What It Is: The Clear card is designed for frequent travelers, to let you skip the line at airport security (You still have to go through security, of course) in exchange for a fee. This one I was fascinated by as soon as I heard about it. I fly a lot — about a quarter million miles in the past two years alone — and I have a bad case of Flying While Brown, so this was right up my alley.
The Experience: This is some straight-up James Bond shit right here, people! I filled out an application online, with an appropriately intrusive set of profile questions and some nicely reassuring fine print on their site making me feel fine about any privacy concerns. A couple days later, I got word that I was good to go, and could proceed to step two, the physical registration. This is where it got seriously cool.
Clear registration points are either at the airports they serve or at other locations that frequent travelers might find themselves. In my case, I went to the Hyatt in midtown Manhattan, right above Grand Central Terminal. They have a machine set up in an alcove off the lobby which is slickly futuristic, with the overall vibe being brushed metal and blue LEDs. After showing my passport and driver’s license, I was walked up to a really freaking cool machine to have my fingerprints digitally captured and my retinas scanned.
In all the bad dystopian future scifi movies I’ve ever seen, they never mention that the mysterious private corporation that will be performing the biometric scans would be so upscale I’d felt underdressed for my retina scan because I wasn’t wearing a tie. Seriously — this was the fanciest invasion of privacy ever.
It gets even better at the airport. I finally got to try out the card itself on my way through airport security today, and it was the worst-case scenario. I was held up and got to the airport a scant 30 minutes before my flight was supposed to take off — way late, and this was on an airline where I don’t have frequent flier status, so they probably weren’t inclined to indulge me.
I wasn’t even at the place where the security line begins when I took out my Clear card, and a really nice guy in a suit and tie came over and shook my hand. He glanced at the card, and immediately greeted me as “Mr. Dash”, and then scurried me past the entire line. He handed me off to another equally formal Clear staffer, who apologized for the fact that I’d have to wait about 30 seconds for another Clear member’s passport to get checked by the TSA. After that, I was whisked to a walk-up Clear security verification machine that looked like it was something out of The Incredibles. (The guy had some nice banter about San Francisco without being annoyingly overbearing on the friendly chit-chat.) A quick scan of my left index finger, and the Clear guy grabbed two of the x-ray trays for me, helped get my laptop into them and made sure all my other stuff was safely on the x-ray belt, and then walked me right up to the metal detector, saying “have a nice flight to San Francisco, Mr. Dash!”
It was fanastic. In literally less than 3 minutes, I’d gone from frantic about making my flight to all the way to the metal detector, and they were even discreet enough the way it was implemented that I didn’t feel like some line-jumping jerk. Even if, you know, that’s essentially what you pay Clear for.
Even the card itself is cool — it looks a lot like an American Express Blue card, mostly transparent with a little set of metal contacts on the side so the machine can read the card’s chip. High-tech.
The Gotchas: There’s a couple weird things about Clear. First and foremost, it’s absolutely ridiculous that our TSA and Federal Government are so incredibly fucked up that this has to be handled by a private company instead of, you know, by our tax dollars. That’s not Clear’s fault, though, and I commend them for doing what must be the world’s most ridiculous set of paperwork.
Second, anybody who’s a privacy zealot is not gonna be able to get behind the whole Clear thing. Fingerprints, retina scans, background checks, two forms of photo ID — they do the works. If you can’t trust a company with that kind of info, then Clear isn’t for you.
Third, I think any feeling person’s gonna have a little bit of guilt using this Clear to skip the security line. There’s no more straightforward expression of class inequity than the fact that I can use my disposable income to get treated better in a situation that is mandated and policed by our federal government. We all reckon with these things in our own way, but this falls squarely into the category of things make you confront your privilege in an unsubtle way.
Finally, Clear isn’t in every airport yet. It’s not even in most airports yet. I live in JFK and SFO, and end up in La Guardia a lot — those are all on the Clear list. And they’re doing a commendable job of getting new airports online with the system all the time. But if your local airport isn’t covered, this isn’t going to be a great deal for you.
What It Costs: Clear is $99. If you fly from one of the Clear-covered airports more than 2 or 3 times a year, I think it’s a no-brainer, and in fact is actually a bit on the inexpensive side compared to a lot of other amenities like airport lounges or flight cabin upgrades. If you sign up, you can use my referral code and we both get a free month — just email me for it.
Recommended If You Like: Showing up late, getting upgraded on a flight, James Bond movies, “Catch Me If You Can”.
This post is one of a series of unsolicited testimonials. Please view that introductory post for more background information.