents and Mexican nationals get a Global Entry Card.

Why should travelers consider Global Entry?

The benefits include:

  • Expedited re-entry into the U.S. via automated Global Entry Kiosks that allow travelers to scan their passports and fingerprints and complete customs verification before being whisked straight to baggage claim and the exit.
  • No processing lines
  • No paperwork
  • Reduced wait times
  • TSA Pre✓ eligibility
  • Access to expedited entry benefits in other countries (NOTE: Additional fees and enrollment interviews apply), including:
    • U.S. Citizens enrolled in Global Entry may use the Smartgate system when entering Australia without registration.
    • U.S. Citizens may apply for the Netherlands’ FLUX program.
    • U.S. Citizens may apply for Korea’s Smart Entry Service.
    • U.S. Citizens may apply for the Panama’s Global Pass.
    • U.S. Citizens may apply for the Mexican Programa Viajero Confiable.

NEXUS

This travel program is ideal for folks who travel frequently between the U.S. and Canada.

What is it?

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol administers the NEXUS program, which allows members expedited processing upon arrival in the U.S. and Canada.

Who can apply?

Citizens and permanent residents of the U.S. or Canada, who pass criminal history and law enforcement checks, may apply.

Who cannot apply?

Applicants can be disqualified for a variety of reasons, including providing false information on the application, having been convicted of criminal offenses, having pending criminal charges or being the subject of an investigation by law enforcement,

Where can travelers use NEXUS?

U.S. and Canadian citizens can use their NEXUS card as an alternative to their passports for air, land and sea travel into the U.S. NEXUS’ pre-screened travelers get expedited processing at dedicated processing lanes at northern border ports of entry, at NEXUS kiosks at Canadian Preclearance airports and at marine reporting locations.

Members of NEXUS are eligible to participate in TSA Pre.

When can travelers apply?

Travelers can apply anytime but should allow several months for application processing, the interview and receipt of their membership card.

How do travelers apply?

Travelers must be pre-approved via an online application, extensive background check and in-person interview.

Applicants complete an online application, pay a non-refundable $50 application fee and complete an interview at a NEXUS Enrollment Center. Travelers can apply by creating a Global Online Enrollment System account, using the Canadian Border Patrol on-line application system or by applying in-person at a NEXUS Enrollment Center. Qualified applicants are required to travel to a NEXUS Enrollment Center for an interview with the Canada Border Services Agency. If approved for the program, members get a photo identification card.

Both the U.S. and Canada must approve each application. If either country denies the application, the applicant is disqualified from participating in the NEXUS program.

NEXUS members who are U.S. citizens, U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents or Canadian citizens are also eligible for TSA Pre✓.

EXPERT TIP: If you are also applying for the Global Entry program, use the Global Online Enrollment System to apply for NEXUS because you can apply for both programs at the same time. On the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler Program List page, select the checkbox next to the NEXUS option. Additional information is required for each application but some of the questions are similar. Applicants must pay both application fees and attend both interviews.

Why should travelers consider NEXUS?

The benefits include:

  • Expedited re-entry into the U.S. via NEXUS-dedicated lanes, airport kiosks, and via marine telephone reporting center upon arrival into the U.S. and Canada.
  • Minimal questioning by customs and immigration when crossing the border.
  • Use of Global Entry Kiosks at airports.

(Main Image: Dan Paluska, security screening at denver airport via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

4 Programs that will help you breeze through airport security was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Lauren Mack
Author: Lauren Mack (163 posts)

Lauren Mack has traveled to 40 countries on five continents, including Cuba, New Zealand, Peru and Tanzania. For many years, she called China, and then Taiwan, home. Countries at the beginning of the alphabet, particularly Antarctica, Argentina and Australia are on her travel bucket list. Lauren is a multimedia travel and food journalist and explorer based in New York City.