It’s now possible to schedule a Global Entry interview appointment at San Francisco International Airport, although it may not be until late April or early May.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which runs the program, expanded its scheduling system to allow appointments at SFO through June 30. As of Wednesday there were plenty of appointments available in May and June.
Around the end of last year, it was virtually impossible to schedule an interview at SFO unless you happened to log on to the appointment website when someone had just canceled. Agency spokesman Frank Falcon could not say when the calendar was expanded or when it might be opened past June 30.
Global Entry is a program that lets “trusted travelers” take a shortcut through immigration when they return from a foreign trip to major U.S. airports, including SFO, San Jose and Oakland. A membership costs $100 and expires after five years; it includes membership in TSA PreCheck, which has benefits for domestic travel.
To become a Global Entry member, you must fill out an application, pay the fee, get preapproved, then have an in-person interview where you get fingerprinted, photographed and answer a few questions. To join before you leave the country, you must schedule the interview at an enrollment center. SFO is the only enrollment center on the West Coast between Los Angeles and Portland, Ore.
There are only 89 enrollment centers in the U.S. and its territories, and when I checked in November, 25 of them, including SFO, had no interview slots available. Each center handles its own scheduling, and availability still varies widely. On Wednesday, 22 centers had no appointments available, including those at major airports in Seattle, Houston and Washington, D.C. All five centers in Minnesota had appointments available this month; in Portland, Ore., and Denver, the first openings were in December.
If you have been conditionally approved but can’t get an appointment before leaving the country, you can get interviewed when you return from a foreign trip at one of 42 U.S. and 15 foreign airports that allow “enrollment on arrival.” These include SFO, San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento.
But some people don’t want to wait until they leave the country to enroll in Global Entry because it includes PreCheck, which costs $85 for five years by itself. PreCheck lets passengers go through expedited security checkpoints at more than 200 domestic airports, generally without having to put shoes, belts, light jackets, laptops and allowable liquids in a bin. It’s managed separately by the Transportation Security Administration.
“The Global Entry Program is currently experiencing a backlog of approximately 350,000 applications,” Customs and Border Protection said in a news release. “Since October 1, 2019, CBP has completed nearly half a million Global Entry enrollments,” including more than 1,000 interviews a day on average for people without a prior interview through the “enrollment on arrival” program. “Enhancements planned for 2020 will further streamline and expand the capacity” of both enrollment options.
Members who want to renew their membership after five years may or may not have to interview again. Because of the backlog, the agency said that as of April 2019, Global Entry membership is being extended from 6 months to 1 year beyond the expiration date provided that the member submits a renewal application before their membership expires.
Global Entry has another benefit: Starting Oct. 1, passengers can no longer board a domestic flight by showing only a regular state-issued driver’s license or identification card. Instead, they will need to show an enhanced state-issued “Real ID” or another approved identity document such as a passport or Global Entry card.
Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @kathpender