I used my Clear Card for the first time today. In case you haven’t heard of it (which is possible – while it’s been heavily touted here in SF, it’s not yet available in most airports), the Clear Card allows you to "avoid the hassle of airport security every time you fly." For $99/year, you fill out an application, and once approved, complete a fingerprint and retinal scan and voila! Within a few weeks your card arrives, and you can fly right through security. So they claim. (I’m not even going to touch upon the concerns that many people have about privacy by allowing a private company AND the TSA access to your one-of-a-kind retinal scans, since I figure the government already knows more about me than I do, and there’s very little I can do about it. It’s just the way it is these days.) I heard about it first from Anil Dash, another frequent traveler in the tech space, and his "unsolicited testimony" convinced me that this is something I must have, especially since I’d be losing my Gold status on one of the airlines, something I had come to love and expect. So, I signed up. And, en route to Atlanta, I was eager to see if it lived up to the claims.
It did, and more.
I expected to get to avoid the line leading up to the X-Ray machines, but in fact, I went to the Clear booth (situated next to the normal line where they check your boarding pass and IDs), showed them my ID, Clear Card, and boarding pass, scanned my left index finger, and I was well on my way…WITH AN ESCORT. The woman from Clear not only carried by bags, but cut in front of all of the other people in line (including the ones that were putting their bags on the conveyor belt), put my laptop and "liquids and gels" into one of those plastic bins, and – here’s the clincher – had me go through the X-Ray machine while she waited for my bags to get to go through. They claimed that you’d "fly through security in under 4 minutes" and they were wrong: it was under 3.
What they don’t tell you, though, is you feel like an asshole. Or at least I did. I’m fiercely independent, having a hard time even utilizing assistants when I know that’s why we have them and pay them, and this just feels like I’m somehow cheating the system. This surprised me – I have NO problem with enjoying my Gold or Platinum status on the airlines, and waltzing right up as soon as the flight is boarding, hoarding all the pillows and blankets, and being sound asleep in first class before the rest of the plane has even finished boarding. But in that case, I’ve paid my dues, enduring countless long flights to places near and far, missing family and friends and Lila. I’m justified for that privilege. And while I paid my dues for the Clear Card – literally, I paid my $99 as a Christmas present to myself when I was still unemployed – something about it feels wrong. Chalk it up to my Midwest upbringing or sense of humility instilled upon me by my parents, but while I think the Clear Card is probably the way of the frequent traveler’s future, I still found myself averting my eyes as I cut in front of the other folks who weren’t yet fully awake at 6am.
I never thought I’d say this, but I’ll be waiting in the long lines of the Atlanta airport (which doesn’t yet offer the Clear Card) on Sunday, frustrated and tired and worried about missing my plane, but at least I’ll be doing it with a clear conscience.