Tag Archives: Clear

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.

Who Else Wants A Real Trusted Traveler Program?

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The old Clear registered traveler line at Washington Dulles International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

When it comes to airports and handling security, I sometimes feel like Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Groundhog Day.”  It just seems to me that we keep seeing the same variations on programs that will allow trusted travelers to get through airport security with less of a hassle.

On Thursday, Politico published a story, “TSA background-check contract stirs interest.”  In the story, the reporters note that although the Transportation Security Administration hasn’t made a formal announcement, it has put out feelers for companies interested in doing background checks for travelers who apply for the Pre Check program.  Currently, only those who are frequent travelers of participating airlines or members of existing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs including Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI  are eligible for Pre Check.  But Pre Check is currently a random process.

According to the Politico story, TSA wants to expand Pre Check and allow what they call low-risk travelers to go through checkpoints and allow screeners to focus on higher potential threats.  To that end, the agency is reading through white papers submitted by private companies who want the business.

I find two of the names touted in the story quite interesting.  First is Clear, the original registered traveler company.  It was unveiled as a pilot program in July 2005 at Orlando International Airport.  Back then, passengers paid $99 a year for a biometric card that gave them a separate security checkpoint line that would get them through lines more quickly.  The program was championed by Congress, but TSA was very slow to embrace the program despite taking it out of the pilot phase in January 2007.

One of the big benefits of Clear was using scanning machines that allowed passengers to keep on their shoes and jackets and keep laptops in their bags.  But TSA halted use of the machines, saying they needed more testing.  The price of the card nearly doubled but TSA continued to stymie the program, stopping background checks on Clear users in 2009.  Then it started requiring RT members show government-approved identification, rendering their biometric cards pretty much useless.

The second company mentioned in the article was The Chertoff Group, owned by former Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.  In a chat with aviation bloggers (including me) back in August 2009, Chertoff said in my Aviation Week post that DHS wants to be careful that RT does not become one that says if one pays more money, they go to the head of the line, Chertoff observed. “That is between private vendors and airports. The government shouldn’t give an advantage to the economically well off in air travel,” he stated. “We should be limiting ourselves to focusing on security values.”

In July 2007, then-TSA Administrator Kip Hawley spoke before the House Homeland Subcommittee on Transportation Security and said:  “Just as relying on frequent flyer miles isn’t enough, in the age of the clean-skin suicide bomber, just the absence of a negative is no longer enough. Once we define trusted, that provides a blueprint for vulnerability. And the security risk introduced at R.T. becomes a risk for every passenger, because what we make easy for one becomes easy for many.We need many layers of security to mitigate the risk of defeating anyone. We want to increase the level of security, not decrease it. And after prioritizing our security initiatives based on risk, TSA decided that taxpayer resources are best applied to more critical needs than Registered Traveler.”

And so now it appears the pendulum is swinging yet again, with TSA looking at the subject of a true trusted traveler program.  So it will be interesting to see what TSA’s next move will be once it finishes reviewing the white papers on an expansion of Pre Check.  So watch this space!!

 

Randy Peterson To Airports: My Observations (Part 3)

So here we are at Part 3 of frequent-flyer Randy Peterson‘s thoughts on the good and bad in airports. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.  I have been to more than my fair share of the world’s airports, and as I listened to Peterson, I found myself nodding in agreement with some of his observations and disagreeing with others.  So below, I offer my thoughts on five of the good and bad things about airports.

Don’t Change a Thing…What your Customers Like

I agree with Peterson on Number 10, Top Chef.  I love different concepts and local/regional brands that have popped up in airports.  One of my favorites is Vino Volo, which offers premium wines by the bottle and the glass. They also offer flights of wine with tasting notes.  Interestingly enough, I ate Torta Frontera food at Chicago O’Hare with Peterson and I’d gladly fly through O’Hare to eat it again.

I’m an iPhone freak who loves her apps. In Number 5, Peterson mentioned one of my favorite apps — GateGuru.  This s my go-to app when I need to find a retail outlet, restaurant or service. I paid $2.99 for the app, but it’s now free. You not only get directions to what you’re looking for, but you get folks like me (AviationQueen) who give reviews on the listed services.

Not only do I travel, but I’m always picking someone up from the airport, so I’m with Peterson on the convenience of cell phone lots, Number 4. My favorite is at Phoenix-Sky Harbor Airport. There’s plenty of space, you can do great plane spotting and the airport has billboards with phone numbers of all the airports so you can check on flight status.

I am a BIG fan of art in airports just like Peterson, so Number 3 appeals to me.  San Francisco (my original hometown airport) has the best art I’ve seen in airports.  I’m also a big fan of what I’ve seen in Phoenix, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Hartsfield-Jackson and Pittsburgh.

Shopping is fun — and a sport — for me. Back when I worked for Mesa Air Group in Phoenix, I used to fly through Pittsburgh regularly just for the shopping, as outlined in Number 1.  I love how airports have really stepped up their game in the shopping arena. Some of my favorites are Hartsfield-Jackson, Orlando, JetBlue’s JFK Airport Terminal 5 and Seattle-Tacoma.

