Category Archives: Airports

A Clear lane at Denver International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Through Security in the Blink of an Eye

By Annie Flodin

A Clear lane at Denver International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

New biometric screening option offers predictability and convenience, but is it right for you?

It may sound unreal… like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but for $179 a year you can simply blink your eye or swipe your finger to verify who you are, all while significantly reducing the time it takes you to go through airport security.

Biometric screening is becoming more and more commonplace at airports across the country thanks to New York-based CLEAR. In February, Minneapolis-St. Paul International became the 21st U.S. airport to employ the technology, joining the likes of Hartsfield-Jackson, LaGuardia, JFK and Washington Dulles, among others.

CLEAR eliminates the need for a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent to manually check boarding passes and identification. Instead, CLEAR subscribers step up to a station where they blink their eye or swipe their finger to prove their identity. From there, it’s on to the standard TSA physical screening or TSA PreCheck for members of the government program.

CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker says members love the service because it provides them with a consistently fast and predictable experience at the airport. “They know they’re going to get through security in five minutes or less every time,” she said.

Enrollment in CLEAR is processed onsite at participating airports. CLEAR will digitally authenticate your driver’s license or passport, confirm your identity, and create your account all in roughly five minutes. After signing up, your membership is effective immediately.

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You may be wondering… “Is it really worth it?” In short, it all depends on your travel habits and how much money you’re willing to spend.

If you’re a frequent traveler and often find yourself rushed at the airport, it’s probably worth it to give CLEAR a try. It’s quick and predictable, and you’ll no longer need to juggle your ID and your boarding pass in that stop-and-go line waiting for a TSA agent to check them.

“I signed up because I value my time,” Shane Rixom said. Rixom, a civil engineer living in Abingdon, Va., enrolled in CLEAR three years ago at Orlando International Airport. He travels roughly three weeks each month.

He says that while sometimes his membership hasn’t had much of an impact on his experience going through security, there have been a few times where CLEAR has made a huge difference.

In addition to CLEAR, Rixom is enrolled in TSA PreCheck. The two services complement each other nicely and together will almost certainly make the time between your arrival at the airport and your arrival at your gate a whole lot quicker and a lot less hectic.

A five-year TSA PreCheck membership costs $85, which breaks down to $17 annually. PreCheck speeds up the physical security screening process by allowing you to keep on shoes, belts, and light jackets. Another perk? You don’t need to rummage through your bags – laptops and liquids don’t need to be unpacked.

A CLEAR membership will set you back $179 a year, with the ability to add additional family members for $50 and add children for free. Delta SkyMiles members who want to enroll will receive a special rate, bringing an annual CLEAR membership down to $79 or $99 depending on your membership status; Diamond Medallion members can enroll in CLEAR for free.

When Rixom signed up, he was paying a discounted fee through a credit card deal outside of Delta, but has since earned Diamond Medallion status with the airline, so his CLEAR membership is now free.

But again, whether or not CLEAR makes sense for you depends on how often you travel and how much you’re willing to spend – it’s not for everyone.

Brett Snyder runs the popular Cranky Flier blog and flies once or twice a month on average, but doesn’t see enough value in CLEAR to justify signing up. “I would be interested if it truly meant a faster, quicker screening experience, but for now, this is just a pass to cut to the front of the line,” he said. “I have PreCheck and while there can sometimes be lines, it’s never all that bad.”

But as an incentive to at least try it out, CLEAR offers a one-month free trial. When that month is up, you can choose to cancel the membership, or continue it and pay the $179.

Currently, CLEAR has roughly one million members. And although they have plans to launch at a number of new airports this year, CLEAR isn’t limiting the technology to air travel alone, as they expect to announce expanding to different types of facilities in the near future. The biometric service can already be found at a handful of sports venues. Learn more at clearme.com.

IMG_4438Annie Flodin is a seasoned communications professional and aspiring aviation journalist. She and her husband Scott live in Minneapolis with their two cats. In her free time, she enjoys plane spotting, writing, and spending time outdoors. She blogs at The Great Planes, and you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: at @thegreatplanes.

