Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
HOME    E-MAIL RALPH    PRINT    SEND A LINK     2017 COLUMNS     EAT ARCHIVES     SEARCH
Going Global Is Easy-Peasy
Thursday, December 7, 2017 -- My wife and I traveled through Boston's Logan Airport last week. Passports in hand, we arrived at Terminal E with the rest of the international travelers. As you might expect, we also came into contact with U. S. Customs and Border Protection personnel. What we didn't do was travel to another country. Heck, we never packed a bag or saw the inside of an airplane.

We'd driven to Boston from our home in Maine--two-plus hours in either direction--not so that we could travel now but so that we might travel better later.

We were at Logan to see Customs officials about securing Global Entry status, the government's expedited Customs and Immigration clearance system.

At the urging of a business traveler friend--my wife and I are mere economy class civilians, after all--we had applied for Global Entry back in June. We did so on the theory that we're traveling more and we'd do well to make it as painless as possible--by skipping potentially long lines at Customs and Immigration when we arrive back home.

Besides, I had just acquired a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which reimburses Global Entry's entire $100 application fee. So, literally, what was there to lose? (The card's $450 annual fee also includes membership to Priority Pass Select, another cushy travel perk urged upon me by my business class pal.)

After filling out a couple of forms online and coughing up the nonrefundable application fee, travelers must endure an in-person sit-down with the Customs folks before getting approved for Global Entry. Sometimes it can take a while to schedule an appointment and you can't just do it anywhere. In our case, Boston/Logan was the closest interviewing location and late November became the scheduled time.

To be completely honest, I was dubious about getting involved in the process. Ever since 9/11, U.S. airport authorities and I have not had a good run together.

If there's a checkpoint--anytime, anywhere, any domestic airport--I'm the guy who gets stopped and thoroughly gone over. We're talking in the 90-plus percentile here, people. If you don't believe me then just ask my wife. She's the one who's always waiting around for the uniforms to have a go at her traveling companion before she can get on her way.

I used to think that it was my dark, thick hair and beard. But I'm older now and neither is dark anymore. Yet still the TSA types check my palms for bomb residue while waving most everybody else around me on their merry way.

Voluntarily opening myself to the scrutiny of "the airport man" seemed a bit reckless. Reading the official literature before applying for Global Entry didn't exactly put my mind at ease either. "Every potential member of the Global Entry Program must attend a 30-minute interview," it said ominously.

A 30-minute chat with a government investigator? Are you kidding me?

What if they asked what I'd been up to back in the Seventies? Or worse, suppose they already knew? It'd been four months since I'd scheduled the interview, more than enough time for the feds to dredge up any number of unseemly activities and events from my past.

But now, at 60 I've got a lot of leisure travel to cram in, and with age my patience with travel delays and inconveniences grows thin. I decided to take my chances with "the airport man" and hope for the best.

Long story short, I need not have worried. Neither should the vast majority of you JoeSentMe members who have not yet signed up for Global Entry.

Talk about easy-peasy.

For starters, pay no attention to the 30-minute interview warning. Unless you've got some seriously heavy baggage in your past--or maybe show up to the appointment looking like I did when I was a lot younger--it's never gonna happen.

My wife and I arrived for separate appointments--it is not possible to schedule a joint one--45 minutes early. Only a couple of people were waiting their turn and, from what I could tell, there were three Customs agents conducting interviews. I'd barely taken off my coat when one of them approached us and asked, cheerily I'd have to say, "Would you guys like to just do this together?"

The three of us walked into the agent's office, took our seats and began the interview.

"What does the 'J' stand for?" the agent asked.

John is my middle name. I informed the agent of this fact.

"Have either of you ever been convicted of a crime?"

In unison we quickly answered in the negative.

Two small devices stood on the agent's otherwise empty desk, one to take photographs of Global Entry applicants, another for fingerprinting them. The agent quickly used both devices on each of us.

Next thing I know the agent was informing us that we would receive our Global Entry identification cards in the mail in a week or ten days and that the cards will be valid for five years.

My wife and I shared a suspicious glance.

"Um, is that it?" I asked, a bit sheepishly.

"No, it isn't," said the agent. "TSA Pre-check goes along with this. Or did I mention that already?"

And with that we were done and wishing each other a good holiday season. Fewer than 10 minutes after shuffling into the "interview" room with the agent, my wife and I were on our way back to the Terminal E parking lot discussing where we might go and have some lunch.

Like I said, easy-peasy. And the agent was even wrong about getting the cards in seven to ten days. They arrived just five days after the interview.

But the story doesn't end there. You will want to hear about lunch.

My wife mentioned a very old--and very gigantic--Chinese restaurant called Kowloon that her grandmother favored. It was on the way back to Maine and so that's where we went.

In the middle of lunch, my wife looked me square in the eyes and said that we really do have to get planning that Asia trip we've been talking about for way too long.

"Much as you keep fighting me on this," she charged, "we really are not getting any younger. You do know that, right?"

And so later that evening, sitting by the fire and contemplating my new and much-improved travel status for the next five years, I did the sensible thing. I got onto Cathay Pacific's Web site and made use of its extraordinary Black Friday fares. Prices that both my wife and our friend the business traveler had been bugging me to exploit from the moment they were announced late last month.

We're headed to Hong Kong in April, on a nonstop from Boston/Logan. We're looking forward to it quite a lot.

But don't look for us in the Customs line with all the other suckers because we won't be there.

We've gone Global, remember?

This column is Copyright 2017 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.