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Like many people, large crowds and long security lines are the two aspects of flying I dread most. I travel between New York, Boston and Chicago monthly, and each city’s airport is often flooded with people. Two hours never gives me enough time to check my bag, go through security and make it to my gate — I always end up sprinting. That was until I enrolled in CLEAR.
CLEAR is a registered traveler program that, once you enroll in it, allows you to verify your identity via a touchless, biometric scan at kiosks stationed at participating venues, including some airports (you’ll also find CLEAR at select sports stadiums and entertainment venues). In other words, CLEAR kiosks scan your eyes, face and fingerprints to verify your identity at the airport so you don’t have to wait in line for a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer to review your boarding pass and ID. After visiting the kiosk, a CLEAR Ambassador escorts you to the baggage screening area — and while you may have to wait in line during this stage, you’re already halfway through the process and closer to the finish line.
For me, the main benefit of CLEAR is what some people see as the program’s biggest downfall: It’s only currently available at about 50 venues including airports, stadiums and entertainment sites across the U.S., such as Miami International Airport, the STAPLES Center and Yankee Stadium. Because I so frequently travel through airports with CLEAR kiosks, I can utilize the program almost every time I fly.
Some may find this limiting, and it definitely can be. But if you regularly travel through airports and on airlines that participate in CLEAR, I’d argue that it’s worth the annual $179 fee. I once timed how long it took me to go through security using CLEAR the day before Thanksgiving — three minutes. The same could not be said for the people waiting on the line wrapped around the airport’s main corridor.
CLEAR: What to know and where to start
U.S. residents ages 18 or older can enroll in CLEAR, and children under 18 years old can use the CLEAR lane at participating venues when accompanied by an enrolled member. And with CLEAR’s family plan, you can add up to three family members or friends to your account at a discounted rate — I added my parents and brother to my account as a holiday gift last year, making traveling together particularly stress-free. Some credit cards offer benefits around CLEAR, too.
- CLEAR Pass is an iOS app that U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors coming to the U.S. — CLEAR members or not — can use to submit a digital Customs and Border Protection (CBP) form for themselves and multiple family members.
- CLEAR Health is a service in CLEAR’s app through which you can complete a health survey. The results are connected to your verified identity. You can also create a digital vaccination card, which you can show at venues requiring proof of Covid vaccination to enter.
How to enroll
I enrolled in CLEAR the morning of a flight I was taking in 2020 — and after perusing CLEAR’s site now, its process hasn’t changed much. I received an email about it and was curious after previously seeing the kiosks at airports, and I was anxious about facing airport crowds during the pandemic. CLEAR seemed to offer me a way to bypass long lines and avoid being in close contact with people at the airport as much as possible.
First, I quickly filled out an application online. Then, once I got to the airport later that day, a CLEAR Ambassador walked me through completing enrollment at a kiosk, which took less than 10 minutes. It involved scanning my face, eyes and fingerprints using the CLEAR kiosk, as well as a government issued ID like a driver’s license or passport.
Unlike enrolling in TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, two other types of registered traveler programs, I didn't need to make an appointment to enroll in CLEAR, or spend time doing so outside of when I was traveling. Enrolling in CLEAR was built into my travel day, which made the program all the more attractive.
Where can you use CLEAR?
Beyond using CLEAR at select airports across the country, members can also use it at select sports stadiums and entertainment venues. When they arrive at participating sports stadiums or entertainment venues, CLEAR members can go to the designated lane at the entrance, scan their fingers and enter.
If you’re interested in using CLEAR at select stadiums and entertainment venues, but not airports, you can enroll in a free CLEAR membership. It allows you to enjoy expedited entry at select stadiums and entertainment venues, and bring one guest with you through the CLEAR Lane.
CLEAR and other registered traveler programs
CLEAR, TSA PreCheck and Global Entry each expedite different parts of the air travel process. Membership to each also lasts varying amounts of time:
- CLEAR, $179 per year: Speeds up the identity verification and travel document check part of flying on flights departing from the U.S.
- TSA PreCheck, $17 per year ($85 per five years): Speeds up the physical screening part of flying on flights departing from the U.S.
- Global Entry, $20 per year ($100 per five years): Speeds up the U.S. Border Control and Customs part of flying on arriving international flights.
It’s important to note that while enrollment in CLEAR does not include TSA PreCheck — like how enrollment in Global Entry does — you can join and use CLEAR in addition to either other program. However, it’s not required.
CLEAR + TSA PreCheck
I’ve been a TSA PreCheck member for about a decade. While I enjoyed the convenience of not having to take my shoes off or remove my laptop from my bag during screening, I’ve noticed that theTSA PreCheck security lines have gotten longer over the years as more people enrolled. According to the TSA, there are currently 10.6 million active TSA PreCheck members eligible for TSA PreCheck screening at airports across the country. At the same point in 2020, there were approximately 10,064,000 active members, the TSA said.
Increased enrollment may be one reason why, during peak travel days like Christmas Eve, for example, I’ve experienced long TSA PreCheck lines that don’t always save me time going through security. However, TSA said in August 2021, 96 percent of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes to go through screening.
Enrolling in CLEAR plus TSA PreCheck was a game changer for me as a traveler. After using a CLEAR kiosk to verify my identity, a CLEAR Ambassador leads me to the TSA PreCheck lane for physical screening, thus speeding up both steps of the airport security process. While enrollment in the programs are sold separately, they work in tandem to get you through airport security as quickly as possible, which, in my experience, makes for a calmer, less rushed travel experience overall.