Qatar Airways' new QSuite business class seat. Photo courtesy of Qatar Airways

Your Weekend Reads for March 10, 2017

The roll-out of the Boeing 737 MAX 9. Photo courtesy of Boeing

It was a busy week for Boeing. The Seattle-based manufacturer received certification for its 737 MAX 8 and rolled out the 737 MAX 9 this week, as reported by Airways magazine here and here. But in an interview with Bloomberg, Air Lease Co. CEO John Plueger is pushing Boeing to give the green light to a 737 MAX 10, which would fill a gap in its product line equal to the Airbus A321neo, which is racking up orders.

Airports Council International-North America says the nation’s airports have nearly $100 billion in infrastructure needs between 2017 and 2021 to accommodate growth in passenger and cargo activity, rehabilitate existing facilities and support aircraft innovation, according to its Airport Infrastructure Needs: 2017-2021 report. The $20 billion in average annual infrastructure funding needs for U.S. airports is more than double the funding currently available through annual airport generated net income via Passenger Facility Charge user fees and Airport Improvement Program grants, says the report.

Last week, U.S. airline CEOs had the Big Three Middle East carriers in their crosshairs during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Aviation Summit, reports Airways magazine. Etihad Group CEO James Hogan announced his departure in January after the carrier was hit with heavy losses caused by a global expansion via investing in more than half a dozen airlines around the world, according to Business Insider. And now Emirates CEO Tim Clark spoke about a “gathering storm” as his airline sees strong competition on its routes by low-cost carriers including Singapore Airlines’ Scoot and Norwegian Air, reports Bloomberg. When asked about changing Emirates’ widebody fleet to better compete, he said while he didn’t see any immediate changes, he did note that  “others coming behind may take a different view,” which was seen as a strong hint that his days in the top spot may be coming to an end.

Skift reports that as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways deal with economic hardship and low oil prices, labor and service cuts are coming soon. Known for the over-the-top amenities offered to their top customers, Skift noted six areas where the three airlines may cut service, including lounges, food and beverage and aircraft orders.

Qatar Airways' new QSuite business class seat. Photo courtesy of Qatar Airways

But Qatar Airways isn’t going down without a fight.  The Runway Girl Network’s John Walton reports on the carrier unveiling its new business class seat, the QSuite. The seat offers families or other groups of four a convertible space a forwards-backwards staggered design that enables fully flat beds with direct aisle access for every passenger — with doors. The seat was unveiled at this week’s ITB Berlin trade show.

On January 10, 2001, American Airlines announced that it was buying the assets of troubled iconic carrier TWA for $500 million. And 16 years after that transaction, American — acquired by US Airways on Feb. 14, 2013 — is now being sued by three former TWA pilots over how the carrier handled a contractual dispute that could see at least 85 pilots demoted from captain to first officer, reports the Dallas Morning News. After the merger, instead of integrating TWA’s pilots into its seniority list, American just tacked 1200 of them to the bottom of the list. Changes were made to alleviate some of this, but they went by the wayside after American’s Chapter 11 filing in 2011, and its subsequent merger with US Airways.

A passenger being screened at Boston-Logan International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

A passenger being screened at Boston-Logan International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

I flew down to Fort Lauderdale this week to visit Spirit Airlines. I used Clear for my ID check and went immediately into the TSA PreCheck line. As walked through the metal detector, the device went off despite me knowing I didn’t have any metal in my pockets. I learned that I had been tagged for a random extra screening. But it wasn’t a normal pat-down. In fact it was what TSA is calling “a pat-down that is more involved,” reports Lifehacker. The TSA has warned airport officials, crew, and law enforcement that the new procedure “may involve an officer making more intimate contact than before.” I’ll just say my pat-down was pretty intimate, although the officer was very professional and told me exactly what she was doing during the process.

Here are my six picks for more stories you should read over the weekend. Enjoy!

