When I went back to the US in July, the first thing that greeted me was an hour+ wait to get through passport control. There weren’t many foreigners on our plane, so they were probably in their hotel, ready for sightseeing after a short nap before I finally made it to the next step, which is customs. You know how everything today is arranged ala Disney style with multiple switchbacks? Well – passport control had 6 switchbacks going side to side, followed by 6 going front to back. I thought the front/back people were in an entirely different line, so you can just imagine my distress when I realized it was just a continuation of my side-to-side line.
Alan went through the same thing the month before, but then he heard about the new Trusted Traveler Program set up by the US Customs & Border Protection people. It’s called the Global Entry System, and he immediately signed up. Global Entry allows you to go to one of the kiosks scattered around Immigration and quickly get OK’ed for passing on to Customs because they have checked you out and, one assumes, approved your past behavior. Since it costs $100 and is good for only 5 years, it’s primarily for frequent international travelers. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it. If you travel out of the country once a year, you have to decide if it’s worth $20 per year to avoid an hour line. Alan travels at least twice a year – in addition to being impatient — so he felt $10 was not too exorbitant a price to pay.
Here’s what you have to do: First you apply on-line, including your credit card information so they can charge the $100 immediately to your account. They check you out to make sure you’re an upstanding citizen, and if you are, they invite you to make an in-person appointment at the nearest international airport. You show up that day at the appointed time, have an interview with an immigration officer and get photographed and fingerprinted. They tell you right there that you’ve been approved and you leave. Simple.
It should not come as a surprise that, being the procrastinator I am, I did not start this process as soon as I got home — preferring to wait until the last month. Since I had a 100% spotless record, they quickly pre-approved me, but then the first suitable interview time was weeks away. FINALLY, 2 weeks before I was to leave, I had my interview.
The interview took place in the NEW International Terminal A at Philadelphia airport on the rainiest day of the summer. It was at an eerily quiet time for the airport, made all the more eerie by the sound of water dripping into the buckets scattered around. It turns out the NEW terminal leaks and they can’t find where the water comes in. Even better – they seem to have misplaced the original drawings for the building, so they’re not quite sure how things were put together. Let’s see……in Italy I live in a 13th Century building with a terra cotta tile roof that seems to be holding up quite well, while the gazillion dollar NEW terminal in Philadelphia needs to rely on buckets to keep immigration from flooding. No doubt we really impress those coming from “less-fortunate” countries, should they have to enter on a rainy day.
My interviewer was a very pleasant and helpful young man. Interesting fact: Should you EVER wish to live under the delusion that you can hide from your past, don’t get interviewed for the Global Entry System. He had a record of my speeding tickets – the last of which, I believe, was at least 10 years ago. I thought it was adorable that he asked about it…….like I could remember anything that happened 10 years ago!
Now for the photo and fingerprinting. I’m not sure why I had taken the trouble to curl my hair that morning when the 100% humidity level would straighten it the second I left my building. The result was grim, but at least I was permitted to smile. I had an equally humid day for my driver’s license photo and there I was not allowed to smile, meaning I ended up looking like I was trying out for the part of one of the pitiful peasants in “Les Miserables”.
If I have to tell you about fingerprints, it just means that you haven’t read all my blogs. I had hoped that Homeland Security in the country where people must walk shoeless through security would have a fingerprinting system that was perhaps a bit more sophisticated than our system here in the backwater of Orvieto. WRONG!! I saw the quizzical expression at first, followed by the little frown between his eyes, followed by a sigh of frustration, followed by his asking if I’d mind rubbing some cream on my hands. In all fairness – I should have told him right off the bat that the word in Italy is that I don’t have any fingerprints. But I saved it until after the cream. And of course, I told him how the man in Orvieto had suggested it was because my hands were old. This young man was much too well mannered to suggest such a thing and quickly said he sees this “all the time”. He also said it’s usually with brick layers, stone masons and people who handle a lot of paper. (NOTE: A fellow immigration man came in and, when he heard the story, said he’d seen it before, but definitely not “all the time”.) My officer said that he’d have to put through a special request to his supervisor to get me finally approved, but he thought it should go smoothly.
In the meantime, we went through a mock entry at the kiosk they have right there. There’s a screen that instructs you to put your passport in the slot right below it. While you’re looking at the screen and trying to find the slot, a camera towards the top of the kiosk takes your photo. Perhaps it’s just because I’m short, but that photo is even worse than my driver’s license. Because you’re looking down at the time, it’s basically your hair, forehead and top of your nose…hardly the best way to identify you. Then it tells you to put your fingers on a panel for fingerprinting. I reminded him that this might not work for me, and he assured me that if I got approved, when they saw there were no fingerprints, they’d identify me immediately. A few days later I got an e-mail saying I was approved.
Neither Alan nor I have tried to get back into our country since, so we have no idea how it will work in real life. My #1 fear is that a lot of people will want to sign up for this and the kiosks will be even more crowded than the Disney lines. My #2 fear is that somehow I will grow fingerprints and will end up being unidentifiable in my favorite 2 countries. Ah, irony…….