Clear Card Ceases

The Clear Card program whereby pre-screened passengers are expedited through airport security is no more.  I received this email overnight:

Ensuring that this wasn’t some sort of odd email fraud scheme, I did a quick news search and, sure enough, it’s true:

Clear began in 2005 with the potential to make airport security quicker and easier for frequent travelers. For an annual fee, Clear would collect information and put something through a government security check. Once cleared, the traveler, in theory, would have privileges at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints. It was originally envisioned as a “trusted traveler” program.

But TSA never was comfortable with the notion of “trusting” any travelers, and so the security benefits of a Clear card boiled down to getting a special lane and some staff to help carry plastic tubs for you. For some people, moving to the front of a line was worth the price. But many travelers now receive that benefit with special lines for elite-level frequent fliers. And since lines are, for the most part, far less of an issue for travelers, the re-named “registered traveler” program has been slow to catch on with the flying public. Clear only was available at about 20 airports around the country, and often only at specific checkpoints at those airports. Mr. Brill had stepped down as CEO in March.

As Wired’s Ryan Singel observes, “as the TSA got better at keeping lines moving in the last few years, Clear’s benefits became less clear. Clear continued to ink deals with the nation’s largest airports and even partnering with football teams to get fans in the door faster, but evidently those strategies did not fare well in a down economy.”

What’s odd is that, while it was always clear that a private contractor was operating the program, it was always marketed as a quasi-government operation, with the clearance handled by TSA.  My wife and I joined about a year ago although, as I noted in a post last March (“Clear Card Holders Jump Airport Security Lines“), it was always “a questionable concept.”

The government requires that people give up their 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches in order to fly on commercial airlines on the grounds that they have no idea which of us are potentially terrorists. The government then charges a fee to allow people to prove that they’re not criminals and skip part of the line. There’s something vaguely un-American about this.

This is compounded by the fact that the government doesn’t allow people with military ID or who otherwise have actual security clearances to bypass said lines, which leads me to think that this is about collecting the $128 rather than ensuring security. That view is enhanced by the fact that no security check that could be accomplished for $128 will do anything other than demonstrate that the person in question is not a wanted felon or on a terrorist watch list. That’s a screening that all of the 9/11 hijackers would have passed.

And then, last August, Clear Card’s security was breached and had to suspend new enrollments until they got encryption installed. Whether they ever did that, I never heard.

We managed to bypass some pretty long lines a couple of times but have been much-less-frequent fliers in recent months, what with the new baby.

UPDATE: It could be worse:  Kevin Rose just paid $200 and his card is in the mail!

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. sam says:

    Well, there’s always the “wheelchair” gambit. My brother-in-law is a flight attendant, and he and his co-workers refer to flights to Orlando as “miracle flights”: folks get on in wheelchairs and walk off on arrival.

  2. hcantrall says:

    Wow, aren’t people ridiculous. It would never occur to me to do such a thing lol

  3. Herb says:

    Last time I went on a plane, I stood in line behind a guy with a wheelchair…a wheelchair provided by DFW airport, no less…and rather than speeding things up, a security bottleneck formed as they practically disassembled this airport-provided wheelchair serving for improvised explosive devices.

    After they were done with him, they went after a lady and her unauthorized shampoo.

    Then I looked over at my Mom, and the TSA had her standing over in the security area, shoes off, arms out, wanding her down like some jihadi drug smuggler with yellowcake sewn into the cuffs of her pants. My MOM! A calm and decent grandmotherly type who works for the federal government.

    I haven’t flown since. Someday I hope to be a “presumed traveler” again instead of a “presumed terrorist,” but I fear that “security theater” is the new normal.

  4. Grewgills says:

    After they were done with him, they went after a lady and her unauthorized shampoo.

    Probably the most ludicrous of the remaining security provisions. I read the protocol for the explosive that was the genesis of that rule and it is beyond belief that it could successfully be performed on a passenger flight. (Over an hour of stirring in an ice bath and evaporating off all of the water are both involved before you get the crystals that could then be packed into and used in an explosive devise.)

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    lol, I think we all on the watch list now…..

  6. harkin says:

    Very strange. Just a few weeks ago a Clear rep approached me at (I think) Denver airport and asked if I was a frequent flyer for a specific airline, if so (he said) I was eligible for a free Clear acct. I fly about six times a month and I told him I was not a member of the specific airlines FF program but that I was a member of four others. He asked which and when I told him he said one of those would be eligible in about a month and to check back at their security station in a few weeks.

    For what it’s worth, the Clear line was almost always empty or near empty.