Clear could be an even better option than TSA PreCheck

The Clear lane in Orlando's airport on a late June evening offered a faster screening than TSA Precheck.
The Clear lane in Orlando's airport on a late June evening offered a faster screening than TSA Precheck. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

A couple weeks ago, before a flight from Miami to Orlando, I signed up for Clear, the privately run identity-authentication service that by the end of this month will offer fast-tracked security clearance in 14 U.S. airports.

On my return trip the next day, I was glad I did.

I arrived at Orlando’s airport that evening in a hurry. The preview of the new Skull Island: Reign of Kong ride that I had attended that afternoon at Universal Orlando ended later than I had expected, leaving me maybe an hour and 10 minutes to commute from the park to my hotel and from there to the airport and out to the gate.

Needless to say, with such a short timeline, the 9- to 13-minute wait that was advertised as I walked past the airport’s standard security lanes would have been stressful.

Armed with my free month-long Clear trial however, the wait wasn’t an issue. The Clear lane stood empty, save for three staffers. Even the TSA Precheck line was approximately 10 deep as travelers waited for an agent to check their identification.

I, on the other hand, stopped quickly at a kiosk for iris and fingerprint verification while a Clear agent used the same kiosk to scan my boarding pass. I never presented an ID.

Seconds later, another Clear agent ushered me directly to the security conveyor belt, where I placed my belongings and passed through the security scanner.

It was a seamless process.

With flyers around the U.S. worrying about long TSA security lines, Clear presents an expediting option that goes a step beyond TSA Precheck. At the heart of the service is the kiosk, which the company’s chief administrative officer, David Cohen, said offers significant time savings over the manual ticket and ID check that even Precheck passengers must go through.

“We’re replacing the bank teller with the ATM,” Cohen said. “We use technology to expedite the process.”

I’m not sure if that’s the difference-maker or if Clear lanes simply benefit from less use than its Precheck counterparts. Either way, registering for the service was simple. At Miami’s airport, an agent guided me through the process in five minutes. I provided my social security number, posed for a photo, had my irises and fingerprints scanned and waited briefly for an instant background check.

After that, the kiosk asked me two trivia questions about my life. For example, one asked me to pick one of my former addresses from four options. I passed the test and was immediately signed up for the service. If I remain a member after the trial month it will cost $179 for a year.

At the end of June, Clear was available in 13 U.S. airports, among them Miami, Orlando, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston Bush Intercontinental, Baltimore, Denver and Las Vegas. Clear said Seattle-Tacoma was to be added by the end of July. And Cohen said Washington Dulles and Washington National will come online over the next few months.

Clear airport subscribers also can use their membership to expedite entry at seven U.S. sporting venues, including the New York Mets’ Citi Field. However, members who signed up for the free service at those sports venues must still sign up separately for the TSA service.

The company said it anticipates doubling its airport footprint over the next year. Meanwhile, the subscriber base is now close to 600,000, up more than 200% year over year.

Future growth will likely be aided by the partnership Clear has entered into with Delta, which owns 5% of the company. In late June, Delta announced that SkyMiles Diamond Medallion members will be offered Clear memberships for free. Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion members can subscribe for $79 annually. General Sky members can join for $99.

Some potential subscribers will want to know what Clear does to make their personal information secure as well as how the service melds with TSA Precheck.

On the security question, the company has a bit to prove, though not through any fault of its own. The current Clear ownership acquired the company out of receivership in 2010 after the previous owner, Verified Identity Pass, shut down the service following four years of operation.

At the time of its 2009 closing, the original Clear had 200,000 members. A security breach a year earlier, in which a laptop, containing unencrypted personal data of 33,000 people, went missing, likely contributed to its demise.

Cohen said such a breach couldn’t happen now. He declined to be specific, but said Clear now stores personal information “using the best available system and technologies in the marketplace, and we are constantly upgrading.”

As for Precheck, Cohen said a Clear membership can work in tandem with the service. Clear uses the same boarding-pass scanning technology as the TSA, so customers who have a Precheck ticket don’t have to remove their shoes or a belt after going through the Clear identity authentication lane, and they can be escorted into the separate Precheck lanes, where they exist, for security scanning.

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