Global Entry’s Backlog Problem May Be Worse Than I Realized
In the summer of 2018, my wife and I decided it was time for us to get Global Entry. At the time when I wrote about the service, I noted that my application took a few weeks to get conditionally approved and wondered if that was a long time or not. Well, as it turns out, I got quite lucky as the now year-old Federal Government shutdown apparently continues to plague the program with applications still backlogged. This begs the question: is it still worth it?
According to the Los Angeles Times, the Customs and Border Patrol says there are currently 350,000 backlogged Global Entry applications. This not only includes new applications but also renewals from current members. As a result, the agency has also announced its giving current participants a one-year grace period to renew, essentially extending their benefits to six years instead of five (although they note that your application must be received before your original expiration date for this grace period to take effect).
Moving onto anecdotal tales, this past weekend I was chatting with a friend in L.A. about Global Entry when he told me that, not only did he have to wait a long time to be approved but that once he did he couldn’t find an interview slot anywhere near him for months. Eventually, he was able to find one in San Diego, which he begrudgingly took.
What made his situation even worse is that he didn’t even really need Global Entry but was talked into it because it’s only $15 more than TSA Precheck (the program he was actually interested in). Thus, by applying for Global Entry instead, it’s possible he missed out on getting his TSA Precheck benefits sooner — not to mention would have saved himself a drive to San Diego and back. That’s because the latter program doesn’t seem to be experiencing the same level of backup and there are more interview locations available.
As much as I love Global Entry, it’s now clear that travelers will need to be a bit more analytical when deciding if the program is right for them. For those who mostly travel domestically and have trips coming up, it may be better to just stick with TSA Precheck. Meanwhile those who do roam abroad once a year or more may find the wait for Global Entry to be worth it. On that note, the CBP does offer Enrollment on Arrival at select airports across the country so, once you do get conditional approval, you may be able to take care of the last step once you arrive back from a trip. Of course, if you do select that option, make sure you have a nice, long layover so that you don’t miss your connecting flight.
Hopefully the CBP will be able to work through their backlog and get the program back on track. In the meantime, while I haven’t used it myself, I do hear good things about the Mobile Passport app. That option has both a free and $14.99 a year option and is utilized at certain airports across the country (although, notably for me, not ATL). It may not be quite as useful as Global Entry but coupled with an a la carte TSA Precheck membership may be a suitable solution for the time being.