A few weeks back, I arrived at SFO even earlier than normal (read > 2 HRs) in a effort that failed miserably to stand by on an earlier flight back to Denver. Facing several down hours to kill at the airport, I sacrificed a half hour and any last vestiges of my personal privacy to the CLEAR program in a classic security vs convenience transaction.
The idea is simple: you pre-qualify yourself for reduced security screening by providing scans of your fingerprint and irises, a hundred bucks, and an opportunity for a pre-emptive background check.
Upon arrival at participating airports (which include my home base, DIA, as well as frequently visited destinations like JFK, LGA, SFO, SJC, etc), you’re shunted into a special, low volume security line and processed – in theory – with greater speed.
Saturday, I had the opportunity to put this to the test. Candidly, the results were mixed.
My assumption going was that CLEAR would benefit me by a.) shortening the line I’d process through, and b.) shortcutting the often stilted boarding pass/identification check.
Interestingly, neither was precisely true on Saturday. While I expect that there will be many future scenarios where CLEAR dramatically shortens the length of the line I’m required to pass through, Saturday afternoon travel isn’t a volume period for DIA. The CLEAR queue, thus, was only marginally shorter than the non-participant alternative. In fact, a non-CLEAR carrying couple with a baby and stroller managed to beat me through the line.
What really surprised me, however, was the identity verification process. Upon presenting myself at the head of the CLEAR line, I was asked to provide my boarding pass, identification and CLEAR card, which I did. At the CLEAR station, I was required to present a finger for print scanning and my CLEAR card, which I also did.
And thought I was finished.
But then I had to present my boarding pass and identification – again – to the regular screener. Perhaps I’ve missed the point of CLEAR, but my expectation was that part of the benefit was reducing – not adding to – the number of steps in the security process. Why on earth should a non-prequalified traveller be asked for the information once, while the CLEAR certified must produce it three times?
After those checks, one of the CLEAR personnel then conducted me to the screener line, collecting plastic bins for me, and more or less cut me in midway through the line – which I wasn’t particularly comfortable with – as if he was some sort of bizarre security concierge. Which was, frankly, a bit weird.
All in all, the program is probably still worth it if only to skip absurdly long lines such as the one pictured, but the process is still clearly in need of refinement.