17096557489_f0c56cdd15_kEDITOR’S NOTE: Benét J. Wilson is a freelance aviation/travel writer based in Baltimore who is available for your writing and branded content/content marketing projects. She’s the Air Travel Expert for About.com. Follow her travel-related magazines on Flipboard: Best of About Travel, a joint curation venture with her fellow About Travel Experts; Travel-Go! There’s Nothing Stopping You, all about the passenger experience on the ground and in the air; and Aviation Geek, a joint magazine sharing everything you need to know about the commercial aviation industry. Check out her travel-related boards on Pinterest and follow her on Twitter at @AvQueenBenet, on her Aviation Queen Facebook Page and on Instagram at aviationqueen.

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Strange But True Aviation News

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They tried to get *that* through airport security? About.com Travel Insurance and Safety Expert Joe Cortez has complied a list of the eight strangest things found by TSA in 2016. Some of the more interesting items were a golden hand grenade, a bladed dragon claw and a post-apocalyptic bullet-adorned gas mask.

You don’t want to misbehave on this airline. According to Inc. magazine, Korean Air has had tasers onboard since 2002 to use on passengers who misbehave. But it wasn’t revealed until a recent incident involving singer Richard Marx.

I guess someone wanted to get *really* high! A worker for American Airlines at Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma got quite a surprise when he checked the nose of a jet: seven bricks of cocaine valued at $434,000, reports ABC 8.

Al was definitely not your pal on this flight. Former New York Sen. Al D’Amato found himself removed from a JetBlue flight from Fort Lauderdale to JFK Airport after he tried to encourage passengers to revolt against the crew, reports CNN. After six flight delays, passengers were asked to move to the back of the plane for weight distribution, and D’Amato insulted the captain and confronted passengers who refused to move.

Dude! Put on your pants! Mashable reports on a horrible, yet hilarious story of a passenger from hell who thought it was a great idea to remove his pants and sit with his legs up and feet on the bulkhead during a four-hour flight. One of his fellow passengers tweeted the event. You have to see it to believe it.

 

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Your Aviation Weekend Reads for February 2, 2017

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Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

The week started off with a bang after President Donald Trump issued an executive order that temporarily stopped citizens from seven majority-Muslim nations — Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen — from entering the United States, reports Quartz. It caused chaos for airlines around the globe over confusion on the status of dual citizens and green card holders, among others.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said the ban caused turmoil at airports. “Crews, reservations agents and airport teams have witnessed turmoil in our airports that shows how divisive this order can be,” he said in a letter to employees. “It is the current law of the U.S., and so long as that is the case, we must comply.”

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Photo courtesy of Etihad

One Muslim country not affected by the ban was the United Arab Emirates. And it looks like Abu Dhabi-based Etihad is trying to stay on Trump’s good side by announcing it would not add any more U.S. routes. “We are not flying into any further points in the U.S.A.,” Etihad Aviation Group Chief Executive Officer James Hogan said Wednesday in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “We are very comfortable with our American network.” The carrier currently serves New York, Washington, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Etihad and Emirates are two large carriers that are not in one of the major three global airline alliances. Rumors flew earlier this week that Etihad was considering a move into the Star Alliance, but it didn’t come to pass. Instead, the airline is “increasing cooperation” with Star Alliance stalwart Lufthansa, reports Cranky Flier. The airlines had been enemies in the past over keeping the Big Three Middle East carriers off their turf. But they were tied together by Air Berlin, which Etihad has a stake in and Lufthansa leased extra aircraft from for its Eurowings and Austrian Air subsidiaries. Cranky feels there’s more to come, and I agree.

United Airlines is one of the Big Three carriers — along with American and Delta — that have been fighting to stem the growth of the Big Three Middle East carriers, all known for offering superior service in all cabin classes. It’s been no secret that the Chicago-based carrier has suffered on the service side since its merger with Continental Airlines in 2010. A video obtained by Skift shows CEO Oscar Munoz admitting as much, saying  “A business customer will stay with you for a little bit of time,” during a Jan. 23 Q&A with employees at its Dulles Airport hub. [“And then] it’s just ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ And so now you’ve lost that market.”

