Clear Pass Membership Cuts Down on Airport Waiting Time

The Way is Clear with Clear Pass! photo courtesy of flyclear.
Orlando International Airport is the first major airport to institute Clear Lanes. Photos courtesy of

Clear Pass Membership Cuts Down on Airport Waiting Time

By Jessica Taryn

[Editor’s note: Clear ceased operations in June of 2009.]

Everyone is sick of waiting in lines at the airport, but we all want optimal security measures taken to make sure we are safe when we fly. So what is the solution? A company called Clear, thinks it may have found it, and twenty-one US airports agree.

The Clear Membership allows frequent travelers to be pre-screened, issued a Clear

Member’s card, which they then scan in the Clear Lane at the airport, and within seconds their fingerprints and iris images are matched to those embedded in their card and they are free to proceed to the checkpoint, significantly minimizing time spent in security lines. Clear members can get through security, generally, in under five minutes, every time they fly!


Having begun operations in July 2005, Clear now has 250,000 Clear Members. Each member has filled out an application, which is available online, and has then completed his/her application in-person at a Clear enrollment center which includes a scan of two pieces of acceptable forms of identification, and biometrics (fingerprints and iris images).
Once approved, the member received his or her Smart Card in the mail, and can use it at any of the 21 Airports now accepting Clear cards. Cindy Rosenthal, VP of Media Relations at Clear says that the entire process from the time you fill out the application until the time you receive your membership card should be about two to three weeks.

The company tries to make the process as easy as possible for potential members. The Clear card now contains a member’s photo and date of birth, etc., and is accepted as official ID by all airports, not just Clear airports.

“We even have convenient enrollment locations in downtown areas – such as Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan. — and we offer onsite enrollment to corporations who want to sign up many employees at once – Clear has now performed more than 100 such onsite enrollments at corporate, government and other offices,” she says.

One Flyer’s View

Paul Landgraf, a business development manager for one of the top ten employers in the San Francisco-Bay Area and Clear member said, “I am traveling at least every other week to either Denver, LA or DC. My point of origination is San Jose. I joined at the very beginning of San Jose airport’s Clear operation. I cannot begin to estimate the times I would have missed my flight due to the very long lines at any of the airports I use. However, I am happy to report that I have not missed any flights in over 2 years due to the airport check in procedure – all as a result of using the Clear program. So in my mind I have saved time, aggravation and money as a positive result of the Clear program.

“In all cases, the Clear agents at all of the airports I use go well out of their way to insure the airport check-in procedure is a positive experience, and they even assist me with my carry on bags. Clear is truly a high value customer service program which deserves a huge accolade. They truly believe and demonstrate the words, customer service comes first.”

Clear lane in Atlanta. photos courtesy of clear.

Clear lane in Atlanta.


“Once you are a member, you present your card at the entrance to the Clear Lane at the airport’s checkpoint and just like an ATM machine, you slide your ClearCard into the kiosk and either scan your fingers or iris image to assure a match. Then you proceed a few feet down the lane to the security processing area where you put your carry-on bag through the X-ray and go through the metal detector.

The verification process in our lanes takes seconds, avoiding a potential wait of nearly 35 minutes at times,” Rosenthal says.

Jones says that he is not sure Clear Membership is actually worth the money.

Biometric fingerprint reader at the Clear Lane.
Biometric fingerprint reader at the Clear Lane.

“For top elite members and full-fare first class passengers at major airports, there are already lines designated for them. Weigh carefully the cost vs. the benefit. If you fly 10 times a year or less, is it worth the four or five dollars a minute it is going to cost you?” he said.

Rosenthal disagrees, “If you travel an average of two-three times a month and you no longer have to wonder whether you’ll be on a five minute line or a forty-five minute line, ever again, you will think this is worth it. And, we’ve heard from members that Clear significantly saves time and stress, even for those who have elite memberships.”