Time to Rethink…This is When Customers Gripe

Now we get to the not-so-fun part — what airports need to work on.

In Number 10, Peterson bemoaned slow WiFi and pay WiFi (yes, that means you, BWI and Hartsfield-Jackson), and I agree with him 100%. We all like to surf the web, check email and upload/download content.  I appreciate the free WiFi, but it does me no good if it takes too long to download the latest picture of my beautiful child or open an attachment on my email.

I have the TSA app on my iPhone. One function on it is security checkpoint line wait times.  Good idea in concept, but when people don’t update it for days, it does no good, although I post my wait times faithfully. So like Peterson I’d love to see an app (Number 8) that gives more accurate wait times to cut anxiety.

Ah…airport floors. My behind has seen more of my fair share of airport floors (Number 7), and frankly, kids, I’m getting too old for it. I, like Peterson, would like to see more chairs in gate holding areas.

When I worked at Delta Air Lines, I got to be part of the team that opened the new Terminal A at Boston-Logan International Airport. One of my favorite parts was mentioned in Number 6 — the bathrooms.  The bathrooms in Terminal A were wide a spacious, and the stalls had more than enough room to bring in a purse and a rollerboard. Unfortunately, there are still too many facilities that can’t — or won’t — adjust accordingly.

And our Number 1 is the same — Power To The People. I’m usually the most popular girl in the airport. Why? I carry the Belkin Mini Surge Protector with three plugs and two USB ports. It is amazing how many friends I’ve made sharing my surge protector with people whose phone were mere bars away from death. Airports are doing better (thanks DFW and Boston Logan), but we need more plugs!!

Randy Peterson To Airports: Give The Travelers What They Want (Part 2)

In yesterday’s episode, frequent-flyer guru Randy Petersen used a webinar hosted by New York-based Clear, which offers a shorter airport security checkpoint experience for travelers, to discuss the good and bad in airports.  The shorter version of this post appeared Monday on the APEX Editor’s blog.

Peterson took a page from David Letterman and did a top 10 list about airports,  “Don’t Change a Thing…What your Customers Like.”  As promised, we have part two of his top 10 list, “Time to Rethink…This is When Customers Gripe.”

Number 10 is Why Sigh.  “Airports have slow WiFi speeds. These systems need to be modernized so we can upload photos quickly. We already feel like we’ve paid for WiFi with all the airport fees.  So modernize and stop charging and we’ll love you for improving our experience,” he said.  “It also makes you look good.”

Number 9 is the 80/20 rule.  In airport security, travelers spend 80% of their time waiting for someone to check their drivers’ license and 20 percent is going through security, said Peterson.  “Something is wrong with that.  In some it’s the airport and some is the Transportation Security Administration,” he said. “The lines are the lines, so airports need to work with the government and the infrastructure to stop long lines just to check IDs.”

Number 8 is Til It’s Time To Go. There’s a lot of anxiety for road warriors, said Peterson.  “We’re waiting for things like buses to the terminal. There’s a lot of anxiety on whether will I make my flight,” he said.  “Of the 73 apps on my iPhone, 42 will tell me airport security checkpoint wait times, but they don’t tell me my personal wait times. It would be good to know how long a wait is at given points.”

TSA says anxiety is a sign of a terrorist, said Peterson. “No. It’s anxiety to get on your flight.  Just et us know if we will make our flight.”

Number 7 is Sitting Not So Pretty. “Its uncivilized to sit on the floor waiting for your flight. I won’t sit on a floor,” said Peterson. “Airports need more chairs to match the size of an average aircraft.  We don’t sit on the floor at a restaurant or in the doctor’s office. It doesn’t look good when half of your people sitting on floor at a gate.”

Number 6 is Two-Lane Highway Versus The Interstate. Peterson uttered two words: narrow bathrooms.  “I have crashed into other folks with rollerboards because bathroom entrances are abysmal and badly designed,” he said.

Number 5 is Drag And Drop. There’s always a conga line at Immigration, standing in line having to kick their luggage, said Peterson. “Sometimes I have to hold it for 45 minutes, then put it on the floor, move three feet – it’s kick the can,” he said.  “I’m getting too old to pick up my belongings.  There must be some way for those lines to be structured. Can we invent better way do to this?”

Number 4 is Do You Know Who I Am? “I’m an important guy. I have a titanium card and I have access to an airline premium line,” said Peterson. “I’m in different cities like Boise, and I don’t know where airports have these designated security lines.  I’m in a long line, and I see a small sign that says premium passenger line here.  So get better signage.  We have egos, so show us where to go to get the premium lines.”

Number 3 is Beware What You Wish For.  Congress wants to get rid of premium lines and have airports do their own security, said Peterson.  “I don’t think it will work. Security is not just guys with a black light checking licenses.  Where will you find the money to do biometrics?” he asked.

The folks from Clear got my attention in Denver and I like what I see, said Peterson.  “I see there’s less manual processes in security.  Can DIA do this without Clear? Can TSA?” he asked.  “Security is not like the old days.  Where will the money come from? I’d prefer to let Clear take my money.”

