The period between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, known unofficially as summer travel season, is often cited as having many of the biggest travel weekends of any given year. But 2019 is shaping up to be a bit different, as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently announced that, since May 23, it has "experienced six of the top 10 busiest days in the history of the agency."
In fact, on Friday, May 24, the TSA broke the record for its busiest day ever, with 2,792,525 people screened. And, unsurprisingly, the TSA expects the entire summer season to be record-setting, with a projection of 263 million passengers who need to get through security checkpoints. In short, it's going to be busy at the airport.
As CEO of Ovation Travel Group, people often ask me for tips on what I do to reduce stress while traveling, and one thing I continually recommend are the Department of Homeland Security's Trusted Traveler programs, many of which I hold membership in. Every year, Ovation updates an overview and comparison of all the most popular Trusted Traveler programs, including TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, Nexus, Sentri, Clear, and Secure Flight, for our clients, which you can find here. These programs are designed to expedite various screening processes, while offering increased safety and security. Here is the latest information on the three biggest programs, TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, and Clear:
- Program Overview. TSA PreCheck members are able to enter a designated lane at security checkpoints for expedited screening. Unlike travelers in non-PreCheck lanes, members do not have to remove shoes, belts, and light jackets, and they can also keep their laptops and "3-1-1" liquid bags in their carry-on during screening. For TSA PreCheck, the application process begins by completing a form online. TSA PreCheck costs $85 and membership lasts five years.
- Recent Changes. In May 2018, the TSA announced it had 53 domestic and international carriers participating in the PreCheck program. Over the past 12 months, many carriers have joined the program, such as Air India, Asiana Airlines, China Airlines, Eastern Air Lines, EVA Air, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, Norwegian Air, TAP Air Portugal, and Volaris. Currently, there are 67 participating carriers at more than 200 airports; a map and list of participating airports and carriers can be found here.
- Important to Know. Membership in TSA PreCheck began in December 2013; more than 420,000 people signed up in six months and over 750,000 total within the first year. This means a lot of people are most likely in the process of renewal, so give yourself some extra time if you are one of them. And if you are applying for the first time, it looks like the program might be changing. TSA acting deputy administrator Patricia Cogswell recently said the TSA is studying a number of fee options and ways to make enrollment easier. As an example, TSA is testing mobile enrollment at airports in Atlanta and Nashville this summer.
- Program Overview. For international travelers, it's a great deal to get Global Entry. Global Entry provides an expedited security clearance process for travelers entering the U.S., allowing them to use automatic kiosks to verify ID and complete a customs declaration. Global Entry kiosks are available at 75 airports; a current list can be found here. It costs $100 for five years of membership and includes TSA PreCheck eligibility.
- Recent Changes. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) website has a frequently updated FAQ on Global Entry, and recent questions include information on some lesser-known benefits of the program. For example, did you know that some people can join the program even if they aren't a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident? Global Entry is now available to "citizens of the Netherlands who are enrolled in Flux and Korean Smart Entry Service members. Citizens of Germany, Panama, and Mexico may also apply for Global Entry. Canadian Nexus members have Global Entry benefits, but are not eligible to join." Conversely, U.S. citizens also have benefits outside the U.S.: "U.S. citizens enrolled in Global Entry may use the SmartGates system when entering Australia without registration. U.S. citizens may apply for the Dutch Flux program, the Korean SES program, Panama's Global Pass, or the Mexican Viajero Confiable program for expedited entry into those countries."
- Important to Know. On June 23, CPB announced it was deploying personnel to the U.S. southern border, and was "temporarily reducing staff at Global Entry Enrollment Centers and reassigning them to support frontline traveler processing during the summer months. Regrettably, this situation has forced the cancellation of scheduled appointments." Therefore, if you are in the process of enrollment, give yourself extra time.
- Program Overview. Clear provides accelerated screening in the lanes that check IDs and boarding passes before the security lanes. Clear also has a designated lane and uses biometric technology to scan either your iris or fingerprint to check your identity. Once finished, travelers are escorted to the physical screening lanes. Often, PreCheck and Clear are integrated for expedited screening both before and at security. Sign-up for Clear also begins by completing a form online. With Clear, there is no waiting period to be a member; as soon as the account is set up, the service can be used. Clear costs $179 and membership lasts one year.
- Recent Changes. Since the summer of 2018, the following airports have launched Clear availability: Boston Logan, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, Cleveland Hopkins International, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, New York's John F. Kennedy, New Orleans, and Phoenix Sky Harbor. There are more than 50 locations; a current list can be found here.
- Important to Know. Clear has the distinction of being the only Trusted Traveler program that includes stadiums and other similar venues. Recent Major League Baseball venues include Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles), Citi Field (New York Mets), Globe Life Park (Texas Rangers), and Target Field (Minnesota Twins). Other notable venues include Atlanta's SunTrust Park, Denver's Coors Field, Los Angeles's Dodger Stadium, Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena, New York's Yankee Stadium, and San Francisco's Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.