Global Entry can’t get a fingerprint because there isn’t one


Georgeann Lenard’s Global Entry application is stuck because of an unusual problem, the result of an unusual accident. Can this application be rescued?

Question: I need your help with my application for Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for travelers entering the United States. I can’t contact anybody at the Global Entry number or email about the status of my application and interview.

I believe the problem is that it is difficult to get fingerprints from my right hand as a result of an industrial accident over four decades ago. My hand and forearm were saved by pioneering hand surgeons, but my fingerprints are severely compromised on my right hand. I’m not even sure I have much in the way of prints.

My application was accepted months ago, and I went for my interview and fingerprinting at Philadelphia International Airport in January. I have not heard anything from Global Entry — not even a rejection of my application. I have tried to call them, but I get recordings and can’t get a person on the phone. I have emailed with no result.

I know the problem was with the fingerprinting, but I can’t be the only one with this problem. I was also given a TSA PreCheck number at the time of the fingerprinting, but I’m not sure whether I can use it legally. I have no criminal record. I can’t think of any other reason I have not heard from Global Entry except for the fingerprinting problem. — Georgeann Lenard, Philadelphia, Penn.


Answer: You’ve raised a question that I asked when the first kiosks were installed years ago: What happens when a traveler doesn’t have a finger to scan? I should note that the question was laughed off by my colleagues in the newsroom and deleted by my editor. Too abstract, they said. They were wrong.

Related story:   Is the car rental industry’s damage claims process fair to travelers?

The answer, unfortunately, is that U.S. Customs and Border Protection has no idea what to do with someone who had an industrial accident.

You were correct to put your grievance in writing. That’s the best way to document a problem and ask for a resolution. Calling Customs may or may not fix the problem. That’s the way it works with most consumer grievances. You have to create a paper trail.

By the way, I highly recommend Global Entry, even if you travel infrequently. It cuts the amount of time you have to wait at the border, and it gives you TSA PreCheck status, so you don’t get harassed at airport security. That’s well worth the $100 application fee.

Finding a real person at Customs can be a challenge, even for me. I can’t take any credit for the following resolution: Thanks to a friend of a friend who works for the government, someone looked into your Global Entry application. And I’m happy to report that it’s been approved.


Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • finance_tony

    So what does happen when this OP approaches the GE kiosk? It seems like it’s programmed to require good prints – does it recognize an exception? What would happen if an amputee approached? Maybe they just get expedited ‘manual’ screening instead?

  • MarkKelling

    Once you receive the number, you are good. They would not have given it to you otherwise. Enter it on all your frequent flyer accounts and you will get Pre on most of your flights as long as you book your flights while logged in to those accounts. The number is NOT something you show at the airport to expect the Pre guy to let you in.

    I had fingerprint problems as well when going through the interview process for GE. I still received my card in the mail about 6 – 8 weeks after the interview. The interviewer told me I might have occasional issues when using the GE kiosk, but so far it has worked without issues every time.

  • FQTVLR

    Neighbor lost his right arm in Iraq. He has Global Entry and says he has never encountered a problem . They used prints from his left hand as that was the only option available (his words, not mine).

  • FCVA

    I have messed-up fingerprints on both hands due to a childhood incident with a hot light bulb (left index finger) and a more recent incident with a mandolin slicer (right ring finger). I also am required to get fingerprinted for work reasons. As long as what you have matches what’s on file, it shouldn’t matter. It’s only when something changes between the time they capture your prints and the time you try to use the scanner at the airport that you might have a problem. Even then, you can go back to the Customs office and get re-printed and update your record once you’ve been approved.

  • Alan Gore

    Fingerprints can also become worn down with age, which causes problems when you use fingerprint authentication devices like the iPhone. When setting up an authenticating fingerprint, always start with the thumb from your non-dominant hand, because it gets less wear. If that still doesn’t read, try other fingers from the same hand.

    Does TSA allow a Global Entry applicant to choose which finger is used for authentication? If it doesn’t, then LW needs to show them her middle finger.

  • cscasi

    Ii do believe it is more than one finger that is used. I put all five fingers of my right hand on the pad at the Global Entry kiosk and it scans those. Remember, they scan both the right and left hand’s fingers, so one should be able to use whichever hand he/she wants.

  • joycexyz

    I also have a fingerprint problem–not the result of an accident, they’re just very faint. When I was fingerprinted at the Customs office, the officer had to press down on my hand to get a reading. But the kiosks are another story–no go. Fortunately, there is a special line for those of us who are “kiosk challenged”–it’s not that rare. The line is short, the officers pleasant and reassuring. Not a big deal.

  • MarkKelling

    When I did my Global Entry interview, ALL of my fingers were used for the fingerprint record. You have to put a full hand down on the GE kiosk fingerprint reader when returning to the US as well.

  • LonnieC

    And they can’t use the LEFT hand in a case like this??? Even Apple let’s you use any finger/hand you wish.

    We had the exact same thing happen about four years ago when my wife and I applied for TSA PreCheck. She has very faint prints on her hand, and after a dozen tries, they gave up. They said that it was no problem, and that they would send in the application indicating the lack of prints. I got my PreCheck approval/number in about a week, she got hers in about two weeks. And we’ve had no problem using PreCheck several times since then.

    I don’t understand why this presented such a problem in the OP’s case.

  • LonnieC

    And I’ve noticed that as I’ve gotten older, there are more lines (wrinkles?) across my prints than there were when I was younger. I wonder what those additional “markers” do to authentication?

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