December 10, 2008

International trusted traveler program ramps up

global_entry_border_small.jpgOfficials are ramping up their membership drive with airports and airlines. Serving international fliers, the current three airports have a combined user base of over 140,000 people (people who travel internationally 4 or 5 times a year). [picture/image provided]

Monday, December 8, 2008
Standing in long lines at customs and border checkpoints is a hassle, especially after sitting on an airplane for what was most likely half a day.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its Customs and Border Protection agency are trying to alleviate the wait times for some of those travelers with the Global Entry Trusted Traveler Program, says John Wagner, director of the program at DHS. The program is based on the Nexus and Sentri programs that expedited U.S. and Canadian citizens border crossings. “It’s a risk management approach to process frequent, low-risk international travelers,” he says.

The program, still a pilot, is in place at Los Angeles International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Chicago O’Hare International, Miami International, George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Washington Dulles International Airport.

The eventual hope is to roll it out to all international airports and have reciprocity so U.S. citizens can participate in similar programs with other countries, Wagner says. Agreements have already been signed with the UK and the Netherlands with others in the pipeline. “Both countries do the vetting on their citizens,” he says.

Travelers interested in the program undergo a voluntary background check, Wagner says. It begins by filling out an online application and paying a $100 fee, which is good for five-years’ enrollment in the program. The application seeks basic demographic data and asks questions about past international travel.

At that point the individual’s information will be checked and after a couple of weeks he will be conditionally approved or denied, Wagner says.

If approved the traveler will have to go to an enrollment center, which is typically located at his home airport, Wagner says. The applicant will have his fingerprints taken, passport scanned and be interviewed by a Customs and Border Protection official.

If everything checks out the individual is typically approved on site and his registration in the program is completed. The traveler is then shown how the kiosk will work when reentering the country.

From there, whenever the traveler is coming back to the U.S. he can use the kiosk, which is similar to an ATM or airline self-check in kiosk, Wagner says.

The traveler confirms enrollment by scanning his passport and authenticating with a previously enrolled fingerprint biometric. A camera on the kiosk then takes the traveler’s picture and he fills out the declaration on the screen.

While the traveler is answering these questions the system is running queries in the background to confirm airline and other information. Once successfully processed the traveler can claim his bags as he leaves the airport.

Using the kiosk takes about two minutes, compared to the three minutes it takes a customs official to check a traveler through, Wagner says. But the more significant time savings comes from not having to wait in line to see the officer.

The traveler can use either an old passport or a new electronic passport with the program, as long as it has the machine-readable zone on the data page, Wagner says.

Kiosk manufactured and designed by KIOSK of Colorado

Global Entry is still in pilot but Customs and Border Protection wants to deploy it at all international airports. “Our target audience is people who travel internationally four or five times a year,” Wagner says. “At three of our pilot sites about 140,000 people fit into that category and ideally we would like to get 75% of those.”

As of late September, 3,500 travelers have enrolled in Global Entry and more than 1,100 members have used kiosks at the three existing pilot locations since the June 10 opening date.

To drive membership in the program Wagner is working with the airports and airlines to get the word out. This includes ads in trade publications, some airlines marketing it to their members and signage at the airport, Wagner says.

But the best message may be when travelers are waiting in line to see a customs official and they see others using the kiosks and getting on the way much quicker.

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Posted by staff at December 10, 2008 09:31 AM