Go ahead, stand in an airport security line moving an inch a minute, juggling your bag, shoes, belt and ID and constantly eyeing your watch as the boarding call draws nearer. They have a word for people like you: suckers.
Every day, thousands of people look at that security line and laugh as they breeze to their destination unmolested. What separates them from you? A little bit of cash and a whole lot of motivation.
Members of Clear pay $199 a year to swipe their card through kiosks at airports and go immediately to a security checkpoint.
, for example, plunk down $199 a year to swipe their card through kiosks at 21 airports across the country and go immediately to a security checkpoint. Granted, before they get their card, Clear applicants need to provide background information and have all 10 fingerprints and both irises scanned before their information is sent to the Transportation Safety Administration for a threat assessment. For 250,000 customers, however, the payoff is worth it.
"The beauty of this is that people are spending a predictable amount of time at checkpoints," says Cindy Rosenthal, a spokeswoman for Clear's parent company,
Verified Identity Pass
. "They can join Clear and know they'll be through in under five minutes."
Clear is a byproduct of the TSA's Registered Traveler pilot program, which went into place just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was first tested by government contractors in 2004. The government got out of the business after a similar Verified Identity Pass program at Orlando, Fla.'s tourist-choked airport proved a resounding success. In 2007, the government issued guidelines for airports to sponsor programs like Clear and former contractor
FLO ($99 for its base service), which now offer private kiosks at airports in Denver, Atlanta and all major airports in the Washington, D.C., and San Francisco Bay areas. Service has spread to Boston's Logan Airport and all three major New York City airports, but is limited to
( UAUA) and
flights for now.
Clear and its competitors are still working out other kinks as well, as registered passengers still need to go through the same security routine as everyone else. Rosenthal says special kiosks awaiting approval by the TSA will soon let passengers keep their shoes on during checks, but the companies hope that perks including expedited security checks at San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos (Washington Redskins games for FLO customers) will help tide customers over in the meantime.
For those feeling a bit squeamish about giving the TSA all of their biometric data just to skip the line, there's always first-class. Most major airlines, including Continental, Delta, United,
allow their preferred passengers to jaunt through TSA-approved premium security lanes without coming within a whiff of the unwashed masses. Judging by the lists provided by those airlines, airports that don't provide such lanes are the exception rather than the rule.
If you can't or won't fly first class, there is another option: cheating. At Legal Sea Foods' Legal C Bar in Boston's Logan, customers on the go get not only a menu that indicates items with the shortest prep times, but a stamp for their boarding pass that lets them whisk their way through the first-class security line. While downing a plate of fried clams and oysters may not seem like the smartest idea before a long flight, paying $40 to get the same treatment as the guy in line behind you who paid $1,400 will help quiet any unpleasant midair rumblings.