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United’s silver sedans + iPads inflight + Virgin fees up + RelayRides SFO + more

Sorry for the recent lag in updates! Let’s catch up on Bay Area Travel (BAT!) news right now! Due to the info overload, I’ve split this post into two parts… Part One today, Part Two arrives tomorrow!

United has deployed two silver Mercedes at Houston IAH to shuttle arriving passengers. (Photo: United)

United has deployed two silver Mercedes at Houston IAH to shuttle arriving passengers. (Photo: United)

UNITED PERKS INCLUDE MERCS. If you have Global Services status or fly in first class to or through Houston, United might pick you up in a new Mercedes sedan at the jet bridge when you land and then drive you to your next flight. The new service is similar to what Lufthansa offers first class passengers at its super elite first class terminal in Frankfurt. It’s also very similar to the Porsche rides Delta has been surprising its super elite with at Atlanta airport. Currently United is using silver S or GL class models “to surprise and delight our top customers who may be anxious about missing a connecting flight.” Right now it’s only in Houston, but United is saying that it could add it at “another United hub” in the future. Have you received this rock star treatment yet? What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

Here's my view of the Asiana 214 crash as I flew in from Atlanta on a Delta 767 on July 11. What a sight! (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s my view of the Asiana 214 crash as I flew in from Atlanta on a Delta 767 on July 11. What a sight! (Chris McGinnis)

ASIANA AFTERMATH. Asiana will re-number its daily flight between Seoul and SFO in light of the recent crash. What was Asiana flight 214 will become Asiana flight 212 from Seoul and flight 211 for the return SFO-Seoul flight according to the AirlineRoute.net website. It also reports that United has quietly canceled its code share agreement with Asiana on this route only due to the ongoing investigation of the accident. United has its own 747 deployed on the SFO-ICN route every day. In similar news, in light of the Asiana accident, the FAA will no longer allow foreign carriers to touch down side-by-side with other airlines as they sometimes do on clear days at SFO. Domestic carriers will still be able to touch down in tandem.

IPAD OR KINDLE IN FLIGHT? Remember hearing that the FAA was convening a passel of experts to determine if it was okay for us to use our iPads or Kindles during take off, landing and taxi? The group was to have made their recommendations this week. But they didn’t. They’ve asked for an extension on a decision until Sept. 30. Bah!

RelayRides come-on to SFO travelers-- avoid airport parking fees, get a free car wash.

RelayRides come-on to SFO travelers- avoid airport parking fees, get a free car wash.

ARRESTING DRIVERS AT SFO.  NBC Bay Area reports: “In the past month, San Francisco International Airport officials have been citing and arresting drivers from mobile-app enabled rideshare companies that pick up and drop off passengers. Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said there have been seven citizen arrests issued to various offenders since July 10.  The airport had issued cease and desist letters to several rideshare companies, including Lyft, Sidecar and Uber, in April. Since then, Yakel said airport officials, in conjunction with airport police, had been ‘admonishing’ drivers that came to the airport. Yakel said the companies are not permitted to offer their services at SFO and they are now being arrested for unlawful trespassing.” While the situation sounds increasingly bellicose, yet another company, Relay Rides has opened up shop down by the airport. Relay Rides (with services similar to FlightCar) is hoping to get around airport rules by operating out of the Aloft SFO airport hotel parking lots and having its customers use existing hotel shuttles to get to/from the airport. An SFO spokesperson told The BAT: “Relay Rides contacted us to request the information to get permitted to operate with SFO. They’re not permitted yet, but we have provided the information to them.” What do you think? Is it fair to let this new and disruptive breed of “sharing” services operate without paying its dues at the airport? Would you consider renting out your car parked at SFO to avoid $18/day parking fees? Please leave your comments below. 

VIRGIN AMERICA ALTERS UPGRADE FEES. Upgrades to Virgin’s Main Cabin Select up to 24 hours before flight time now range from $39 (short haul west coast flights) to $159 (transcons). Upgrade fees to first from Main Cabin Select are up significantly- now $50 to $240, up from the previous $39 to $169. Upgrades from standard coach to first class are now $89 to $299. While higher fees and fares are painful for travelers, they could spell salvation for our hometown carrier, which has struggled to post profits in its five years of existence. Stay tuned for Virgin’s financial reporting for summer quarter due out next week.