Number 2 is No I Can’t Hear You Now.  “When a flight is delayed, I can’t always hear what’s going on.  Plus I move to another area because they have more seats (see Number 7),” said Peterson.  “Airports and airlines need a better way, like social media or apps, to get information out to passengers.”

Number 1 is Power To The People.  We all can see the huddled masses on the cold floor near the trash cans plugged in, said Peterson.  Programs and apps suck the life out of travelers’ devices, he added.  “I see some airports have power poles, but it’s not enough.  Smart road warriors bring their own power strips and extension cords, but that’s an accident waiting to happen. We need more and we need it to be accessible.”

Tomorrow: my own observations on some of Randy Peterson’s comments.

Randy Peterson To Airports: Give The Travelers What They Want (Part 1)

On Friday, I got to attend a “virtual cocktail party” (the virtual lychee Martinis were divine) online webinar with frequent-flyer guru Randy Petersen.  The event, entitled “The Airport Experience:  Insight from Customers,” was hosted by New York-based Clear, which offers a shorter airport security checkpoint experience for travelers.  The shorter version of this post appeared yesterday on the APEX Editor’s blog.

Peterson took a page from David Letterman and did two top 10 lists:  “Don’t Change a Thing…What your Customers Like” and “Time to Rethink…This is When Customers Gripe.”  So part one of this post covers the good things airports are doing.  Come back tomorrow to see some of the not-so-good things airports are doing, according to Peterson. And on Thursday, I’ll offer my own thoughts on Peterson’s observations.

Number 10 is Top Chef.  Peterson praised airports for bringing a “Top Chef” mentality to concessions by bringing in restaurants like celebrity chef Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera at Chicago O’Hare.  “I love name brands and local flavors in airports. I never look at the price tag at Frontera. Frequent flyers like quality and are willing to pay for it,” he said. “I just learned that Blanco Tacos + Tequila is coming to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, and I will try and route through Phoenix more to get this food. Local brands catch my attention.”

Number 9 is Fill ‘er Up.  “I’m a busy road warrior who loves expediency and things that save me time, like Clear,” said Peterson.  “I love the fact that some airports have valet parking.  I may be running late and don’t want to catch a bus from the parking lot.  They also have extra services, like car washes and oil changes.”

“Chores like this take me away from the fun things I can do. I go on a trip, and when I return, my car is clean and oiled,” said Peterson.  “We love airports as entrepreneurs. It make it easier for us, and shows that they are looking at lives of frequent flyers.”

Number 8 is Check It Out. Peterson said he is a big fan of people watching at airports. “Many airports are making it easier to do, with better seating.  I love to sit in the rocking chairs at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and watch the world go by,” he said. “I sit and guess what people are doing.  He’s wearing flip flops – is he going to the Caribbean? There’s a little People magazine in all of us. “

Number 7 is Couch Potatoes.  “When there’s a delay, we like comfortable chairs and couches. Seeing that in an airport blows me away,” said Peterson.  “I can sink back in a chair with my iPad. That’s comfy and I feel more at home like that.”

Number 6 is Chicken Or Beef.  Airlines gave us that choice, said Peterson.  “It’s not much of a choice, but it is a choice.  If you look at ways to get through the airport, like Clear, it  lets you get though pressure points quicker.  We like having a choice.  I don’t mind paying a fee if there’s a faster way through. Faster is good.”

Number 5 is Like You? Peterson has 73 apps on his iPhone that he barely uses, and airports want to give him another one. Instead of building separate smartphone apps, Peterson urged airports to work with existing offerings including TripIt and GateGuru (my personal favorite).  Give them the information so we can have it all in one place. I know you want your own app, but support the leaders and know that your information is included.”

Number 4 is It’s Not All About Me. “I have a lot of people in my life who are involved in my travel, even at the airport.  I love airports that have cell phone waiting lots,” said Peterson.  “It was aggravating to pay for parking and wait.  Now we have a secure zone where we can wait.”

Number 3 is Public Displays of Affection. Peterson noted that he doesn’t go to art museums, but loves public art. “So it’s fun and interesting to have them in airports.  I love San Francisco Airport,” he said. “I never take the moving sidewalks there. I like to see the displays of interesting and educational things, like the sewing machine display.  I thank airports for enriching my life and making me feel smarter when I get home.”

Number 2 is Kids Fly Free.  Airport play areas are great for kids, said Peterson. “Kids are road warriors too, so they’re part of the experience, so they need a playground where they can yell and have fun,” he said.  Minneapolis-St. Paul and other airports are doing a great job of building kid zones, he added.

And Number 1 is The Real Mall of America.  “I love see `coming soon’ banners at the airport like you see at shopping malls.  Travelers are no longer just looking for souvenirs. I’m now shopping for myself and m family,” said Peterson.  “When I bring a Coach purse from Minneapolis-St. Paul for my wife, it’s not a souvenir. It makes me the guy who brought that purse home.”  Peterson admits that when he’s on a business trip, he has no time to shop downtown.  “But I can do that at the airport, which has become the real Mall of America.”

Tomorrow: Time to Rethink…This is When Customers Gripe.