Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No More Flying "Clear"

TSA's so-called premium service for pre-screened travelers went out of business yesterday, reportedly because their credit was withdrawn.

This is a great example of how you can't even trust the government to do something simple that everyone agrees upon...

Pretty much everyone who flies hates TSA security screening, and apparently with pretty good reason.

The idea was that you submit to a background investigation and biometric ID and they would give you a less painful experience at the airport. Unfortunately, TSA didn't really want to give anyone the opportunity for a less painful experience, so they refused to allow FlyClear members any relief from the overall security screening. In fact, there was MORE to the FlyClear screening because you had to present your "Fly Clear" card (to both a machine and a human), in addition to another picture ID, and your boarding pass, before being allowed to get in line.

The only advantage was either a special line, or the privilege of cutting to the head of the line, to get to the TSA humiliation quicker.

I fly a lot, and I was very interested in anything that would reduce the pain of commercial air travel, so I studied the Fly Clear program closely.

First of all, it was a pain to sign up. You had to fill out a form online and pay, wait to receive paperwork in the mail, then make at least one (and usually 2 or 3) trips to the airport when you weren't flying to get the biometric data taken and the "Clear" card issued. The cost was $128, per year, I think.

The first time I enquired about it was at Washington National. There was a long line, and some friendly-looking folks (not TSA, I subsequently learned, but contractors with the now defunct company that ran the program) passing out literature about the program. I told them I'd sign up right now if they'd let me get past the line, but of course that wasn't possible. I still went to the web site when I got home, and it seemed painful, invasive, and not particularly sensible.

So I watched at the airport to determine what the program really saved. At National there was a second line for the FlyClear program, which was usually pretty short, but once through it you still had to get in the second line to actually get through security. It could save a few minutes - maybe quite a few if you were flying during peak hours and the lines were bad - but overall not much. Out at Dulles, the FlyClear line seemed to be very similar in length to the "Expert Traveler" line, which seemed to be a much better idea and a much better program. Many of the airports I visit, however, didn't even have FlyClear lines, and I found that by simply avoiding travel at peak times (a good idea under all circumstances), you could achieve the same effect as the FlyClear line for $0.

Some of my friends, however, raved about how they liked the program (I apparently knew a substantial percentage of the program's participants, since there were only about 250,000 overall). I took another look, and thought about signing up just as an experiment.

But the other day I was at Dulles. Some rich important-looking old guy got in the "Fly Clear" line at the same time I got in the Expert Traveler line (which was longer, but only a little bit). We got through the TSA screen at the same time, but he was being by TSA that he was required to submit to additional screening. As I headed off to my gate, he was being led away to be strip-searched. TSA seems to relish forcing anyone with the appearance of eliteness to submit to additional screening... in particular officials of other government departments or agencies with official credentials.

That ended my interest in FlyClear, and I guess I'm glad now I didn't pay for it, because it doesn't look like subscribers will be getting their money back.


John the Scientist said...

When I read the title of the post, I thought this was going to be about $scientology. :D

And seriously, people want the government to run healthcare and they can't even run a program to screen passengers for a flight?

CW said...

That's a good one John... we haven't had anything on Scientology in a while - maybe it's about time.

Jim Wright said...

Where's the Scientology post?

c'mon guys, I'm waiting

Clear Cards said...


This is nice post.Jim Wright ,I think there is no Scientology post.Its just on the Flying Clear.

Jim Wright said...

Clear, I was just pulling CW and John's chain.

CW said...

I am still looking for some new dirt on $cientology to post. Nobody wants dirt on them more than me.

Fly 'Clear'... hahahaha. You know I never really thought about the $cientology angle until these comments...

Anonymous said...

I feel cheated all the way from Clear Card. They should end up in Prison, to ripp off people like us.
What about all the Data, where does that ended up? No wonder, that we deal these days with Identity Fraud........
Wolfgang ( Made in Germany, but a proud US-Citizen )