After warnings of long security lines, stranded passengers, and missed flights, thousands of New Englanders did a very logical thing: They signed up for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry to help ease airport congestion in what is expected to be a record travel summer.
What they didn’t anticipate was a delay of six months or more to receive Global Entry status. Those who signed up in late winter and throughout the spring likely won’t be enrolled until long after the summer is over. In many cases not until early 2017.
“If [US Customs and Border Protection] wants people to utilize their programs, they need to add personnel to do the interviews,” said a very miffed Martha Brennan of Wenham. “They can’t blame the public for not signing up when they cannot even handle the applications they have.”
It’s a sentiment echoed repeatedly from those who filled out Global Entry applications after the air travel tocsin was sounded. According to the industry organization Airlines for America, an estimated 231 million travelers will be going through airport security this summer — up from 222 million in 2015. Those numbers, in addition to scenes of pre-Memorial Day airport meltdowns, prompted a nationwide Global Entry rush.
Global Entry, which is overseen by US Customs and Border Protection, gives flyers access to both TSA PreCheck and expedited entry back into the US from foreign travel. To obtain Global Entry status, applicants are required to fill out an application online, pay $100, wait for conditional approval, and then meet an agent for an in-person interview and fingerprinting. But scheduling those in-person interviews has been slow going. Travelers who started the process in March, April, and May are grumbling they can’t see an agent at Logan International Airport until November, December, or January.
Brennan received conditional approval April 4. The next available interview at Logan was Nov. 8. When Jonathan Schlefer of Jamaica Plain went online to schedule an appointment at Logan on April 26, he found that the soonest interview slot available was Dec. 15.
“As of June 7, the next appointment was Jan. 27,” Schlefer said. “I’d recommend that people who are thinking about signing up get on there and grab it fast.”
And when Steven Rosenthal of Newton went online to schedule his enrollment interview earlier this month, the first available appointment at Logan was Jan. 28. The first appointment in Warwick, R.I., was Jan. 3.
“Of course they don’t tell you that until you’ve paid your $100 per person,” he said.
In an e-mail to the Globe, Sean Smith of the Boston field office of Customs and Border Protection, said that Global Entry applications are up by more than 70 percent so far this year. The agency received 850,000 applications last year. The result? A lot of cranky travelers waiting for appointments.
“CBP is working to expand Global Entry enrollment center hours, and add additional appointments for those looking to complete the application process,” he said.
Smith said that demand for appointments at Logan is comparable to other enrollment centers, but that Logan is “one of the CBP’s most space constrained enrollment centers.” A new enrollment center is scheduled to open this fall; in the meantime, the agency is exploring a temporary location.
“It may take longer to schedule an appointment at certain enrollment centers,” he said. “However, applicants may schedule appointments at any of CBP’s Global Entry enrollment centers.”
Many are following that advice.
“I was approved in early May and told to schedule my appointment,” said Barbara Kupfrian of Bedford. “I tried Logan, but the next available appointment was the third or fourth week of January 2017. Eight months away.”
Kupfrian was hoping to be approved by October when she plans to travel to Italy, so she ditched Logan and found an August appointment in Newark.
“My daughter lives in New Jersey, so it will be an excuse for a visit,” she said.
Getting TSA PreCheck is currently a much quicker process. PreCheck expedites traveler screening through TSA security checkpoints. After PreCheck approval, travelers no longer need to remove their shoes, belts, or take laptops out of bags. But it does not offer time savings when going through customs upon return from international travel. It’s a good option for those who only fly domestically and don’t want to spend the additional $15 for Global Entry.
“Last year we were getting around 4,500 applications a day,” said TSA spokesman Michael McCarthy. “Now it’s 10,000 a day, sometimes as high as 15,000.”
TSA PreCheck interviews are handled by enrollment agents who are contracted by TSA. Appointments are easily had at the six Boston area enrollment centers. There are more than 2,000 available appointments for TSA PreCheck over the next 45 days.
Unfortunately, PreCheck does not help international travelers such as Tom Miller and his wife, who applied for Global Entry in March. After conditional approval, the soonest appointment the Ipswich couple could get at Logan was Nov. 21. Their trip to Eastern Europe is in July.
“We never anticipated that it would be seven months before we could get a 10-minute interview,” he said.
Miller is now thinking of contacting his congressman to intervene.
“The reason why I went for it was to avoid customs on reentry,” he said. “At this point it seems unavoidable. We can only hope it’s not a nightmare.”
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