FlyClear Review, Experience and Discount Code

Posted on June 21, 2008 
Filed Under General

The FlyCLear Experience

I travel relatively frequently for business and I also do my fair share of recreational travel. I am also, unfortunately, not the world’s most timely person, particularly when it comes to airports and catching planes. I’ve missed more than my share of flights.

For these reasons, the new “pre-screened” airport security option known as Clear® or “FlyClear” located at was of interest to me. Clear® promises the following:

“Clear® is the fast pass for airport security. Clear members are pre-screened and provided with a high-tech card which allows them to access designated airport security fast lanes nationwide. Clear members pass through airport security faster, with more predictability and less hassle.”

I live and work primarily in Washington, DC, where we have the benefit of three nearby airports: Reagan National, in Arlington, VA, Thurgood Marshall Baltimore/Washington Airport (BWI), near Baltimore, and Dulles International, also in Northern Virginia. Dulles and National Airports have adopted the program. BWI has begun to seek proposals for a system at its airport as of this writing, which Clear® will unquestionably vie for.

With two of the three already with Clear® lanes in place, I took the plunge and gave it a try.

Signing Up with

I started by signing up via the website. The process was simple enough and not unlike signing up for most anything else online. You provide contact information, identity information, and payment information on the secure website. The annual fee as of this writing is $128 annually. $100 is the fee for the Clear® service and $28 is the government identity verification fee. You get an extra month if you use a refer-a-friend code as your “FlyClear discount code” when you sign up. It gives both you and your referrer an extra month of service compared to signing up with out a code. Feel free to use the discount code of DSCAM1149342 if you don’t otherwise have one.

Once registered online, you have to take the time to head to an “in-person enrollment center.” My center was at an American Express travel store in downtown Washington, D.C. The Clear® enrollment area was basically two kiosks and two attendants in one part of the store. I called to make an appointment first, instead of “dropping in.” I recommend making an appointment because it seems like there could be long lines if you go at the wrong time of day. The process takes 10-20 minutes or so even if it is running smoothly, so you really want to be able to walk in and get started right away.

Once I arrived I needed to provide my Clear® account number. I also had to have two forms of government-issued identification. Clear “highly recommends” a U.S. passport and a driver’s license. I followed their advice and provided those forms of documentation. Once I had my identification verified, a Clear® attendant had me approach one of the two kiosks. The kiosks are a bit taller than standalone ATM machines but otherwise look similar to a cash machine.

The Clear® attendant starts by putting in his or her own employee identification number. Next, you have images of your irises taken. Iris scanning is one of the newer identity verification methods and it will likely grow more prevalent in the years to come. Iris imaging (not the same as retinal scans) is more reliable than fingerprints because it is more difficult to impersonate an iris than a fingerprint, among other things. Wikipedia has a good article on iris recognition technologies if you want to know more.

Next, the attendant helps you take fingerprints. You place your fingertips on plates of glass and the images are captured digitally as opposed to the old fashioned ink and paper methods. You get each fingerprint on both hands, but you can choose your favorite. I went for the right index finger as my “favorite.”

Finally, you get a good old fashioned digital photograph taken. Once the enrollment is complete you’re notified that your card will receive in a short period of time. I received mine in the mail approximately ten days after my enrollment process.

Clear® at the Airport

My new card in hand, I gave it a try during my next trip departing from Reagan National Airport. I was traveling during a relatively quiet day at the Airport. Security lines were pretty short anyway, but I headed to the Clear® line for the “pursuit of science.” Immediately upon entering the line, there is an attendant whose primary role appears to be directing non-members to the “standard” security line. It was clear that he was very used to directing people elsewhere because the Clear® line was very empty and was situated very close to the other lines. Almost immediately upon my approaching him the attendant was already directing me to the “standard” line. I presented my FlyClear card and was shown through to the Clear® screening area.

The screening area is just open space near the normal security lines with a few kiosks set up. There were also two Clear® attendants there. Once I made it to the kiosk, the screening process was pretty quick, taking about a minute or so. You present your Clear® card to the attendant, who sticks it in a reading slot. The computer reads the card and identifies you. You then have your iris scanned and/or fingerprints scanned. If it matches up, you’re “clear” to proceed to security.

The defining (and major) limitation of the Clear® program is that it doesn’t actually let you avoid the standard security. You still have to have “only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag,” and “each container must be three ounces or smaller” as we know from the TSA. You still have to take virtually every article of clothing off, and your laptop still has to be separate from your other carry-on luggage.

Clear’s “company line” on this limitation was something along the lines of: “just because someone is not a threat at the time of registration does not mean that they may not become one.” Of course, this is true, but there is literally no benefit of Clear® that relates directly to the security. You can’t keep your shoes on, you can’t bring a bottle of, say, four ounces on the plane, and you can’t keep your belt on. Clear® is just to get to the actual security process faster.

Once verified, you’re ready to head to “standard” security screening. In my case, the attendant took one of my bags and led me to a table where the bins were stored. Of course, this table is the same table used by everyone else, and you literally have to “cut” in front of someone else. In my case, the attendant headed for a senior woman, age seventy or so, and asked “May I place this registered traveler in front of you?” Of course, this woman, and I presume others, would have no idea why a registered traveler would be getting in front of them in line, but she simply agreed to let me in front of her.

I must admit this was something of an awkward feeling, being placed in front of a surprised person who had been dutifully waiting her turn. I tried to be friendly and play it off, joking with her and trying to change the subject: “Well, at least you know I’m non-threatening, right? Where are you headed today?” That seemed to help alleviate her surprised look and we made friends in the few moments we had. Once the “line cut” was secured, security proceeded normally.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Is it worth it? I think the answer is, as in most cases: “it depends.” If you often fly alone at airports with Clear® lines and during times of long security lines, I think it probably is worthwhile. I think this is particularly true for folks who might be able to use time otherwise spent in security lines productively at the airports, like professional business travelers. It’s a simple opportunity cost analysis. If you bill, say, $300 an hour as a busy attorney, and you’d save 30 minutes over the course of a year by using Clear® (ignoring for a moment the enrollment time, etc.), it makes sense to do it. Or, if you save yourself one missed flight a year, it likely makes sense as well. Remember also that this may be a tax-deductible business expense for business travelers, as your financial professional may advise.

If you are a casual flyer, taking a few trips a year, particularly with a family or significant other, I think the administrative hassle and additional fees are probably not worthwhile. First, there is the additional cost of registering everyone in the traveling party. Second, there is the logistical burden. In my case, I often travel with business associates or individuals that do not have a Clear® card. When we approach the security lines I find that the more polite course of action is to stay with the travel partner in normal security lines, so the card is never even used in those situations.

Take care to see which airports offer Clear® lines. If you live in or frequently fly to Washington DC, San Francisco, New York City, Orlando, Cincinnati, Atlanta or Los Angeles (among others), the investment is likely worthwhile if your circumstances otherwise suggest it might be right for you.

In my case it was worthwhile because I often travel for business, live near two airports that offer the service, and have a tendency to miss flights. Other circumstances may lead to different conclusions, but these considerations, along with the “entertainment value” of the experience made it well worthwhile to at least give it a try.

If you do end up trying FlyClear, you can use FlyClear discount code DSCAM1149342 when you sign up for an extra month free of charge.

Happy flying!


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