Another Traveler’s View

Leighton Condell, an Atlanta resident and professional MC/host at major sporting and entertainment events around the country said, “I’ve had my Clear card for a little less than a year and I travel 35 weekends a year. I’ve used my Clear card in Oakland, Orlando, Washington, DC, and NY, among others. Just the other day, I flew out of Atlanta with two of my sales reps — one had a premium card from an airline and one had no card at all. I got through the Clear Atlanta lanes in five minutes and had to wait 15 minutes for the rep with the Medallion card and 45 minutes for the rep with no card. I will now be buying them Clear cards. I can’t be without it.”


According to Clear, the biometric scanners are the most accurate form of identity verification available. The company has performed over two million verifications at its security lanes since it began.

Rosenthal says that biometrics cannot be duplicated in any way. “Your image is on a chip in the card, but it must match you, live, in person, at the kiosk, verified by our operators. So, unlike the movies, you can’t present someone else’s finger without our staff noticing!”

Clear Enrollment station, Orlando Airport.


In all aspects of traveling, especially since September 11, people are very concerned with privacy violations and there has been an ongoing debate over maintaining privacy versus maintaining a safe environment for travelers. In introducing new technology, privacy is once again questioned.

However, Jones says, “There is a point where I am not concerned about my privacy if other’s security is an issue. I am well aware the ACLU will jump on this one and shout Fourth Amendment violations, but since it is voluntary, how can they claim this?”

Rosenthal promises that every precaution is taken to make travelers feel comfortable and not violated in any way.

She says, “Privacy is one of our primary focuses — to assure every member that we will uphold all of the policies and promises we have put in place, such as having an ombudsman, a public audit and an identity theft warranty. We are taking every opportunity we can find to have the best privacy practices—such as we don’t track members and we won’t sell your name or information to any third parties.”


So, what happens when so many people join Clear that those lines become longer than the regular lines?

“I am sure TSA will adjust to keep things moving. Already, elite-only and crew-only lines are used by others if there are no folks in those ‘only’ lines,” said Jones.

Rosenthal confirmed, “Similar to the electronic tolling that roadways have, you can alter the number of lanes available to registered travelers at peak times, such as early morning and evening; it is done through modeling of the lane traffic to learn what is needed. This is very effective in the tolling industry.”


Jones says that he would not be a good candidate for Clear Membership, even though he is a frequent flier, and he would not be interested in purchasing or joining.

“Since I generally travel mid-week from a small- to medium-sized airport and am a top elite member, it makes no sense for me to participate. If my travels began in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles (LAX only), Dallas, Houston, Memphis, Salt Lake City, Boston, St. Louis, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Pittsburgh or San Diego and I traveled 15+ times per year and if my departures were Monday mornings, I would look long and hard,” he said.

Getting in is easy.
Getting in is easy.


Rosenthal says that the Clear card will be accepted at still more airports in 2009 – Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale have requested proposals to launch the service there. And, the card is now accepted at some sports stadiums for home football games, such as at Candlestick in San Francisco, INVESCO’s Mile High in Denver, and the Dome in Georgia.

And, she added that now that major hotel chains, credit card companies and airlines are partnering with Clear, the member offers and perks continue to grow. In early 2009, Starwood Hotels is offering free Clear cards to their top tier and three month trials to all preferred guests in their program. Hyatt has done similar offers. Delta Airlines offers points.

Jones agrees that this trend will spread fast, “I expect the major airports will commence almost immediately, but [smaller airports like] Kalamazoo will probably never join in,” he said.

Jessica Taryn is a former intern at GoNOMAD. She attends the University of Massachusetts.

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Cindy-Lou Dale
Cindy-Lou Dale originates from a small farming community in Southern Africa and has a nomadic lifestyle that moves her around the world. Currently she lives in a picture postcard village in south-east England, surrounded by rolling green hills, ancient parish churches and designer sheep farms. Cindy has been featured in international publications around the world, including GoNOMAD, TIME and National Geographic Traveller.