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It just got easier to fly internationally if you live in Sacramento. But there's a hiccup ...

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Sacramento International Airport celebrates its 50th anniversary on Oct. 21, 2017. See some vintage images from SMF’s history.
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Sacramento International Airport celebrates its 50th anniversary on Oct. 21, 2017. See some vintage images from SMF’s history.

It just got a little easier to fly internationally if you live in Sacramento.

As of last week, travelers can now sign up at Sacramento International Airport to become a member of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency's Global Entry trusted traveler program, which allows flyers to skip the main customs line.

Typically, people who qualify for the program don't have to fill out customs forms, answer agents' questions or open their luggage for inspection. Instead, they go to a kiosk, get a receipt and leave. Sacramento has those kiosks.

That’s good, considering how tired you are when you get off a flight that just lasted forever.

But there's a hiccup: In order to sign up for the program in Sacramento, you have to leave the country first, then fly back in. That's the only way U.S. Customs in Sacramento will offer an approval interview.

Customs officials say they don't have the personnel in Sacramento to set up an office to take appointments for sign-ups here like they do in larger cities.

That means flyers who want to get signed up for Global Entry membership here have to do it when they go through customs here, in the bowels of the airport, at the end of a trip abroad.

It's not ideal, Sacramento airport official Mark Haneke says, but it's better than the way it was.

Until now, the only place in Northern California you could sign up for Global Entry was at the airport in San Francisco.

There, they have an actual office that offers formal appointments for people who make reservations. The problem is that’s a two-hour drive for Sacramentans, and, worse, the federal agency is so backlogged that the wait for an appointment is a half-year or more.

That problem in San Francisco and elsewhere is why officials changed their game plan and began offering the ad hoc, on-arrival sign-ups at some airports, such as Sacramento.

But then, that brings up another issue at that local airport. Despite its name, Sacramento has few foreign flights. Most Sacramento flyers traveling internationally return to the United States through some other airport.

So if they want to try to get Global Entry status via one of these new just-off-the-plane sign-ups, most will end up doing it when they arrive in the U.S. at some other larger airport and before the last leg of their trip that takes them home.

That’s fine, but travelers often don’t have minutes to spare when trying to catch a connecting flight.

Meanwhile, Sacramento officials say they are continuing to make their pitch to airlines to add nonstop flights between the capital city and European countries.

Information on the Global Entry program is on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

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