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Anything that makes air travel easier can be a godsend to frequent flyers. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele explains how one ID verification program is speeding up security lines at airports and beyond.
Earlier this year, I looked at the latest iteration of the CLEAR airport security program, and found it to be a useful tool for expediting travel, regardless of whether or not you already have access to TSA Precheck.
Since then CLEAR has taken steps to expand beyond airport security, beginning with Major League Baseball, and may be moving to other facilities that struggle with security and identity verification. In this post, I’ll outline the future of this program and offer my thoughts as to whether the new developments make it more worthwhile.
CLEAR and Major League Baseball
On Monday, August 3, CLEAR began operating new Fast Access lines at Denver’s Coors Field (home of the Colorado Rockies). While fans were often subjected to long lines for security screening as game time approached, those enrolled in CLEAR were able to bypass both the lines and metal detectors, and enter the ballpark in seconds using the lanes at Gate C (21st and Blake Street).
CLEAR also recently began its partnership with the New York Yankees, with Fast Access entry lanes located at Gate 2 (Jerome Avenue and East 164th Street) for all ticket holders, and at the Suite Entrance (next to Gate 4 on East 161st Street) for suite ticket holders. In addition, CLEAR already began operating last season at San Francisco Giants games at AT&T Park (Marina Gate).
Any fan can enroll in the Fast Access program for free, though it only covers ballparks and not airports.
Baseball and Beyond
Having enrolled in the CLEAR program previously, I took my family to the Rockies game on August 3 to try the system out on its first day. With no one in line ahead of me, I walked up to the first CLEAR representative I saw, placed two fingers on the fingerprint reader next to his tablet computer, and was approved within about two seconds. In contrast, the fingerprint scanner used by the Global Entry program requires all five fingers, takes longer and is far more finicky.
My wife and our two children were also granted access through the CLEAR lanes, as Fast Access lanes allow members to include one adult guest and their children under age 18. However, the children and guests must still go through the metal detectors, while the CLEAR member is exempted from this requirement. (At the airport, children under 18 can come through CLEAR lanes with a member, but adult guests can not.)
At the game, I had a chance to sit down with Jeff Freedman (CLEAR’s Vice President of Partnerships) who was in town for the rollout at Coors Field. Our conversation made it apparent that CLEAR considers itself to be an identity verification company rather than an airport security company. For example, CLEAR is running a pilot program with Alaska Airlines at San Jose International Airport (SJC) that allows invited Alaska Airlines elite members to use their biometrics (fingerprints or iris scan) not only for security, but also to board the aircraft, eliminating the need for passengers to have a driver’s license or even a boarding pass.
In the future, Freedman foresees CLEAR’s biometric scanners being used not just at airports and stadiums, but potentially at office buildings and other private, secured locations. In addition, its biometric ID verification could be linked to an ordering and payment system, so you could order coffee or a meal when you enter security, and find it waiting for you when you arrive at the gate. CLEAR is currently running a pilot program where members can order food and beverages from a kiosk before security at San Francisco and Orlando airports. When your identity can be quickly and easily confirmed without an ID, credit card or even a smartphone, the possibilities appear limitless.
Enrolling in CLEAR
The normal rate for CLEAR membership is $179 per year, with an additional $50 per family member (remember, children under 18 receive free access with members). Better yet, TPG readers can use the promo code CLEARTPG18 to get a discounted membership of $149 for the first year. You can either enter the code manually or use this link to input the code automatically.
Once you enroll online, you then have to visit a CLEAR location to complete the process and become eligible to use expedited lanes at airports, ballparks and anywhere else that CLEAR is offered. Unlike with Global Entry, you don’t need an appointment to complete your enrollment, and the process takes just a few minutes. Currently, you just have to answer a few questions, undergo a fingerprint and iris scan and present a driver’s license for the initial enrollment.
CLEAR has also stopped issuing its ID cards to new members, and is now relying solely on its biometric verification system. This means that members are immediately eligible to use CLEAR lanes once enrollment is complete. For example, on the day that I happened to enroll at Denver International Airport, the standard security line was backed up well beyond the screening area and into the baggage claim area — the worst line I’d ever seen there. It was so bad that some travelers were enrolling in the CLEAR program on the spot just to avoid what appeared to be at least an hour-long wait that day.
The Case for CLEAR
Since having initially explored the CLEAR program back in March, I’ve had the chance to gain more experience with it and clarify some common misconceptions. First, CLEAR at the airport doesn’t expedite airport security; instead, it speeds up the identity verification process you must undergo before security screening. CLEAR doesn’t operate security at the airport, it just allows you to bypass the TSA’s ID check (and the massive lines that occasionally go with it).
It’s also vital to understand that CLEAR is compatible and complementary with the TSA Precheck program, and one is not designed to be a substitute for the other. After completing CLEAR’s identity verification, you can access the TSA Precheck line if you’re eligible, allowing you to keep your shoes on and your electronics and liquids stowed, and avoid the full body scanners.
As a member of both CLEAR and Precheck, I’ve found that the best cases for a CLEAR membership are the weaknesses of Precheck. For example, you can only use Precheck on an eligible airline, which excludes several domestic carriers such as Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant and many small carriers, as well as foreign airlines other than Air Canada. In addition, the Precheck program randomly excludes travelers, and that seems to be happening more frequently this year based on anecdotal evidence. In these cases, CLEAR members are at least assured speedy access to identity verification and security screening, even if it isn’t the Precheck line. Finally, CLEAR allows you to leave your ID in your wallet, which makes it less likely to be misplaced.
The downside of CLEAR membership is its cost, especially considering that Global Entry and TSA Precheck application fees are covered by a number of travel rewards cards. CLEAR also suffers from relatively limited coverage, since it’s only offered in a dozen airports at this time:
- Baltimore, MD (BWI)
- Dallas/Fort Worth, TX (DFW)
- Denver, CO (DEN)
- Houston, TX – George Bush (IAH)
- Houston, TX – William Hobby (HOU)
- Las Vegas, NV (LAS)
- Miami, FL (MIA)
- Orlando, FL (MCO)
- San Antonio, TX (SAT)
- San Francisco, CA (SFO)
- San Jose, CA (SJC )
- Westchester County, NY (HPN)
The short story is that CLEAR is likely to be useful if you travel frequently from those airports, or if you’re a baseball fan in Denver, San Francisco or New York (sorry Mets fans). If you don’t fit that description, then CLEAR membership probably isn’t a good fit for now. No one likes to wait in line for security screening at the airport, the ballpark or anywhere else, but CLEAR is now starting to offer some relief. Hopefully the program will continue to expand to more airports and other locations.
Have you used CLEAR? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
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