Hate lines at the air­port? Pay to make them go away

Shorten the wait with these 4 fixes

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Long lines are the bane of the air­line pas­sen­ger’s ex­is­tence, es­pe­cially dur­ing peak hol­i­day travel. Here are some of the ways you can shorten the wait, or even elim­i­nate wait­ing al­to­gether.

You’ve prob­a­bly al­ready heard of TSA Precheck and Global En­try, but if not, let me ex­plain. Precheck ($85 for five years) sends pas­sen­gers into shorter and quicker TSA lines, al­low­ing you to keep your shoes on and your lap­top and size­com­pli­ant liq­uids and gels inside your carry-on. I pre­fer Global En­try ($100 for five years) be­cause it in­cludes Precheck and also en­sures a quick, line-free re-en­try into the U.S. through im­mi­gra­tion and cus­toms (some­times the cus­toms in­spec­tion lines are worse than im­mi­gra­tion).

If you travel to the United King­dom at least twice a year, own an el­i­gi­ble pass­port and are will­ing to pay the 70 pound (about $90) an­nual fee, look into the Reg­is­tered Trav­eller ser­vice, which al­lows au­to­mated pro­cess­ing through im­mi­gra­tion at most U.K. air­ports and at Eurostar ter­mi­nals. Air­lines of­fer line-beat­ing perks that you can buy when you book your airfare. JetBlue, for ex­am­ple, will let you use the same TSA se­cu­rity line that its first-class cus­tomers en­joy for $10; for $15, Delta will let you board the plane along with its pre­ferred fre­quent fliers, giv­ing you early ac­cess to the over­head bins; and for the same price, United will let you use the pri­or­ity checkin line or board the plane ear­lier than your fare would oth­er­wise war­rant.

Higher up the peck­ing or­der, United Air­lines of­fers Sig­na­ture Ser­vice with VIP treat­ment at 11 air­ports; prices start at $250 per pas­sen­ger. Amer­i­can of­fers its 5-Star Ser­vice, also at $250 per pas­sen­ger in the U.S. and $300 over­seas. Both pro­grams in­clude pri­or­ity se­cu­rity lines and im­mi­gra­tion pro­cess­ing, but Amer­i­can’s is only for busi­ness and first-class pas­sen­gers.

When I flew first class on Air France not long ago, an agent met me at checkin, es­corted me to the head of the TSA line, then to the lounge, then to the gate and all the way to my seat. On land­ing, I was met at the plane’s door, brought down to the tar­mac and handed over to a driver who sped me to the ter­mi­nal.

Not in first class? Air France of­fers a meet-and­greet ser­vice to any cus­tomer at four French air­ports with prices start­ing at 120 eu­ros ($135) for the first pas­sen­ger and 10 to 20 eu­ros ($11.25-$13.50) for ad­di­tional pas­sen­gers.

Most of these pro­grams don’t help with se­cu­rity or im­mi­gra­tion at air­ports out­side the U.S., such as Lon­don’s Heathrow, where I have spent many an hour zigzag­ging back and forth be­tween crowd-con­trol stan­chions, in jet-lagged stu­por, even with “fast lane” ac­cess.

So that’s where VIP air­port concierges come in. For a fee, these en­ter­prises prom­ise to meet you at the curb or at the air­plane’s door, “ex­pe­dite” you through se­cu­rity and pass­port con­trol, and when air­port pol­icy al­lows, even usher you to the front of the lines.

Frank­furt Air­port of­fers a VIP ex­pe­ri­ence for any con­nect­ing pas­sen­ger start­ing at 119 eu­ros ($134). It in­cludes gate-to-gate trans­fer by elec­tric cart or, in some cases, via a lux­ury car on the air­port’s tar­mac.

One of the largest firms, Lon­don-based Global Air­port Concierge (global air­port­concierge­ser­vice .com), works in over 700 air­ports world­wide, with prices start­ing at $150 per ser­vice. In 100 of those air­ports the com­pany of­fers a VVIP ser­vice whereby pas­sen­gers wait in a pri­vate lounge or pri­vate ter­mi­nal while se­cu­rity and other for­mal­i­ties are pro­cessed far from the mad­den­ing crowds and the pry­ing eyes of the pa­parazzi. Prices vary de­pend­ing on air­port (at LAX and Heathrow, the fee is over $4,000, but those two are anom­alies and the ser­vice at most air­ports costs much less).

Then there’s Black­lane Pass (pass.black­lane.com), a prod­uct from Ber­lin­based Black­lane, which works with nearly 300 air­port concierge firms, in­clud­ing Global Air­port Concierge. Known mostly for its pri­vate chauf­feur ser­vices, Black­lane has re-imag­ined the VIP air­port concierge busi­ness by charg­ing a flat $100 per ser­vice in over 500 air­ports.

Deal­ing di­rectly with a lo­cal or smaller provider, such as Marhaba

The good news is that one day your face will be your pass­port and your board­ing pass. Long lines will be a thing of the past. Air­lines are work­ing with air­ports and govern­ment agen­cies to in­tro­duce bio­met­ric pas­sen­ger iden­ti­fi­ca­tion: Look into a cam­era, then walk through the gate and onto the plane. I saw this in ac­tion at a Bri­tish Air­ways gate in Los An­ge­les and wit­nessed a jumbo jet loaded in a mat­ter of min­utes. Even­tu­ally, your mug will take you from air­port check-in to board­ing and through se­cu­rity and on to pass­port con­trol, with­out a piece of pa­per in sight.

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