PS FLIGHTS SFO-JFK UPDATE. United’s new TV spot for transcon p.s. flights seems a tad early considering there are only four of 15 refurbished p.s. flights flying between SFO, New York and LAX. It’s tough to tell, but I’m hearing that LAX is seeing more refurbished planes than SFO. Have you been on one? Thoughts or observations?  

United's 757-200 refurbished

United’s 757-200 refurbished- the one to look for when booking SFO-JFK in biz class

HOW TO BOOK A REFURBISHED 757? How to tell if the plane/flight you are booking is refurbished?  Go to united.com to book a flight. Before selecting a flight, click on the “View Seats” link and look for the 757 that has 28 business class seats. Keep in mind that United reserves the right to swap around planes, so you may not always get what you think.

JETBLUE SUITES TO JFK? As the battle for the premium transcon passenger heats up, JetBlue is apparently considering adding four enclosed “mini-suites” on its transcon A321 aircraft. While JetBlue remains hush-hush on the topic, the blogosphere lit up last month when plans for the plush new seats were uncovered in a filing with the FAA and revealed by the APEX Editors Blog.

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ALASKA AIR FEES UP. Starting October 30, the fee to change an Alaska Air ticket within 60 days of departure will cost $125, up from $75. Gold or 75K MVP members will continue to have the fee waived. Checked bag fees on Alaska are now $25 each for the first or second bag, and a steep $75 for the third. Elite level members of Mileage Plan, Delta SkyMiles and American AAdvantage get can check two bags for free.

The world's first "edgy" hotel: Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Copenhagen (Chris McGinnis)

The world’s first “edgy” hotel: Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Copenhagen (Chris McGinnis)

COPENHAGEN ON BIZ? Remember when I wrote a trip report about my flight to Copenhagen on the SAS inaugural SFO-CPH run last spring? Here’s part of the result of that trip, my BBC Business Trip: Copenhagen story. I think the Danish city might be one of the best in the world for business travelers. Check out the story (and slideshow!) and see if you agree.

MORE CLEAR. Clear expedited security lines will open this fall at Houston’s Intercontinental and Hobby airports. The service also recently opened at San Antonio. Clear operates at every entry point at SFO. Do you use Clear? What do you think? How does it compare to PreCheck? Please leave your comments below.

SILVERCAR RENTALS FOR FREE? Silvercar, the new rental car company with a fleet of silver Audi A4s (only) is giving away two free rental days in Dallas or Austin between now and August 15. Catch: you must fly Virgin America by Aug 15 and book by tomorrow, July 31! Details here.

SINGAPORE AIR OVERHAUL. Singapore Airlines will overhaul eight of its Boeing 777-300ER jets starting this September. Those nice wide sofa-like biz class seats will get new 18-inch inflight entertainment screens and more stowage space. Best of all, the planes will get the newest version of Singapore’s excellent Krisworld in-flight entertainment, which will feature touch screen hand controllers. Economy class passengers will have access to the same content (1000+ movies, programs) on larger seatback screens. Plus, economy class seats get a revamp adding an extra inch of knee room and more cushioning. CNN asks if it could be the “world’s best economy class.” However, there is no firm date set for the arrival of Singapore’s overhauled 777s at SFO. Stay tuned.

-Chris McGinnis

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New boarding procedure at SFO + Virgin PreCheck + CLEAR/PreCheck integration

United's new boarding area queues at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

United’s new boarding area queues at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

NEW BOARDING PROCEDURE AT SFO. United has installed new gate layouts at SFO and other US airports to help better manage the boarding process. Instead of waiting to board in bunches, each group is now divided into separate boarding lines in the following order:

  • Group 1 -  Global Services, Premier 1K, Premier Platinum, first, biz class
  • Group 2 -  Premier Gold, Star Gold, Premier Alliance Silver, Star Alliance Silver, paid Premier Access, Chase Club Card and Chase Presidential Plus Card holders
  • Group 3 -  All Economy Plus and regular economy window seats (most likely to get overhead bin space)
  • Group 4 -  Regular economy middle seats
  • Group 5 -  Regular economy aisle seats (least likely to get overhead bin space)

I flew United to Boston last week and have to say that the new system seems to be working well, even if it does remind me of the frequently derided Southwest Airlines “cattle call.” United claims the new boarding process is 20% faster. What do you think? Have you been through the new boarding process? Please leave your comments below.

