Nothing like a little travel before a long trip.
Several weeks ago, I found out about the Global Entry program run by U.S. Customs & Border Patrol. The idea of Global Entry is that it allows you to enter the country without a lot of the usual hassle, and also gets you entry into the TSA Precheck program, which expedites your security screening at the airport.
When you’re hauling around a ton of photo gear, not having to take every electronic device out of your bag for “enhanced” screening is a real time saver (and headache-preventer).
The timeline was going to be tight, as the way GE works is that you apply online ($100), wait for a security screening to be completed (a few weeks usually), and then you go to your closest interview station to get interviewed and fingerprinted. Because I found out about the program a bit late, it came down to the wire, and Charlotte (the closest location) didn’t have availability until late October, it meant going to the next-closest place with open slots to book… Washington, D.C.
I booked a room downtown through Hotels.com for pretty cheap for later that week (Friday). The plan was to drive up Thursday night with my travel partner, stay at the hotel, get up for our early appointments, and then cruise back down to N.C. as soon as we were done. (Getting me back to work for my last day in the office before the trip.)
Added excitement: I didn’t notice until Thursday night that it was the 10th of September. We’d be navigating D.C. traffic and security on 9/11. Joy.
Fortunately, traffic heading north wasn’t too bad. A few slowdowns here and there, but it wasn’t obscenely late when we arrived. (Just late, and dark.) Enough time to walk around downtown a little bit, but not as much as I would have liked. On the upside though, this reminded me just how reasonable a drive it is from Durham to D.C. (when traffic isn’t abysmal, of course), so I’ll be more likely to take trips up that way to get some better photos. And it did give me the opportunity to get this shot of the Washington Monument.
Since I’d been there last, security at the White House has been further increased. It was a bit sad to see the additional 8-foot perimeter fence outside the existing iron fence, complete with uniformed Secret Service officers in the gap between the two. You can no longer walk up to the fence and get a nice photo between the bars, which was a bit of a disappointment, so I’ll have to find a better vantage for the photo if I want to try again next time.
Early the next morning, we made good time across the city on foot and got to the CBP office for our interviews. A note: if you’re traveling for vacation, you’ll likely have fewer questions to answer. Since I was traveling for photography, they had a few more questions to ask, but nothing unreasonable, just due diligence. While my partner’s appointment was scheduled 45 minutes after mine, she was called to go because there was no one else there, so we were in and out in less than a half hour.
After the late night and early morning, a half hour nap at the hotel got my brain back in some semblance of order before the drive back. Once we hit the road, we were glad to see that we weren’t heading into the city, because the backup was huge, and getting worse by the minute. We saw a huge group of veteran motorcyclists with police escort heading towards the city, and that wasn’t helping the traffic situation either.
Once outside the city, things cleared significantly, and we were back in Durham in reasonable time.
As part of the Global Entry/TSA Precheck process, you are assigned an ID number. That gets put into your airline reservations on the travel/air carrier website, and your tickets will be printed with a TSA PRECHECK label, allowing you to go through the fast lane. If you haven’t experienced one of the “trial” Precheck events when flying, it means you empty your pockets of metallic items, and put everything through the scanner, without removing shoes or items from bags. By the time we were home, that number had been confirmed, and I plugged it in to the American Air website for both of us, and we were good to go.
Next stop, Europe.