What Does A "Clear" Membership Actually Get You At Airport Security?

A PR hack sent us a stupidly long press release a few hours ago about Clear, the company that—for an annual $100 fee—will pre-authorize you with TSA to speed up your passage through security. Clear started operating in select airports over a year ago, and this month will add Reagan National and Dulles International airports to its list. So, is the service worth it? We guess that depends on how much you’re willing to spend to be able to jump ahead of all the poor people waiting in line like the common criminals they surely are. We wanted a slightly more objective way to evaluate it, though, so we started looking around online for first-hand experiences of what exactly happens when you flash your Clear card.

Over on Venture Chronicles, some Clear customers have left feedback, calling it “security theatre” and saying it “can cut 15 minutes out of the process”—which we’re not sure is worth $100 bucks a year. Some were upset by the idea of retinal scanning and fingerprinting—all of Clear’s data is routed through the TSA, so the government gets access to that data, if you worry about that sort of thing. One commenter named Celeste notes that Clear doesn’t let you bypass some of the more onerous security activities:

I signed up as well and realize that, for now, I’ll be at the front of the line. My two questions are, since I still have to go through all the security checks (i.e., shoes, laptops, bag screening, etc., as I understand it), why do they need a retina scan and thumbprint? Basically, I’ve paid $100 to bypass 150 people but I’ve still got to take off my shoes. Also, at $100 a year, won’t the FlyClear line be as long as the regular security line in a year, once more airports become available? They haven’t reduced the actual screening time. In fact, it’s been increased by going through the retina and print scan, haven’t they? We’ll see if it’s a benefit next year before I decide to renew.

Another commenter, Jeff, pointed out just how much you’re putting your personal data in the hands of a third party:

I did find myself thinking “crikey I hope they have some killer data security with everything I am giving them”.

I guess it’s a Faustian bargain at it’s heart, paying $100 because our government can’t figure out how to have effective AND efficient airport security pisses me off, but I won’t be thinking about that as I breeze through the Clear security lane while everyone else is waiting 100 people deep.

I’m less concerned about the prospect that my civil liberties will be infringed because at some point in the future they may share it with some agency, maybe I should be but I just don’t get worked up about it for whatever reason.

At the blog Daggle, Danny compares Clear’s system to IRIS, a similar program in Europe. He says Clear is pretty behind the curve on efficiency and technology.

Leaving San Jose on a flight last week, there was a short line to go through security — but long enough to make trying CLEAR worthwhile. I walked up and handed my card over — strike one, since after scanning my eyes and fingerprints, why do I need a card?

Next, I had to put my right ring finger down. Hard. Like really hard, to the degree it physically hurt, in order to get a good images. Yeah, I’m a big baby. C’mon — it wasn’t comfortable. And then the finger wouldn’t work.

Next to my “backup” finger, my left index. Again, a hard pressing down that hurt, but eventually an image was captured, and I was me.

So why then was I next asked for picture ID? All these biometrics, and they want my driver’s license? Apparently, the CLEAR folks are different from TSA — and TSA wants the picture ID checked.

Danny figures the Clear experience didn’t save him any time at all going through security. In fact, its primary benefit may be that it lets you move to the front of the line, at which point you’ll still be put through the standard gauntlet.

RELATED
“FlyClear” [Venture Chronicles]
“Using CLEAR To Clear Airport Security — This Is Efficient?” [Daggle]