Post-9/11, airport security went from being largely a formality to downright formidable, with long lines and arcane policies leaving travelers frustrated and flustered. It made sense, to a point, given the shock that followed those attacks; but ever since, the air travel industry has been searching, mostly unsuccessfully, for a better balance between security and efficiency.
The CLEAR program is one such attempt at streamlining the check-in process.
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How CLEAR Works
CLEAR uses biometric data—your eyes and your fingerprints—to check you in at security. The company has dedicated lanes at participating airports, meaning CLEAR customers can bypass the line to check in with TSA (the part where the agent reviews your ID and jots a note on your ticket). CLEAR says skipping the line plus the quick biometric check-in process saves you time and offers a more predictably fast experience.
What Is CLEAR? (and What It Isn’t)
From there, you go through the security screening like any other traveler. This is an important point: CLEAR does not get you around the screening process, and therefore does not replace the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry programs. Instead, CLEAR uses a biometric process to let you cut that first part of the airport security line, thus providing a faster track to the screening portion.
As a reminder, TSA PreCheck grants you expedited passage through TSA lines at hundreds of U.S. airports for domestic flights on dozens of airlines. You get to pass through the screening process without taking off your shoes, removing any electronics or liquids from your bag, or taking off your belt or jacket. Global Entry includes all the benefits of PreCheck and the added service of expedited reentry to the U.S. from abroad.
CLEAR is really designed to work in tandem with PreCheck, or even with some of the expedited security lanes that come with certain upper level travel classes or elite frequent flyer tiers. Where those programs speed up the screening, CLEAR speeds up the security check-in. Combined with other services, CLEAR says, travelers can enjoy a smooth process from start to finish.
Where Is CLEAR Available?
Currently, CLEAR is available at over two dozen major airports around the country, as well as in several sports stadiums. You can see a full, up-to-date list on CLEAR’s website.
How Do I Join?
Unlike TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, there’s no interview required, although you do need to appear in-person. CLEAR says it takes “about five minutes” to enroll, and that you can start online before finishing at a CLEAR location.
“The in-person process includes answering a few simple questions to verify your identity, providing a valid photo ID and payment method, and attaching your biometrics (fingerprints and a picture of your irises) to your newly created account,” according to the company. Participants must be 18 years old, and an American citizen or legal permanent resident with a valid form of government-issued ID.
Membership costs $179 per year, but members can add up to three additional adult family members for only $50 per person. Children under 18 can accompany CLEAR members using the CLEAR lane for free. Delta offers a range of discounted memberships for SkyMiles participants.
Should I Enroll in CLEAR?
Unlike Global Entry, which is a slam dunk ‘yes’ for many travelers, CLEAR is not for everyone. Justifying the cost depends on a handful of factors:
- First (and most obvious), is CLEAR is available at the airports you use most often?
- Do you fly often, perhaps two or three times a month?
- Are you enrolled in Global Entry or TSA PreCheck?
If you answered “no” to any of those questions, particularly the last one, CLEAR probably isn’t a worthwhile investment for you. A hundred and eight bucks is a lot to pay just to arrive at the regular security line a little bit faster. Even at a discounted rate with Delta, you have to wonder if you’re really getting anything worthwhile for your membership fee, as the TSA check-in lines can vary wildly in how arduous they are.
On the other hand, CLEAR may be a good fit for very frequent flyers who use major airports and value efficiency (or simply can’t stand waiting in the TSA checkpoint line). If you’ve already enrolled in one of the expedited security programs, it makes sense to streamline the first half of the security process as well. CLEAR seems like it can deliver on that promise, ensuring you’ll have a more predictable and easily scheduled experience at the airport.
Even then, though, some travelers may feel that $179 is a lot for what amounts to slightly less hassle. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Things Not to Do at Airport Security
- Why You Should Never Go Barefoot at Airport Security
- Airport Security Frequently Asked Questions