TAMPA — A background check, fingerprints and a 15 minute interview.
That's all it takes to join the Global Entry program, which allows international travelers to be prescreened so they can get through customs within a matter of minutes when they arrive back on U.S. soil.
But at Tampa International Airport there was a problem: Travelers couldn't be interviewed in Tampa. They had to go to Orlando or Miami or elsewhere.
Not anymore. Now Global Entry interviews can be conducted at Tampa International. That will make it more convenient for Tampa's overseas travelers while boosting the airport's efforts to attract more international flights.
"This is, for the moment, the big missing piece," said Tampa International CEO Joe Lopano. "It will make getting off your plane and getting through customs so easy."
It costs $100 to go through the screening process. Start by applying online at cbp.gov or globalentry.gov. Qualified fliers will answer a series of questions, then be asked to come to the Tampa airport for a personal interview with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer.
"Its very user friendly," said Gary McClelland, the area port director for CBP, which is under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "You select the date and time based on what we have available."
The new interview rooms are located in the red arrivals baggage claim area.
Generally, CBP's goal is to get international travelers through customs in an hour or so. The estimated average wait at Tampa International is around half that time.
Once fliers are enrolled in Global Entry, they'll be able to get through customs in just minutes. A Global Entry flier can get off the plane, approach a special kiosk, have their passport and fingerprints automatically scanned, ask and answer declaration questions on a touch-screen, then be given a paper confirmation that will allow them to leave the airside's last exit point.
Last month the airport also unveiled its refurbished and expanded Airside F for international travelers. That's where the kiosks will be located.
"That is our state of the art," McClelland said. "Our latest and greatest."
Tampa International is the latest airport to join the program, which has 34 member airports in the United States. CBP screens around 160,000 international passengers annually at Tampa International. The program is open to U.S. citizens, permanent residents and citizens of Mexico. Fliers from Canada, South Korea and the Netherlands who participate in prescreening programs in their own nations can also enroll in Global Entry.
CBP will divert two of the officers assigned to the Tampa airport to conduct the interviews. But the agency expects that to pay off later as more travelers enroll and fewer need to go through the international security lines.
"It's going to save not only the individual time," McClelland said, "but it saves time by allowing us to focus on higher-risk passengers, so the cost benefit is worth it."
There's another benefit: Anyone who qualifies for Global Entry also gets to join the Transportation Security Administration's similarly expedited prescreening program for domestic travelers. That's currently available for Delta fliers at Tampa's Airside E.
It was the airport's aggressive efforts to add international flights that convinced CBP to finally open an interview office here.
"They definitely had the need," McClelland said. "They worked at their passenger counts and that determines the pecking order."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404.