I’m From The Government And I’m Here To Help You. Really. Really, I am.

by James Broder


TSA Operations


I have amassed 3,000,000 Frequent Flyer miles on American Airlines alone. Three. Million. Miles. That’s roughly 275 round trips from Los Angeles to London. That doesn’t include all the miles I’ve flown on JAL, Egypt Air, Qantas, whatever. Out of respect for the dearly departed, let’s not even mention miles flown on TWA, Pan Am, or Continental.

For all of my dollars and for my loyalty, American Airlines treats me slightly less crappy than The Next Guy. But only slightly. And don’t get me started on AT&T Wireless; after 10 years as my wireless carrier, AT&T would charge me more for a new Android phone than The Next Guy.

Most passengers flying from Canada to the USA clear US Customs before they leave Canada. In a move designed to decrease congestion at the international terminals of US airports, US Customs agents are stationed permanently in cities like Calgary, Montreal, and Vancouver in order to “pre-clear” incoming US-bound passengers of any nationality. Upon arrival in the US, an international flight from Canada does not have to dump its passengers out for Customs clearance, they arrive on lower concourses just like any flight from Newark or Charlotte.

About five years ago, I was waiting in a very, very long line for Customs clearance one morning in Calgary (en route to Dallas) and I noticed a velvet rope, behind which the occasional passenger or flight attendant would be directed. The Anointed One would bypass the 200 or so passengers waiting in line, address a kiosk, stab at a touchscreen a few times, and breeze right through into what, technically, was US territory. A small sign on the post holding up the end of the velvet rope read “NEXUS – GLOBAL ENTRY – TWIC“.

My interest was piqued. I did some research. And now I am one of the anointed, I applied for and was accepted into both the Global Entry and NEXUS programs. And Dear Reader, let me tell you…..I consider my NEXUS and Global Entry clearance amongst the most valuable things I own.

Global Entry is a biometric Customs pre-clearance program available to American citizens. To be accepted into Global Entry, one must submit personal information, consent to an investigation of your background, sit for an interview with an agent of US Customs, and submit your fingerprints. Once accepted, when returning to the US from abroad, you bypass the line for Customs, slap your hand down on an electronic fingerprint pad, and head for baggage claim. Twenty seconds, tops. Trust me on this….when arriving at a packed-to-the-rafters Customs concourse in Dallas after a 10-hour flight from Santiago, cruising through in 20 seconds rather than shuffling along the cattle gates for 90 minutes is worth more than I can express in mere words.

Unfortunately, Global Entry is not reciprocal. Outbound, one still stands in line at Heathrow’s dingy, smelly, revolting Terminal 3 along with the rest of The Great Unwashed Masses.

NEXUS is even better. NEXUS is a cooperative program between US Customs and their Canadian counterparts. Same deal as Global Entry, but it is reciprocal. Works both CAN-USA and USA-CAN and, to sweeten the pot, it works on a retinal scan rather than fingerprints. You stick your face in front of a small mirror on the kiosk, poke at the touchscreen a few times, and head for the Hertz counter.

But wait. It gets better. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently announced they are taking baby steps toward attempting to replicate USCBP’s wildly successful biometric clearance programs.

I have often railed about what I term the “TSA Barefoot Kabuki Theatre”, that pointless ritual we all go through at airports which offers about as much additional security as a divining rod wielded by Sybil The Soothsayer. In this era of CT Scans and iPhones and Space-X, guys in $3000 business suits pad through the line in their cashmere socks, clutching a plastic bowl containing their wallets and their gold Rolexes, while Ma and Pa Kettle in front of them fiddle with their baby stroller and look around desperately for a trash can in which they can place their half-empty bottle of drinking water.

It was recently announced by the TSA that a new pilot program is being launched under which randomly selected NEXUS and Global Entry members, who are also “frequent travelers”, will be chosen to be cleared through TSA at selected US airports via their biometric data. They will be exempted from the TSA Barefoot Kabuki Theatre.

This week I received an email from American Airlines. I have been chosen to participate in the pilot program, should I choose to opt in. And yes sirs, I do so choose, thank you very much.

I’m as likely to roll my eyes in exasperation at the US government as The Next Guy, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that email turns out to be as valuable to me as the ones I get every week from a variety of Nigerian princes. But NEXUS and Global Entry work, and they work exceedingly well. If TSA is indeed going to catch that wave, it could be a beautiful thing for those of us with a mile or two…..or 3,000,000…….on our odometers.




Boulevardiers Fan November 16, 2011 at 5:50 pm

i love your blog, i have it in my rss reader and always like new things coming up from it.

Previous post:

Next post: