Picture A or Picture B…which would you rather be in? When heads of state and senior government representatives travel to foreign countries, they get the full VIP treatment from the governments they visit. They are Picture A. As for the rest of us? We will be among the throngs of travelers in Picture B. And we were...I took Picture B last summer as we arrived at Frankfurt airport. So, what do the people in Picture A have that those of us in Picture B don’t? An expediter!
Imagine getting off a cramped airplane after an uncomfortable flight to another country…OK not so hard to imagine, especially if you've flown recently. Now imagine being met at the end of the jetway by a friendly local who greets you by name, speaks your language, and escorts you past the long line that has already queued up at the immigration checkpoint…that place that always seems to have far too few agents checking passports to meet the demand. Then imagine that same friendly local taking you straight to baggage claim where you point out your bags...for someone else to schlep...and escorting you past yet another long line waiting to clear customs straight the curb and your waiting driver. And if anything interrupts the smooth flow of that process, there is a comfortable private arrival lounge where you can sip a cool beverage and have a nosh while someone else sorts it all out.
Well…you don’t have to imagine it…the person in Picture A can be you, though maybe not quite as dramatic as a brass band heralding your arrival, or with a red carpet to walk. But you’ll certainly feel like a celebrity as you are greeted at the end of the jetway by someone holding up a sign with your name on it, who then escorts you past the long lines in the arrival hall and gets you started on with your vacation while everyone else from your flight has to wait to get their passports stamped.
Janet and I have found a number of countries that offer private arrival and departure expediting services, mostly in the Caribbean but the availability is expanding as is the demand for the service. There is a fee for expedited processing, and you still have to wait for your checked luggage to arrive no matter how efficiently you get through the rest of the process. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a pleasant chat with a local about all the things to see and do in their country as I wait for my luggage than stand in line grumbling about how long it’s taking and why half the agents checking people in decided to take their lunch break just as my flight arrived.
Whenever we travel internationally, we check to see if a private expediting service is available, and if it is…we take it for a test drive to see if it is something worth recommending to our clients. I won’t give up all the details here, but I can tell you almost without exception the arrival expediting services we have used in the Caribbean have been worth the cost. We have managed to skip lines that we later find out took others an hour and sometimes two to get through. By the time our fellow vacationers got through the lines we skipped and made it to the resort, we were already checked in, unpacked, and on the beach with a cool beverage in hand.
When we use an arrivals expediter, our average time from getting off the plane to getting into our car has been about 30 minutes. Most of that time was spent waiting for our checked luggage which, unfortunately, was not expedited. Still…I’m used to waiting between 45 minutes to an hour to get my checked bags at BWI and that’s after a domestic flight, so waiting 20-30 minutes isn't bad.
I will say as much as I’ve found expedited arrival services to be worth the cost, the same can’t always be said of expedited departure services. In some cases, you do get to skip to the head of the line at the airline’s check-in counter, but not always. Expedited departure processing can also get you access to a VIP waiting lounge, which is a nice way to spend the time waiting for your flight to begin boarding, particularly if there is a delay. But not always. Most airlines allow you to purchase priority check-in as well as access to their VIP waiting lounge, and the cost is less than what you’ll pay for an expedited departure processing service. The one thing going through the airline doesn’t get you is a skip the line pass for security screening, but not all expedited departure services get you that either. It’s good to know what you get when you pay for expedited processing, and we can help with that.
Unfortunately, expedited departure processing ends at the border, but that’s where Global Entry comes in. It is almost as good as having a stateside expediter, and you only have to pay for it once every five years…well worth the $100 cost. We signed up for Global Entry earlier this year and we’ve already been able to take advantage of it twice. Both times it allowed us to skip long lines of arriving passengers at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) immigration checkpoints and go straight to baggage claim. It is also available, along with TSA Pre-check, at foreign airports that participate in the CBP pre-arrival screening program. Those are the handful of foreign airports where you go through the US arrival screening at your departure airport rather than upon arrival in the U.S. We just experienced that returning from The Bahamas…Nassau is a CBP pre-departure airport, and I can tell you Global Entry was worth every penny for the lines it allowed us to skip.
From our experience, the cost of expedited arrival processing runs on average about $250 depending on your destination, and expedited departure processing is usually a bit less. The services are in high demand so you have to book well in advance. It seems like everytime we use an expediting service someone is trying to sign up at the airport, only to be told the service is fully booked so if you want it you have to book early.
Whether or not expedited processing is worth the cost to get a jump-start on your vacation, or to speed your departure at the end of your vacation, is a matter of personal choice. If we book your travel, we’ll let you know if expedited processing is available at your destination, what it will cost, and what you’ll get for your money. If you are traveling at non-peak times, have a high tolerance for waiting in line, or a low tolerance for parting with your money, maybe it isn’t worth the cost. I have a low tolerance for standing in line…any line. I got enough of that from my time in the Army. It turned me into a grumbler. When I have to stand in line, I revert to an impatient three-year-old. Just ask Janet. If that describes you, perhaps expedited processing is the thing you need to get on with your vacation, while everyone else is left standing in line grumbling like a bunch of impatient three-year-olds.
Now if someone can figure out how to offer expedited arrival luggage processing…I might be tempted to travel more often!