With Hertz deal, Clear opens another lane

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The Clear biometric machines at a TSA airport security checkpoint.
The Clear biometric machines at a TSA airport security checkpoint.

Clear's new partnership with Hertz could herald broader diversification for the biometric identity technology company that is best known for its private lanes at TSA checkpoints. 

"Our vision has always been to use biometrics to provide frictionless experiences for our members throughout the travel experience and beyond," Clear president Ken Cornick said in a recent interview. 

Hertz last week announced plans to offer Fast Lane, a system of checkout lanes powered by Clear biometric technology, at more than 40 airports by the end of next year. 

The rollout, if successful, could broaden Clear's brand identity beyond TSA checkpoints and its other primary offering: quick entry to stadiums and arenas. The company offers its members expedited entry through biometrics into 13 such venues in the U.S.

Clear also has checkpoint lanes equipped with machines that use biometric fingerprint and iris scans to confirm identity in 27 U.S. airports, including in 21 of the 25 busiest by 2017 passenger count. New Orleans became Clear's 27th airport earlier this month, and Fort Lauderdale and Phoenix are also new to the Clear network this year. 

Fueled by a partnership with Delta (a minority owner of Clear), the company has 2.7 million members, Cornick said. 

But while Clear hopes to continue its expansion at TSA checkpoints -- Chicago O'Hare, Newark and Boston are major targets in the coming year -- the Hertz partnership represents the company's most substantial step yet in its goal of extending biometric ID capabilities throughout the travel space. 

It's not the first such step, however. In March, Delta began using Clear technology to offer entry to its 50 U.S. Sky Clubs via biometric fingerprint scan. Clear also offers biometric boarding pass confirmation for Delta flights at TSA checkpoints in San Jose, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In those cases, the company coordinates with Delta so that when Clear members have their identity confirmed at a checkpoint kiosk their status as having checked in to the Delta flight is also confirmed, thereby saving them the step of having an agent scan the pass. 

In addition, Clear is working with Delta on a biometric self bag drop trial at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, Cornick said. It's one of a handful of trials U.S. airlines are conducting to test technology that would enable flyers to have their identity confirmed as they drop their bags, without the help of an agent. 

Looking forward, Cornick said, Clear would like to expand into payment technology.

"Our view is that biometrics should replace the wallet," he said. 

Within the travel sector, Cornick said, Clear could use the biometric markers of members to facilitate walletless payment at airport concessions. In another example, Clear could expand its partnership with Delta to offer walletless in-flight purchases. 

Similarly, Cornick would like to develop walletless payment at stadium and arena concessions. Keyless and walletless building entry is another biometric space that Clear would like to occupy, Cornick said. 

As the Hertz partnership suggests, Clear's desire to expand its biometric travel ID service could be well timed. The past two years have seen an explosion in biometric trials at airports, and industry insiders believe widespread, full-scale deployment will come over the next several years. 

A recent study by the airport industry IT company SITA found that 58% of airports plan to implement biometric self-boarding gates by 2021. 

Phocuswright senior technology analyst Norm Rose, who is a Clear member, said the company is well positioned to take advantage of the expected explosion in airport biometrics.

"As any tech historian will tell you, early movers do have a leg up because of their customer base and early technology," he said. 

Still, Rose acknowledged that being an early mover is no guarantee of success. Clear's technology will need improvement, he said, noting that although the service has regularly saved him time at security checkpoints, he has experienced bugs.

The biometric exit kiosks used by Hertz Fast Lanes will offer a first for Clear: identity verification via facial recognition rather than iris or fingerprint scans.

Cornick said Clear will push forward with expansion efforts at TSA checkpoints, even as it diversifies both within and outside the airport ecosystem. Ultimately, he said, Clear would like to have lanes at the 50 largest U.S. airports.

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