June 13, 2013

Fast and Not So Furious: Notes from a Frequent Flier

Fast and Not So Furious: Notes from a Frequent Flier

This was one of those weeks when I traveled Monday through Friday, which meant four nights away from home and three different hotels. As I write this, I’m on a plane from San Francisco to New York.

I’ve been traveling for business for as long as I can remember. Whether for clients, professional conferences and seminars, or visiting Marcum’s many offices, I’ve been on the road and in the air for much of the last 30 years. These days, I wind up on planes an average of twice per month, to places like L.A., Miami, San Francisco, Boston, Las Vegas, Chicago and London. They are all very nice cities with excellent hotels, restaurants, and cultural and sporting events. Due to the generosity of some clients and the modern miracle of frequent flier miles, I’m usually able to upgrade my long haul flights. Trust me, that’s a far cry from the early days of my career working for a “big eight” accounting firm, when I spent weeks on end performing audits of public companies, sometimes in places so small I’m not sure they even had names.

But no matter how many amenities you build in, frequent business travel is still tough, regardless of what class you’re flying or where you’re staying. And the worst part is usually the security check point lines at the airport, which are about as much fun as a colonoscopy. They’re for our own safety and protection, but who really wants to go through it?

Now, most of you know I’m not a proponent of big government or government-run programs, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Against all odds, the federal government has managed to come up with a terrific program to alleviate some of the inconvenience of frequent travel. The TSA Pre Check program is the equivalent of an EZ Pass for air travelers. Anyone and everyone who is a frequent business traveler should sign up for it immediately, if not sooner.

With Pre Check, enrolled travelers enter a separate security screening line, where you don’t need to remove your shoes or take your computer(s) out of your bags. Just remove your cell phone, keys and other metal objects from your pockets, walk through a metal detector, and you’re on your way. Average check-in time with the program is approximately three minutes, versus 30 or more in airports like McCarran (Las Vegas) or O’Hare (Chicago) at peak travel times. But beyond just saving time, it also saves serious amounts of wear, tear and aggravation.

When Pre Check first started, it was available at just a few airlines in a few airports, American being one of the carriers, and JFK and LAX being two of the hubs. I do the JFK/LAX round trip every six to eight weeks and was lucky enough, as an American Executive Platinum frequent flier, to be enrolled in American’s version of the TSA Pre Check program for their flights. However, since I also fly occasionally with JetBlue, Delta, United and other airlines, when the TSA program was rolled out across the industry, I immediately enrolled. It couldn’t have been easier.

It took less than 15 minutes to complete my registration on the government’s Global Entry web site (Google it). A couple of days later, I got an email from Global Entry telling me the first part of my application process was completed, and I needed to schedule an interview at a Global Entry office, which in my case turned out to be at the International Terminal 4 at JFK airport. I arrived one Friday morning at the scheduled appointment time, was seen within five minutes, and in another 15 minutes was fully enrolled in the TSA Pre Check program as well as with Global Entry for international travel. It was unbelievably efficient, especially for the government.

Travel is a necessary part of business for many of us. So anything that can improve the experience is a good thing in my book. Especially if it means getting home less aggravated and more relaxed. Your family will thank you.