As I fretted over the finishing touches to my opus on the Tao of freeway ramp metering lights for Sunday’s papers, I got an e-mail from Clear, the company that promises a sort of FasTrak version of airport security.
Funny thing about this phenomenon. The media loves these guys, although I’m not sure people truly understand what’s offered by Clear, now at 12 airports including San Francisco International and San Jose’s Mineta International, and Clear’s smaller competitors, who operate at only Reno and Jacksonville.
The news release, which was quickly followed by a copy conveyed by my editor asking me to do a short article about it, announced that Clear had opened an enrollment counter at Oakland International in anticipation of opening its Clear Lanes toward the end of March.
It sounds like a great idea, and it may well be someday.
Your security-worthiness gets pre-approved by the Transportation Security Administration, and you bypass airport security hassles.
But I decided to have a heart-to-heart talk with Clear’s spokesperson in New York, despite the fact that I could have written three paragraphs from the release and fulfilled my immediate journalistic obligation.
But Clear’s half-blue, half transparent card with an embedded data chip is hardly FasTrak. It’s more like a cash lane where the toll taker is always really nice and the lines are always very short.
Despite having to submit to fingerprint scans, eyeball scans and a TSA background check, you still have to endure the slings and arrows of the airline ticket counter, if for some security snafu, you can’t buy tickets online and use quick check-in.
“We have tried hard to interest the TSA with coordinating databases,” said Clear’s PR person, Cindy Rosenthal. Clear, founded by Court TV creator and author/journalist/lawyer Steven Brill, has even tried to get people removed from the TSA’s legendary “no-fly” list.
The list has ensnared Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ wife, who has the unfortunate nickname of Cat and was once confused with the namesake folksinger who changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Sen. Ted Kennedy also got into trouble, but I’m not sure what could prevent that from happening.
But no dice so far.
There is the advantage of bypassing the line. One of the reasons Oakland Airport officials said they were slow to agree do the Clear thing was that they couldn’t see much advantage to the service. But the passengers clamored for it.
After shelling out $28 to cover TSA’s one-time background check fee (a bargain, if you ask me) and $100 a year, Clear cardholders still have to doff their footwear, scan their luggage and walk through a metal detector that may or may not pick up their belt buckle, rings and watch. Clear’s been waiting two years for TSA to decide whether to allow a shoe scanner to let people keep their shoes.
But you can’t argue with success. I’ve yet to run into anyone who doesn’t like the service, which is expanding in mid-March to cover the Washington, D.C.-area’s Reagan National and Washington Dulles airports.
One guy I interviewed for a package of stories on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, who shares Islamic first and last names with a no-fly lister, swears by Clear. He even chose a more complicated itinerary out of San Jose until SFO picked up the service.
After talking to Clear’s media rep, it seemed to me that their biggest selling point is what they might become in the future. They will most certainly cover more airports, they might have a shoe scanner and, inshallah, they might put those iris scans to good use by eliminating no-fly hassles someday.