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A TSA PreCheck line at Ronald Reagan Airport. Photo courtesy of TSA

When it comes to good service on the ground, TSA’s PreCheck program was initially lauded for helping to ease the stress of going through airport security checkpoints. But when the agency started letting anyone use the lanes, lines got longer and those who paid for the service were very unhappy. Now the Chicago Tribune reports that TSA plans to “significantly reduce” the number of number of frequent fliers that go through the PreCheck line for free. The change is part of TSA’s “natural progression” to limit expedited screening, said spokesman Michael McCarthy.

As carriers including Delta, American and United add a Basic Economy product to compete with ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly says his carrier won’t be adding it. According to USA Today, Kelly feels that separate cabins would only confuse its customers. “There is a huge value in offering all of our customers – 100 percent of them – a great product,” he said. “We like to say at Southwest, there is no second class.”

Speaking of Spirit Airlines, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based carrier — which launched the trend of travelers paying for checked and carry-on bags — has announced that it will cut the size of the free personal item passengers can carry by 25 percent, to about a foot, reports the Telegraph. The change will take effect on April 4.

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The TWA Flight Center building at JFK Airport. Photo courtesy of AudeVivere/Wikipedia

When I started writing the airports beat for Aviation Daily in 2006, one of the first stories I covered was plans by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to turn the iconic TWA Terminal 5 at JFK Airport into a hotel. After a few years, the plans fell by the wayside, plagued by design issues and cost. Fast forward to now, when MCR Development and port officials held a groundbreaking ceremony in January to launch construction, reports Business Insider. The the TWA Flight Center Hotel is scheduled to open in 2018.

Part of that project will include the resurrection of the TWA Ambassadors Club, the airline’s lounge for its best customers. I’m a big fan of airport lounges as an oasis away from the traveling masses. You can read my recent review of the Delta Sky Club at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s Gate B18 on TravelZork.com here.  The Simple Dollar blog takes a look at what lounges have to offer and if memberships can actually save you money.

And the UK’s Daily Mail gives us a peek inside Qantas’ very exclusive, invite-only 140-seat Chairman’s Lounge. The lounges, located at Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth airports, are hidden behind a door labeled ‘private’ and offer upgraded free food and beverages, isolation from the traveling public and the chance to rub elbows with the country’s elite, along with personal assistance from airline employees.

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 747 parked at Tokyo's Tokyo, Japan - June 23, 2016: Delta Air Lines Boeing 747-451 towed at Narita International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 747 parked at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

We’ll end the week with this story from C/NET, where reporter Katie Collins and I share a common passion: a love for the Boeing 747. She waxes poetic about her trip on the “Queen of the Skies” via Virgin Atlantic, among the airlines that are phasing out the iconic four-engine jumbo jet.

There was much more that went on this week. So be sure to check out these four stories over the weekend.

 

 
17096557489_f0c56cdd15_kEDITOR’S NOTE: Benét J. Wilson is a freelance aviation/travel writer based in Baltimore who is available for your writing and branded content/content marketing projects. She’s the Air Travel Expert for About.com. Follow her travel-related magazines on Flipboard: Best of About Travel, a joint curation venture with her fellow About Travel Experts; Travel-Go! There’s Nothing Stopping You, all about the passenger experience on the ground and in the air; and Aviation Geek, a joint magazine sharing everything you need to know about the commercial aviation industry. Check out her travel-related boards on Pinterest and follow her on Twitter at @AvQueenBenet, on her Aviation Queen Facebook Page and on Instagram at aviationqueen.

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Random Aviation Photo

Back in September 2008, I went to Boston to attend the global Airports Council International convention. I had some time to kill at Boston-Logan International Airport, so I took a lot of pictures. I liked this one because it featured five different airlines. Jump a mere six years later only one — JetBlue — is still in its original configuration. The rest merged, with only American Airlines retaining its brand.

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