Precheck logo TMVIRGIN JOINS PRECHECK. No airline can claim to coddle business travelers unless they are part of the wildly popular PreCheck program, which offers member access to TSA’s “trusted traveler” fast lanes at 40+ airports across the US. Last week, Virgin America joined American, Delta, United and US Airways as the PreCheck’s fourth US airline. (Southwest Airlines says, “we are working on it.”) This means that  members of Virgin’s Elevate program who are part of Global Entry or similar trusted traveler programs offered by Customs and Border Protection can now pass through special security lanes that do not require the removal of shoes, belts or coats and laptops can stay inside carry-on bags for x-ray screening. If you are already a member of PreCheck through another airline, be sure to add your PASS ID to your Virgin America profile! IMPORTANT: Members of PreCheck are randomly chosen—while it’s likely you’ll hear those lovely “three beeps” when your boarding pass is scanned by agents, it’s not guaranteed like CLEAR. For more information on PreCheck, Clear and Global Entry, be sure to see our post, The No-Hassle Travel Trifecta.

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CLEAR, PRECHECK INTEGRATION AT SFO. Clear and PreCheck are integrating operatons at SFO. PreCheck is currently located in T3 (main United entrypoint) and T2 (American and Virgin America) at SFO. (Even though United operates flights out of T1, there is no PreCheck lane there.) As part of the integration, CLEAR  says that Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 12.47.21 PMwill soon add  a location adjacent to PreCheck United Premier/First/Business security entrypoint on the western end of T3. Once the integration is complete, CLEAR members who also qualify for PreCheck will enter security under the CLEAR cube, and then get an escort to the PreCheck lane. How will it work? CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker told The BAT: “It is the exact same CLEAR process as today, but when we scan the boarding pass, we not only do a name match, but our system can read also the embedded barcode to determine whether a member is PreCheck eligible for that particular trip. If eligible, the member is guided to the PreCheck physical screening lane.”

ONE YEAR OF CLEAR AT SFO. Last week CLEAR celebrated one full year at SFO and provided The BAT with the following tidbits: There are now six CLEAR lanes at SFO (at least one at every terminal) and the company has created 50 jobs in the Bay Area. CLEAR members have passed through CLEAR lanes at SFO over a million times. Nearly 200 Bay Area companies offer corporate plans to help their frequent travelers steer clear of security lines. San Francisco is home to the largest number of active CLEAR members.

ROCKETMILES REMINDER. Remember when we recently wrote about the new mega-mileage bonuses offered by new sites like Rocketmiles and Pointshound? These sites curate upscale hotels in major cities and offer travelers huge airline mileage bonuses for bookings made through them. For today only, Rocketmiles is offering DOUBLE miles on hotel bookings- so if you have any trips coming up, today would be the day to make those bookings. Plus, since we signed on for referral bonuses from Rocketmiles, we earn 1000 miles for each booking you make from this link- and so do you!

Have you seen the new-style Global Entry kiosks at SFO? (Chris McGinnis)

Have you seen the new-style Global Entry kiosks at SFO? (Chris McGinnis)

LINES FOR GLOBAL ENTRY KIOSKS? Last month BAT reader D.I. wrote in stating: “Just arrived on UA 838 from Tokyo and the Global Entry Kiosk line stretched to the entry to the hall (where you turn left to go to the kiosks).   Average line size seems to be increasing, which diminishes the value of this perk.  Any news on whether more kiosks are coming?” Seemed surprising since nearly every time I’ve entered the US via Global Entry kiosk, the wait (if there was one at all) was more like one minute. So I asked DI for more details. He said, “There were at least 50 people in line and it took about ten minutes. Actually this was faster than two weeks ago when the line was shorter but two of the kiosks weren’t working and also there were a number of people who weren’t familiar with the machines. On the good side, there is now an agent there helping people work the machines and to make sure people don’t wait when there are open machines down the line.” Have you noticed back ups at Global Entry kiosks at SFO or elsewhere? Please leave your comments/experiences below.

