Dec 16, 2023

Closing out international travel in 2023: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Skip the Global Entry kiosks with this mobile app

Who would expect the U.S. government to be helpful when it comes to smoothing the hassles of air travel? 

Who would expect a respected organization representing people over 50 to be promoting a rip-off passport scheme?

And who would expect a major travel magazine to nominate a war-torn country for a "Readers' Choice" award?

Examples of all three crossed by inbox this week. Let's label them examples of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of travel as we close out 2023.

The Good: U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Global Entry Mobile App.

Members of the government's Global Entry trusted traveler program can skip the kiosk checks at many airports when reentering the country from an international destination by downloading the Global Entry Mobile Application available on the Apple App store or Google Play.

Most Global Entry kiosks no longer require passports and fingerprints, but instead clear incoming passengers through facial recognition. Once pictures are taken, an immigration officer sees your information on a screen and waives you through.

The app allows you to skip the kiosk check entirely by registering your Known Traveler number ahead of time, then taking a selfie when you arrive and hitting "submit."

So far, 15 airports have been approved to accept the app including Seattle Tacoma International, Los Angeles, Washington Dulles and Chicago O'Hare.

AARP promo for passport services

The Bad: AARP's "Rush My Passport" service.

"Renewing your U.S. passport has never been easier," touts a promotion on the AARP website advertising "exclusive pricing" on U.S. Passport renewal "bundles" through a private vendor passport and visa service called RushMyPassport. 

Apparently following the clear and detailed directions on the U.S. State Department's passport application and renewal site is too complicated for those over 50, the group of citizens that the AARP represents.  

Thus, the idea that it's some how worth it to pay $415 for it's "Expedited Service Bundle" (estimated 5-week wait) vs. the $190 you'd pay by filling out the forms on the government's website and applying for expedited renewal ($130 for regular service plus $60 for expedited) directly by mail.

The RushMyPassport charge for its "Smart Service Bundle," - standard renewal (estimated 10-week wait) - is $335 vs. the government's fee of $130.

What does a "bundle" include for the extra money? According to the AARP/RushMyPassport website, it includes:

*A user-friendly online experience

*All government and shipping fees (postage)

*Document pre-check for accuracy

*Concierge-level assistance and dedicated support

Really?...And no mention that passport processing times have returned to pre-pandemic standards, according to the State Department. Routine services taking between six and eight weeks, and expedited services two to three weeks. That’s about a month faster than the estimated wait times from this March.

The Ugly: Conde Nast Traveler's annual Readers' Choice awards, ranking Israel as a top destination.

"The past two months have been challenging for Israel," reads a tone deaf press release, "but good news has arrived with the announcement of Conde Nast Traveler’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards, which ranked Israel as the eighth Best Country in the World. In addition, Tel Aviv was the third most Googled city in 2023."

"This news is sure to boost the morale and spirit of our many travel partners and stakeholders across the county as well as the people of Israel," said Eyal Carlin, tourism commissioner to North America for the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

“We’ve been working closely with our travel advisers, encouraging them to work with their clients to postpone travel to Israel, not cancel it. "

Postpone? The reality is that everything has changed since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. it will be a long time before this part of the world will be in a position to welcome visitors. In the meantime, there are more critical concerns than restarting tourism. 

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