SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO — Savvy international travelers flying into the Bay Area began zipping through customs inspection Monday at San Francisco International Airport with the aid of a federal government program.
The Department of Homeland Security opened its Global Entry kiosks at the airport, one of 13 airports nationwide to receive funding for the timesaving program. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection pilot program allows preapproved members to bypass the typical customs process when arriving at a U.S. airport.
Passengers can sign up ahead of time by submitting an online application, then provide digital fingerprints and complete an interview at a participating airport.
If approved, international travelers can then insert their passport or lawful permanent resident card into an airport kiosk, provide a digital fingerprint, answer customs declaration questions on a touch screen and give their receipt to a border protection officer.
The process is supposed to cut the time it takes to navigate through customs by 70 percent, and more than three-fourths of Global Entry members finish the process in less than five minutes, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Since the government launched the program in June 2008, about 16,000 members had used the kiosks more than 51,000 times at seven airports.
In addition to saving passengers time, airport and government administrators said the program should allow Customs and Border Protection officers to expend more resources on higher-risk threats and improve customer service.
Global Entry currently is unavailable at Mineta San Jose or Oakland international airports.
The initiative follows in the wake of the Clear program, a private company that ceased operations in June after providing preapproved, paying members with fast lanes through security at airports such as SFO.
Global Entry applications are available at www.globalentry.gov and cost $100. Membership is available to U.S. residents 14 and older and is valid for as much as five years.
Mike Rosenberg covers San Mateo, Burlingame, Belmont and transportation issues. Reach him at 650-348-4324.