-Chris McGinnis

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The no-hassle travel trifecta

ClearLines

Airport security lines could swell at SFO. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

With sequester-mandated budget cuts at the TSA (and the possibility of delays at understaffed security checkpoints) giving frequent travelers and the media the heebee-geebees, now is the time for BATs to invest in what I call the “no-hassle travel trifecta.”

This tripartite plan for avoiding airport bottlenecks involves signing up for three tools that will help you sail through airport lines with a smile: CLEAR, Global Entry and PreCheck.

1) CLEAR Card- $179 per year.

CLEAR, which operates at SFO as well as airports in Dallas/Ft Worth, Denver, New York-Westchester County and Orlando, provides guaranteed access to the front of the standard security lines (even ahead of those in airline elite level lines) for an annual fee of $179.

Members still have to remove shoes, laptops, etc. There are CLEAR lanes at all entrances at all terminals, including international, at SFO.  CLEAR’s biggest selling point is that it guarantees access to the front of the line—and this certainty about the airport experience is very valuable to time-pressed frequent travelers. Over the last few months, lines have been so short at SFO that I’ve not had to use my CLEAR card… but the few times it saved me from 20-30 minute waits have made it worth the $179 fee.

While CLEAR won’t reveal how many subscribers it has, this week it said that cardholders have sped through airport security one million times over the last two years. (Click here for a free two-month trial of CLEAR.)

2) Global Entry - $100 for five years

Directional signs to Global Entry kiosks at SFO

Directional signs to Global Entry kiosks at SFO

Last month, I arrived at SFO from Puerto Vallarta at about the same time that two full jumbos jets from Asia arrived. Waits at immigration queues were 30-45 minutes—the entire arrivals hall was packed. With Global Entry, I was able to sneak off to a special queue, and along with a handful of other savvy travelers, use one of four Global Entry kiosks… and ended up getting to the airport curb in less than five minutes. The friends I was traveling with were not amused!

To get a Global Entry card, you must fill out an online application, and then appear at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office at SFO for a personal interview, and allow agents to take a photo and few biometric measures. The $100 fee is good for five years. Last year, United Airlines began reimbursing the fee for “premier priority” Mileage Plus members. The American Express Platinum card does the same. As a result of these incentives, I have learned from BAT readers that the current wait time for an interview at the CBP office is 2-4 months! And if sequester cuts kick in, waits could be even longer.

According to CBP, more than 1.4 million trusted travelers now have Global Entry benefits. SFO is one of 34 airports in the United Sates and 10 pre-clearance locations in Canada and Ireland with Global Entry kiosks. In Australia, Global Entry cardholders can now use the country’s SmartGate kiosks for expedited immigration processing. Sign up here: www.globalentry.gov

3) PreCheck (Free for Global Entry cardholders, elite flyers) 

Precheck logo TMPreCheck offers certain high mileage frequent flyers access to special, faster lanes at airport security that do not require them to remove their shoes, belts or coats, or take their laptops out of their bags for screening. At SFO, there are only two PreCheck lanes: One at United’s premium or elite level member checkpoint (“F3”) in Terminal 3; the other at the joint American/Virgin America checkpoint at Terminal 2. Both PreCheck lanes are located on the far left side of the checkpoints. There are no PreCheck lanes at the international terminal checkpoints because PreCheck is for domestic passengers only.

In order to be able to use PreCheck lanes at SFO, you must be a US citizen, opt in to an invitation from United or American or request an invitation from United here (requires Mileage Plus sign in).  American Airlines AAdvantage members can opt in here.

In addition all Global Entry, Nexus and other card-carrying trusted travelers that hold special clearance from US Customs and Border Protection (see above) are eligible for PreCheck. For the process to work, be sure to enter your Global Entry number on your airline frequent flier program profile.

