For me, airport security checkpoints are the ultimate travel paradox.
On one hand, they’re obviously necessary—the folks from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are charged with keeping our skies safe, and they do a great job. On the other hand, checkpoints often are the only bottleneck in my journeys; prior to this year, just about every business trip would include at least an hour of simply waiting in line.
I admit it: Delays at security checkpoints seem more irritating to me because I fly way more than the average American.
This is precisely why CLEAR has—quite literally—changed my life since I started using it late last year.
If you’ve flown at all since 2010, you’ve probably seen CLEAR terminals at some of the busiest airports in the country. As of this writing (so, June 2015), CLEAR was in 12 airports nationwide, including Miami, Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Orlando.
In a nutshell, the CLEAR program verifies your identity you so you don’t have to wait in those insanely long lines before reaching a TSA checkpoint.
But the CLEAR program is more than just a line pass. The process hinges on biometric identifiers such as your fingerprints or your retinas, meaning it’s scientific and cool. What’s more, once you become a CLEAR member, a CLEAR employee personally escorts you to the body scanners, meaning you feel like a rock star.
At some airports, including my home airport in San Francisco, you even can pre-purchase snacks right from the CLEAR terminal while you’re checking in, meaning there are additional conveniences. Don’t believe me? Here’s a rundown of an experience I had on a recent flight:
- 4 p.m.: Arrive at SFO Terminal 2 to find an incredibly long line of people waiting to go through the checkpoints. Take the time to estimate how many people were on the outside of the TSA screeners. Stop counting after 100.
- 4:05 p.m.: Sidle up to CLEAR terminal, scan my boarding pass with the help of a CLEAR employee , follow prompts to put my left pointer finger on a tiny screen, wait for lights to turn green.
- 4:07 p.m.: Follow CLEAR employee as she leads me in front of about 90 people in line, just beyond the TSA-employed ID-checker. Join regular line of people heading through body scanners.
- 4:10 p.m.: Clear security checkpoint completely.
I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that if I didn’t have CLEAR, getting through the checkpoint that day probably would have taken the better part of an hour. Instead, the process took me 10 minutes, and most of that was because I spent 3 minutes counting the number of people in line.
So let’s estimate conservatively. That means I saved 50 minutes. Over the course of, say, 12 trips, that means I’m saving more than 600 minutes, or 10 hours total. That’s a lot of time. And I don’t even travel as frequently as some of the Expedia+ business members who are on the road for business once or twice a week.
Viewfinder Tip: Make sure you check to see if your “home” airport offers CLEAR before signing up.
(For those who don’t know, Expedia+ business is a new rewards program customized to suit the needs of today’s small business travelers in the United States. Expedia+ business provides business-travel rewards for both companies and employees, such as $100 hotel coupons and automatic upgrades to +silver status in Expedia+ rewards. The program also features a dedicated site where companies can view employee itineraries, monitor spending, and manage company rewards—all for free. On top of all this, members receive exclusive offers through programs like CLEAR. To learn more about the Expedia+ business program, our small business-travel rewards program, click here.
Signing up for CLEAR is easy. The first time I did it—toward the very end of 2014—CLEAR employees walked me through the sign-up, asking me questions about my address and date of birth and inputting answers into the computer system on my behalf. They helped me line up fingers and eyeballs with biometric scanners so the machine could capture some of my unique identifiers. They also ran my credit card on-site; two weeks later, my CLEAR identification card (they call it a CLEARcard) arrived in the mail.
Since I enrolled, CLEAR has rolled out a pretty major platform upgrade that removes the need for a CLEARcard completely. This means two things: For existing CLEARmembers, there’s no need to remember your card in order to get through the lane; for new members, you can sign up and use the lane in the same day.
To be honest, at this point, I couldn’t imagine traveling without CLEAR. It’s cool. It saves time. And I’m not going to lie—I really like being treated like a VIP when I cut long lines at security checkpoints. Is this travel tool essential? Probably not. But it sure makes traveling a lot easier, which is worth a lot to me.