There’s nothing worse than the stress of running late to catch a flight. These days you need to factor in an extra three hours to get to the airport, check in, and get through security. When you land back home, you stumble off an international flight and straight into an insufferably long customs line.
If only you could skip those lines….
Fortunately, you can! There are several programs that address these airport inconveniences. But which should you choose? TSA-precheck, Global Entry, CLEAR, Mobile Passport? It’s difficult to know where to start.
We’ve put together the pros and cons of each service to help you decide:
What is it?
TSA pre-check is a government-run skip-the-line option. When you arrive at the airport enter a special security line for both identity checks and scanning. It’s often significantly shorter than the regular line and will help you arrive at your gate stress-free!
- Skip the long lines and fast-pass your way through security!
- In over 200 U.S. airports and with 73 airlines
- No need to unpack and de-shoe as you go through a separate scanning line
- Children under 12 don’t need their own membership and can sail through with you
- You need to make sure you have a pre-check logo on your boarding pass. Sometimes during the booking process, it will disappear, so it’s important to double-check that.
- No guarantee. As more people sign up there is a risk the line will be as long or longer than the regular line.
How to get it: After applying online go for a 15min in-person interview, background check, and fingerprinting.
It’s a straight-forward process but needs to be completed before you book your flight.
Cost: The initial application fee is 85$ for 5 years. (17$ per year)
The application fee is non-refundable.
Some credit cards will pay this fee for you. Be sure to see if you qualify.
Verdict: TSA pre-check is perfect if you’re a frequent flier. While there’s no guarantee of a shorter line, the odds are in your favor and it will cut down on the hassle of going through security.
What is it?
CLEAR is a privately owned company that uses your biometrics as identification instead of your driver’s license or passport. Simply go to the CLEAR kiosk, scan your boarding pass, and tap a finger or blink into an eye identifier. Then a CLEAR representative escorts you to the front of security where you’ll join the regular scanning line.
- Skip the long security line where a TSA agent is checking boarding passes
- You can sign up at a CLEAR kiosk in less than 10 minutes
- Easy to combine with TSA pre-check or Global Entry
- Children under 18 can jump the line with you
- You can add family members (over 18) for an additional $50
- You still have to go through the normal scanning line. This means taking off shoes, unpacking liquids etc.
- Only in 34 airports
- By far the most expensive option
How to get it: Go up to a CLEAR kiosk at the airport, sign-up, pay, and enter some basic biometric data.
Easy- peasy and no need to do it before booking your flight.
Cost: The most expensive option at $179 per year.
Verdict: CLEAR is good if you’re a frequent flier out of one of the airports they’re currently in. It lets you feel like a VIP being escorted to the front of the line. But if you don’t often fly out of one of their airports it’s not worth the cost.
What is it?
Global Entry is run by U.S. Customs & Border Protection. It’s perfect for international travelers because its main function is to expedite the return process. Instead of waiting in the customs line after your long flight home, you head to a Global Entry kiosk. Scan your passport or green card then scan your fingerprint and fill out the customs questions. The kiosk will give you a receipt and direct you towards your baggage claim.
- Skip the long customs line when you’ve emerged bleary-eyed from a long flight home
- Includes TSA pre-check to make your departure as smooth as your return
- Applicable for valid passport holders or green-card holders
- Children require their own membership
- Currently only in 75 airports
How to get it: Fill out the online application. Then schedule an appointment at one of their locations for an in-person interview, background check, and fingerprints.
It’s a straight forward process but must be completed before you book.
Cost: Application fee of $100 valid for 5 years ($20 per year).
Because it includes TSA-precheck, think of it as an extra $15 to make your return as smooth as your departure.
Some credit cards will pay this fee for you.
Verdict: If you travel internationally this is a great option. You get all the benefits of TSA pre-check plus the benefit of sailing through customs. Because all children need their own membership this is not ideal for families.
What is it?
Mobile Passport is a free app designed to speed up your customs process. You simply save some basic passport info to the app. When you land back in the U.S., answer the usual customs questions. Mobile Passport will give you a QR code. Look for the much shorter Mobile Passport line in the arrivals hall, show the CBP officer your QR code and you’re on your way!
- Skip the long customs line
- Often just as fast as Global Entry
- Great for families: it allows you to include everyone’s profile in a single transaction.
- It’s free!
- Only available in 27 airports
- You must still be manually processed by a CBP officer (unlike Global Entry)
- Only available to U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors
How to get it: Download the app on Google Play or the Apple Store, enter your basic information, and you’re good to go! It’s simple, fast, and incredibly easy.
Verdict: Although it’s only available in a small number of airports, it’s worth the download if you’re an international traveler.
Because you can add the whole family to one transaction it’s perfect for families with tired children.
So which is best? What should you choose to fast-pass your way through airline security? It truly depends on what type of traveler you are and where you’re traveling from to find the right fit.
With any of these services, your next experience at the airport will be much faster and less stressful. Combine that with a customized vacation designed by Annie’s Escapes, and your travel worries are over!