The most important thing to know about PreCheck is that selection is random—which means that even of you have obtained PreCheck status, you are NOT guaranteed access to the PreCheck lane. You will only know that you are selected for the PreCheck lane when you arrive at airport security and allow the agent to scan your boarding pass or smart phone. Three beeps from the scanner means that you can proceed to the PreCheck lane. One beep means that you must enter the (likely longer) non-PreCheck line for standard screening. For security reasons, the TSA will not reveal its selection criteria.

Do YOU have the no-hassle travel trifecta yet? Please leave your comments below. 

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PreCheck trusted traveler lanes arrive at SFO

Look for the PreCheck logo at SFO starting next Wednesday, Nov 14.

It’s official: Starting on Wednesday, November 14,  the TSA’s popular PreCheck trusted traveler security lanes make their long-awaited debut at San Francisco International Airport.

PreCheck offers certain high mileage frequent flyers access to special, faster lanes at airport security that do not require them to remove their shoes, belts or coats, or take their laptops out of their bags for screening. SFO is one of the last major airports in the US to get PreCheck.

Initially, there will be only two PreCheck lanes: One at United’s premium or elite level member checkpoint (“F3”) in Terminal 3; the other at the joint American/Virgin America checkpoint at Terminal 2. Both PreCheck lanes will be located on the far left side of the checkpoints with PreCheck directional signage.

There will be no PreCheck lanes at the international terminal checkpoints because PreCheck is for domestic passengers only.

Only specially selected passengers flying United or American can use PreCheck lanes when they open on Wednesday.

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There is no definitive word yet on when or whether Alaska, Delta or US Airways passengers will see PreCheck lanes at Terminal 1.  A Delta spokeswoman told The BAT, “We will continue to keep an eye on the number of our customers [in the Bay Area] who participate in PreCheck.  As that number grows, a specially designated PreCheck line is possible in the future.”

For now, Virgin America passengers cannot use PreCheck lanes at T2 because the carrier is not yet part of PreCheck, which the TSA still considers a pilot program. Virgin spokesperson Jennifer Thomas said, “Carriers need a certain number of eligible participants in their frequent flyer programs for TSA to accept them into the testing and initial operation of the program. TSA recently expanded that pool, and as a result we are now working with them on this and hope to be in - in the near future.”

In order to be able to use PreCheck lanes at SFO, you must first opt in to an invitation from United or American or sign up here. You can request an invitation from United here (requires Mileage Plus sign in). American Airlines AAdvantage members can opt in here.

In addition all Global Entry, Nexus and other card-carrying trusted travelers that hold special clearance from US Customs and Border Protection are eligible for PreCheck.

PreCheck or CLEAR?

Starting next Wednesday security checkpoints at SFO will have THREE special fast lanes for frequent travelers: PreCheck,  CLEAR  and airline first class/elite lines. These three options are all slightly different.

CLEAR, which operates at SFO as well as airports in Dallas/Ft Worth, Denver and Orlando, provides guaranteed access to the front of the standard security lines for an annual fee of $179. Members still have to remove shoes, laptops, etc. There are CLEAR lanes at all entrances at all terminals, including international, at SFO.  CLEAR’s  biggest selling point is that it guarantees access to the front of the line—and this certainty about the airport experience is very valuable to time-pressed frequent travelers. (Click here for a free two-month trial of  CLEAR )

The most important thing to know about PreCheck is that selection is random—which means that even of you have obtained PreCheck status, you are NOT guaranteed access to the PreCheck lane. You will only know that you are selected for the PreCheck lane when you arrive at airport security and allow the agent to scan your boarding pass or smartphone. Three beeps from the scanner means that you can proceed to the PreCheck lane. One beep means that you must enter the (likely longer) non-PreCheck line for standard screening. For security reasons, the TSA will not reveal its selection criteria. PreCheck is a free program if you are one of the lucky few chosen by your airline for this status. If not, you can buy your way into PreCheck status by spending $100 to get Global Entry from Customs and Border Protection (which provides access to faster kiosks vs immigration lines when returning to the US from abroad).

