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Sky Harbor joins 'trusted travelers' program

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Sky Harbor joins 'trusted travelers' program

Global Entry card lets some speed through customs

  • Travelers in the Global Entry program can move quickly through passport processing at airports, saving up to 70 percent of the time it takes to get through the checkpoint.
    U.S. Customs and Border ProtectionTravelers in the Global Entry program can move quickly through passport processing at airports, saving up to 70 percent of the time it takes to get through the checkpoint.

WASHINGTON – Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will begin participating this month in a program that speeds up processing through customs checkpoints for pre-approved fliers.

Customs and Border Protection announced Monday that Sky Harbor will join the Global Entry program on March 26, becoming the 24th international airport in the country to offer the service.

Travelers have to apply for the program and undergo a rigorous background check to make sure they are a low security risk. Once approved, they can largely check themselves through customs by scanning their Global Entry cards or passports at a kiosk and making their customs declarations on the machine.

The program reduces the number of security checks for some fliers, but other travelers should rest assured that it “is for low-risk travelers who are screened, and they’re rigorously screened,” said Victor Brabble, a customs spokesman in Tucson.

The background checks on people who apply for the program are a “multilayered security threat assessment” that includes fingerprinting the applicant and an interview with a customs agent, said Joanne Ferreira, a customs spokeswoman in the agency’s Washington headquarters.

“That’s why they’re ‘trusted,’ because we get to know more about them than a regular traveler,” Ferreira said, noting that it usually takes four to six weeks for applicants to be enrolled in the program.

The program aims to drastically cut waiting time for U.S. travelers on returning international flights. On average, the program has reduced wait times for approved fliers by 70 percent at other airports, with most people getting through the whole process in less than five minutes, according to the agency.

“The expansion of Global Entry to Phoenix is a benefit to all frequent travelers who use this airport to enter the U.S. from travel abroad for business or pleasure,” Brabble said in an email.

A Sky Harbor spokeswoman said the airport is excited by the prospect of having the program.

“We have a very sophisticated market of international travelers who will benefit from this expedited service,” said Sky Harbor spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher in an email.

She said international travelers’ re-entry times at Sky Harbor are relatively short – 20 to 40 minutes on average – but those times can double due to delays or inclement weather, “in which case this service is extremely helpful.”

Travel groups praised the program’s expansion Tuesday. The U.S. Travel Association said the move makes travel “particularly convenient for those who frequently travel internationally.”

“We commend the program’s expansion, especially because it lessens the hassle for travelers,” said Robert Bobo, spokesman for the group. “International travelers flying into Phoenix who are in the program will have a much smoother experience.”

Ferreira said the program has been well-received at the first 20 airports to adopt it, with more than 270,000 Global Entry members using the program 1.9 million times since it launched in 2008.

The government made the program permanent last month and will begin expanding it to more airports based on their volume of international travel and the need for the program, Ferreira said.

Other airports starting Global Entry this month are St. Paul International Airport in Minneapolis, Minn., Charlotte Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., and Denver International Airport in Denver.

U.S. citizens and permanent residents can apply for the program by going online and paying a $100 non-refundable application fee. Mexican, Canadian and Dutch citizens can also enroll under certain circumstances.

Becoming a 'trusted traveler'

In order to qualify for Global Entry, travelers must:

  • Possess a machine-readable passport or permanent resident card.
  • Pay a $100 fee and undergo a background check.
  • Not have a criminal conviction in any country.
  • Not have violated U.S. custom or immigration laws.
  • Not pose a risk for terrorism.

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