Tag Archives: registered traveler

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.

Again — Who Else Wants A True Registered Traveler Program?

A security line at BWI Airport.  Photo by Benet J. Wilson

A security line at BWI Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

Regular readers of this blog know I’ve been writing about the Transportation Security Administration’s efforts to develop a trusted/registered traveler program since 2006, and the effort to develop one goes back to 2002. So imagine my interest when I read this USA Today story — TSA to expand speedier screening — for a fee.

TSA’s Pre Check program is currently free to eligible flyers.  But TSA Administrator John Pistole now says he wants to expand Pre Check to those who want to pay an $85 fee for five years and undergo a background check. He said that this effort helps the agency move away from blanket screening and focus on screening what they determine are the riskiest travelers.

It’s a complete 180 degree change to what TSA was saying four years ago.  Back in August 2009 during a chat with aviation bloggers (including me), then-Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said his agency wanted to be careful that registered travler does not become one that says if one pays more money, they go to the head of the line.  “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.”

And in 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.”

The proposed new program, which will start at Washington Dulles and Indianapolis airports in the fall, will look very similar to the wildly popular Global Entry international registered traveler program. I, for one, would pay that very reasonable fee to have a more predictable airport security checkpoint experience.

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!!

 

Why We’re Not Going To See A Domestic Registered Traveler Anytime Soon

Last week, USA Today offered an editorial asking “Would you depend on ‘trusted traveler’?” In a perfect world, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would oversee a true  registered traveler program that would have travelers pay and submit biometric information in exchange for a much quicker airport security checkpoint experience.

 

There was a small pilot that was tested in the aftermath of 9/11, but not much came of it.  I began covering the second iteration of this program about a year after a pilot program was introduced at Orlando International Airport in 2005.  At its peak, the domestic program had three providers, with Clear being the largest by far.

 

The problem was that original Clear was never able to deliver what it promised — a separate line with scanners that would allow travelers to keep their shoes and coats on and their laptops in their bags.  Toward the end, TSA insisted that RT members show government-approved identification, rendering their biometric cards pretty much useless.

 

Why couldn’t Clear and the other providers offer a true experience?  Because despite Congressional support for RT, the program has never been a priority for TSA.  The agency ended a two-year, 19-airport pilot program back in July 2008.  It also stopped doing the background checks on potential new RT members, referring all questions to the private companies operating the program.

 

TSA has said repeatedly that RT is not a priority.  Instead, it wants to focus on technology and training that offers layers of security.  And as the USA Today editorial noted:  “Quick database checks, which cost about $50, are not enough to guarantee security. Recall the Times Square bomber: a naturalized U.S. citizen who had a job and lived in suburban Connecticut. It’s very unlikely that a background check would have picked him out.”

The original Clear shutdown abruptly in June 2009 after investors pulled the plug. That, in turn, caused the other two RT providers to suspend their programs.  We have seen a new company — Alclear — buy the assets of Clear and restart the program.  We’ve also seen iQueue jump into the fray.  But at this point, both programs are more VIP customer lines rather than a true trusted traveler program.  So don’t hold your breath waiting for a real RT program to come along anytime soon.