For those who have CLEAR and PreCheck,  CLEAR just announced that it has been approved to integrate PreCheck eligible CLEAR members into the PreCheck screening lane after they verify with CLEAR. “We are working with the airports and local TSA to operationalize the integration, which will hopefully be done soon,” said CLEAR spokesperson Nora O’Malley.

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Finally, if you are flying in first or business class, or are an elite level member of an airline frequent flyer program, you will have access to a special, shorter (most of the time) security line. United recently discontinued its Premier Line option, which allowed non-elite members to pay a fee for access to faster elite security lines.

So which line makes the most sense for you? Will you opt-in for PreCheck? Spend $100 for Global Entry? Pay $179 for guaranteed CLEAR access? Or just stick with what you’ve got? Please leave your comments below!

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Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

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Sponsor:  

For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.

 

 

✈ Bypassing security lines with CLEAR at SFO

CLEAR lanes are fast lanes at SFO security (Photo taken June 25)

Did you know that July is the busiest month of the year for air travel? As summer crowds begin to swell at SFO, frequent travelers are increasingly facing longer than expected lines at security… except for those who subscribe to the $179 CLEAR card, which cranked up operations at SFO in May.

From the looks of this photo, regular security lines during peak summer season are becoming reliably long, while CLEAR lines are reliably short…or even non-existent.

CLEAR is not revealing how many new subscribers it has in the Bay Area right now- the only number I could coax out of them was that members had used CLEAR lanes 600,000 times since the service re-started in 2010. The company also claims that 80% of its users in Denver and Orlando have returned since the company re-opened CLEAR lanes at airports in those cities. Prior to shutting down in 2009, CLEAR had 40,000 members in the Bay Area.

See the quiet CLEAR line at the bottom of this photo?

Currently, CLEAR has cranked up service in Orlando, Denver, San Francisco and just this week at Terminal E at Dallas Ft Worth. While it says it is working on getting back into other airports, it won’t name names.

To convince more of us to jump for the $179 annual subscription, CLEAR has started to layer on extras meant to appeal to frequent travelers. For example, they are offering a free one-year gold membership to the Regus network of workspaces and offices around the world. New members can also get a free three-month trial of of TripIt Pro, a service that helps travelers consolidate and keep track of their travel reservations. They are also offering free two-month trial memberships to those who have never been CLEAR members before.

Even with airline elite status, security lines are still rather unpredictable, especially in airline hub cities with a lot of frequent flyers (i.e. United hubs here at SFO or in Denver) so CLEAR execs are heavily promoting how having a CLEAR card provides predictability and no surprises when it comes to airport security. For a busy business traveler, this means leaving for the airport at the last minute and knowing that you won’t face a long wait at airport security.

Is that peace of mind worth $179 a year? Are airport security lines still a hassle or headache for you? Have your tried or re-activated your CLEAR membership? I’m waiting to renew mine until my heavy travel schedule kicks in this September. What about you? Please leave your comments below! 

If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

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CLEAR security lanes return to SFO

CLEAR, which offers expedited access to airport security lines for $179/year, announced today it will launch its service at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on May 23, just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend travel crush.

CLEAR lanes will be located at every terminal at SFO, allowing every passenger on any airline to use their biometrics to speed through security. “We are thrilled to bring CLEAR’s biometric platform to San Francisco, a city synonymous with innovation and efficiency. SFO joins CLEAR’s growing network of airport partners bringing much needed speed and predictability to the travel experience,” said CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker.

CLEAR Lanes are now available only at Orlando and Denver. SFO will be the third airport to join since the company sprang back to life after a hasty retreat in 2009. Dallas-Ft Worth Airport is apparently next on the list, although no formal date has been announced.

CLEAR says it has a base of more than 200,000 members across the U.S., including about 40,000 in San Francisco. San Francisco International is introducing CLEAR says the launch means 85 new private sector jobs, enhanced security, and new revenue for the airport. For more info, see www.CLEARme.com.

Interested? Is predictability at airport security worth $179 per year? Please leave your comments below.

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.)