Sometimes it takes so little to make me happy. A parking space with time left on the meter. The book I want at the library. Free and unlimited popcorn. In each case, without doing anything illegal, immoral or fattening (well, maybe fattening), I feel like I've in some way beaten the system.
And so it was on my last trip. By the two most important metrics, it was successful: the travel itself was trouble free, and the projects went well. I even got a few good meals plus a half a day off in San Francisco where I went biking, and managed to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge just as the clouds broke. All in all, that's what they call a win win win. Maybe even one more win.
But even with all that, there was still one other aspect of the trip that caused me to grin uncontrollably. And while it will be fun to show pictures of the people and places, and even the shack selling bacon donuts (yes, I did, and no, it wasn't that good), the one thing that stands out the most involved standing in a line. Or more correctly, walking past many lines to my own, in which there was no one standing. Yes, fellow road warriors, I now have a TSA Pre designation.
A program run by the Transportation Safety Administration, the idea is to prescreen frequent travelers, determine those that are low risk and give them a pass at the airport. About 1 million passengers had opted in, vs. a total number of annual airline flyers of about 730 million. So with just a fraction of 1% queuing up, you know that that particular line will be very short indeed.
However, I lost my silver status this year, and so wasn't invited in. But then I found a back door. The Department of Homeland Security runs a program to speed entry through customs for international travelers called Global Entry. Anyone can sign up; all you do is fill out an application, pay a $100 fee good for 5 years and appear for an interview with the Feds where they photograph and fingerprint you. Assuming you're clean, you get a card enabling you to use ATM-like kiosks when coming back into the US from overseas. And – backdoor alert – you also get a "trusted traveler" number, which is the membership card into TSA Pre.
This trip was my first real chance to try it out. While not all airports have it in place, I hit the jackpot: my itinerary of Newark, San Francisco and Orlando was a trifecta of working sites. At Newark, my point of departure, the security lines snaked long and deep. But off on the side I saw the TSA Pre logo and headed there. I walked up to the security agent guarding the gate. I produced my driver's license and my boarding pass with the TSA Pre logo on it. She examined it all, stamped it quickly and waved me through. And there in front of me was – no one.
There wasn't a soul between me and the x-ray machine. Two agents were standing there chatting with nothing to do. They looked at me and smiled, an obvious kid in a candy store. "Just put your bags on the belt, and your phone in a bin. That's it." I just looked at them dumfounded. "That's IT??" The short one smiled: "Yup. Leave your liquids and your laptop in your bag, your shoes, belt and jacket on, and just walk through the metal detector." I all but danced through the machine into the arms of the agent on the other side. She laughed at me: "We see this all time. It's Disneyland for adults."
As the rest of the huddled masses on the lines around me looked on enviously, I gathered my stuff and was through in 2 minutes; less, if you discount the time I stood there marveling at the process. I may never walk on the moon, get an Oscar or be feted at the White House. But for one shining moment, I was the envy of every person who saw me. And so, while I've got no place to travel to this week, I'll go to the one place where I get unquestioned respect: the airport.
Marc Wollin of Bedford is looking forward to his next TSA Pre experience. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter