CLEAR card makes comeback at SFO

A traveler uses the CLEAR kiosk at Orlando International (Photo: CLEAR)

Remember the CLEAR card and those CLEAR lanes at SFO? The service that allowed travelers submitting biometric information and paying $179 per year to bypass regular security lines and get to their gates faster? (The original company folded in 2009.)

Well guess what? A new iteration of CLEAR has been functioning at Denver and Orlando airports since 2010, and it will soon make a return to all terminals at San Francisco International.

According to a company spokesperson, the San Francisco Airport Commission has approved a new lease, although there is not yet a firm date when CLEAR lanes will open at SFO. The spokesperson estimated it could take 2-3 months.

What’s best about CLEAR is that it makes the airport security process a lot more predictable—members know for certain that they’ll get through security checkpoints in just a few minutes. The downside (for now) is that the new company is currently operating in only Denver and Orlando airports—SFO will be the third. CLEAR says that it’s got other airports in the pipeline for opening later this year, but it will not name names at this point.

Is CLEAR as necessary as it once was? Over the last year, unexpectedly long lines at airport security at SFO have rarely tripped me up. Travelers and the TSA seem to have gotten the process down to a science. But there is the occasional scare when entering United’s Terminal 3 and seeing a queue (even the special one for premium or elite level travelers) snaking beyond the roped off area.

When it shut down in 2009, CLEAR was operating at all three Bay Area airports and had 40,000 members in the region. CLEAR is honoring membership from all prior members—click here to reactivate. New members can join here.

So what do you think, dear frequent travelers? Is it worth $179 to have the peace of mind that you’ll make it through the airport security gauntlet quickly? Please leave your comments below. And stay tuned for an update once the CLEAR lines open at SFO.

(Chris McGinnis publishes The BAT and The TICKET blogs for frequent travelers.  He’s also the Business Travel Columnist for BBC.com. Do you have comments or questions about this post? Email Chris.)