© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Travelers Can Speed Through San Antonio Airport With Global Entry

San Antonio International Airport is now an enrollment site for Global Entry, which allows passengers from international flights to be processed through Customs faster. 

The new, one-stop service opened January 11.

San Antonio got the designation from U.S. Customs and Border Protection after its Global Entry kiosks installed last August were a hit.

“We’re seeing more international arrivals and that international footprint is growing for San Antonio,” says Lois Hunter, U.S. Customs & Border Protection Port Director. Hunter says San Antonio’s global members have been using the kiosks, but new applicants could not use them unless they traveled to Dallas or Houston to finalize the process until now.

Next to the baggage claim area on the lower level of Terminal A, applicants can go right into the Customs office after visiting the kiosk for the final step, an in-person interview.

"They will walk in, and of course we’ll already know they’re going to be arriving," Hunter says, "and they will come to the window. One of the officers will be ready for them.”

The Customs officer will interview the applicants at a desk in Room 1101.

“We will collect their biometrics. We will scan their passport. We take their picture, ask them a few law enforcement questions, and it usually takes less than 20 minutes," explains Hunter.

Hunter says as the seventh largest city in the United States, it behooves San Antonio to offer this service. And busy people expect the technology to keep up with their needs. City of San Antonio Airport spokesman Rich Johnson says San Antonio is now the tenth largest gateway to Mexico.

“We have so many people now that conduct business in Mexico or live in Mexico and conduct business here. Anytime we can save those executives and those business people minutes versus hours, that’s money in their pocket. And that’s good for them and it’s good for the city,” explains Johnson.

There are advantages to having Global Entry processing in San Antonio.  If a business has more than 20 employees who want the membership, a Customs officer can be dispatched to the business to conduct the interviews.

Hunter says there are other advantages for members, such as not having to fill out those paper customs forms in flight.

Members of the Global Entry program – called Trusted Travelers – get to go to a separate line for TSA security checks for departing flights in certain airports. Johnson says San Antonio is not one of those just yet, but it will be.

“They’re pre-vetted and it’s very similar to Global Entry," Johnson says. "In that instance, in those airports, that’s where you don’t have to take off your shoes. It’s a separate line. It’s a whole different experience for those with Global Entry membership.”

Despite being marketed to heavy business travelers, Hunter notes Global Entry is available to families.

“As of March of last year, it is now eligible for all, including infants. So families that have been hesitant to apply because they think, ‘Oh my goodness, my kids are going to have to be in one line and I can go through Global Entry.’ Well, that’s not the case right now.”

Hunter cautions people have been dropped from the program. The website says “Global Entry is a risk-based approach to facilitate entry for pre-approved citizens.” If you get a DUI, you’re out.

“If you get an arrest, your Global Entry is automatically revoked, and it will be reviewed upon the adjudication of the arrest. You’re no longer trusted. And if you bring fruit in, you’re out if we discover it! But if you declare it, you’re okay. I’ve always told everyone to declare everything,” Hunter says.

San Antonio is the 31st airport to gain Global Entry. The government program that started as a pilot program in 2008 seems to taking off.

Eileen Pace is a veteran radio and print journalist with a long history of investigative and feature reporting in San Antonio and Houston, earning more than 50 awards for investigative reporting, documentaries, long-form series, features, sports stories, outstanding anchoring and best use of sound.