Travelers wait as they are processed at a TSA security checkpoint at Dulles International Airport. (AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS)

This post has been updated and corrected to note that CLEAR travelers’ identities are checked using a biometric platform that scans their iris image or fingerprint.

Fliers traveling through Reagan National and Dulles International airports have a new option for avoiding long security lines.
CLEAR, a membership-based screening program is now operating at both airports, offering fliers a chance to move to the front of TSA screening lines for fee.

So how does CLEAR work?

David Cohen, chief administrative officer for the New York-based company said travelers should think of airport screening as a two-part process that consists of an ID and document check and then physical screening. CLEAR’s aim is to offer travelers a speedier path to physical screening, he said.

Instead of waiting in line to have your documents checked by a Transportation Security Administration officer, he said, travelers enrolled in CLEAR will move through special lines where their travel documents and identity will be checked using CLEAR’s biometric platform, a machine that scans their iris image or fingerprint. From there, they will be directed to physical screening. People enrolled in TSA’s Pre-Check program will be directed to that line; other travelers will move into the regular screening line.

CLEAR’s services differ from two other expedited screening programs offered by TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It differs from Global Entry in that it provides expedited screening for departures; CBP’s Global Entry program is designed to move arriving passengers more quickly through customs. And while it will allow you to bypass the line for having your ID checked by a TSA agent, you’ll still need to enroll in TSA PreCheck if you want be able to use those lines and avoid having to remove your laptop, jacket and shoes.

National and Dulles join 13 other airports, including Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall, that offer CLEAR as an option. BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said the airport began offering the service in spring 2015 and it has been popular among frequent travelers.

Cohen said enrollment in the program can be done at participating airports. Travelers must provide a government issued ID and take a brief quiz to verify their identity. In addition to being fingerprinted, travelers will have an iris scan and have their photo taken. Cohen said the process takes less than five minutes.  There is a $179 a year membership fee to enroll in CLEAR.

Family members over the age of 18 can be added to a membership for $50 a year. Children under 18 can use the service free with a member. Travelers who are members of Delta’s SkyMiles program receive special pricing through a partnership between the two companies.

The launch of CLEAR means additional dollars for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages National and Reagan. The authority’s board of directors, which  approved the five-year agreement in March, will receive a minimum of $2.15 million over the course of the agreement. In addition, the authority stands to receive 10 percent of the enrollment fees received from travelers who reside in the airports’ catchment area, should the revenue exceed the financial guarantees outlined in the contract.

According to MWAA officials, there are currently more than 475,000 people enrolled in the CLEAR program. Roughly, 26,000 are in the Washington region.

CLEAR also is offered at airports in San Francisco,  San Jose,  Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston Bush, Houston Hobby, San Antonio, Austin, Orlando, Miami, Las Vegas and Westchester County in New York. Dulles and National are part of a major expansion the company has launched this year. The service begins this week in Seattle as well.

CLEAR’s services differ from two other expedited screening programs offered by TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It differs from Global Entry in that it provides expedited screening for departures; CBP’s Global Entry program, is designed to move arriving passengers more quickly through border control and customs.

And it comes at a time when D.C.-area airport officials have been experimenting with more strategies for moving passengers more quickly through security and through customs. While passengers at Dulles and National did not experience the extensive waits that some travelers in U.S. airports did this spring and summer, airport officials nevertheless say, they want ensure that does not change.

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