Global Entry: Tech-Savvy Travelers Speed Through Customs

PHOTO: A Customs and Border Protection official demonstrates a Global Entry kiosk at John Wayne Airport.PlayAlbert Sabaté/ABC/Univision
WATCH Global Entry Allows Pre-approved Travelers To Use Automated Kiosks For Immigration Checks

Air travel is not a pleasant experience. To be blunt: It sucks.

You wait in line at ticketing and hope nobody notices you've got two oversized carry-ons (that you really should check but you don't want to pay for). You wait in line to take your shoes off and get a revealing body scan or an awkward blue-gloved pat down. Then you wait in line to board the plane where all the overhead storage bins have already been stuffed by everyone else's oversized carry-ons. And then find yourself wedged between two of the seemingly widest people on the plane while a hyperactive 4-year-old kicks your seat from behind. By the end of it, you're ready to break something.

If you're traveling on a longer international flight, your waiting times increase before and after landing -- especially when you have to go through Customs. But a growing program by Customs and Border Protection streamlines the reentry process and cuts down your wait time dramatically.

Global Entry allows pre-approved travelers to use automated kiosks for immigration checks. The machines scan users' passports, take fingerprints, and snap photographs of entering travelers. In less than 60 seconds, a traveler can go through the customs process.

"It's the Jetsons era of technology," said Custom's spokesperson Jaime Ruiz. "Systems like this are the future of international travel."

U.S. Citizens, as well as Mexican and Korean nationals, can apply for the program. Applicants pay $100 fee, have a background check and are interviewed by customs officials. Travellers are approved for Global Entry 5 years at a time and automatically approved for TSA's Pre, a domestic expedited security screening program.

The program also has agreements with Canada and the Netherlands to allow its citizens to use the program.

Global Entry formally debuted in 2012 and today is in 34 airports. About 1.5 million travelers are members have been approved for the program. Each month 50,000 members join the program.

"In this post-9/11 era, it's about risk management," Ruiz said. "Ninety-nine percent of travelers pose no risk, but we need to focus on the 1 percent that does."

After a recent flight from Guadalajara, Mexico arrived at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, Calif., only 2 people used their recently debuted kiosk while more than a 100 people waited more than 30 minutes to go through customs.

Maria Gena Vargas, a Mexican citizen who lives in California but visits family in Guradalajara, used the program for the first time.

"Rapidisimo!" she said with a smile. "Anyone who can get it should."