Travel

Frequent international travelers can pay fee, skip line at customs

International travelers catching a connecting flight in Charlotte or vacationers heading back from a week-long cruise in the Caribbean now have a way to skip the long lines in customs.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport this week joined the federal government’s Global Entry Program, which allows frequent international travelers who pay a $100 fee and clear a background check to clear through security by logging into a kiosk.

The federal program has been piloted in 20 airports across the country during the past few years but was expanded to four other locations, including Charlotte, this week. So far, more than 250,000 people have enrolled in the voluntary program, run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“It is the quick and easy way for honest travelers to get out of line, cut their average wait time by 70 percent and get an express pass through the U.S. international arrivals area, letting CBP officers concentrate on travelers that really need our attention,” said Patricia Fitzpatrick, Area Port Director for the federal customs office in Charlotte.

People accepted into Global Entry still may be subject to random checks, and can be suspended or removed from the program if follow-up background checks raise any red flags.

To qualify, people complete an online application at http://www.globalentry.gov and pay a non-refundable $100 fee. After an initial background check, applicants are interviewed in person by an agent at a Global Entry Enrollment Center – interviews will start at the Charlotte airport on March 26 – and have their fingerprints and photo taken.

Travelers may not qualify for Global Entry for several reasons, including if they have been convicted of a criminal offense or are the subject of any current investigation, or if they have violated customs, immigration or agriculture laws.

Once at the airport, anyone accepted into Global Entry can bypass the traditional international security lines and swipe their passport at one of two kiosks. They’ll also take a photo, have their fingerprints scanned and answer questions on topics such as the luggage or other goods they’re declaring.

Travelers then will be given a ticket that will either let them continue on to their connecting flight or proceed to baggage claim, or one with an "X" that’ll require them to answer additional questions from customs agents.

About 1.1 million international travelers passed through Charlotte Douglas last year.

Terri Pope, vice president of the Charlotte hub of US Airways, said the new, quicker screening system will be helpful for those needing to catch another flight out of Charlotte. She said about 80 percent of the airline’s international travelers coming into Charlotte are connecting to another flight.

Charlotte aviation director Jerry Orr said airport officials have been working for about two years to bring Global Entry to the city. He said officials are always looking for new ways to help international travelers.

Among other projects under way is the airport’s expansion of the terminal and international arrivals area. Also, the Transportation Safety Administration recently announced it was adding its PreCheck expedited screening program to Charlotte.

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