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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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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.

 

 

Why isn’t popular PreCheck at SFO?

Map of TSA PreCheck locations across the US. What’s missing from this picture?

By now every frequent traveler has heard about the TSA’s innovative and very popular PreCheck trusted traveler program.

In a nutshell, 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. (When I was chosen to pass through a PreCheck line last summer in Atlanta, the process reminded me of pre-9/11 security… a breeze. I was through in less than a minute and walked away with a big smile on my face.)

The introduction of the speedy new PreCheck lanes has been one of the best things the TSA has ever done for frequent travelers. It has been a roaring success in terms of passenger satisfaction as well as PR for the frequently maligned agency. To date, 3 million travelers have passed through PreCheck lanes at 26 airports across the country- the most recent addition is United’s hub at Washington-Dulles. It’s also at United hubs in Newark (C3), Houston and  Chicago. Even LAX has it!

There’s only one problem: Not a single Bay Area airport has PreCheck yet.

Why not? Well, it’s been tough for me to get a good answer from the airport or the TSA… and I’ve been asking and asking ever since the program rolled out last year. I’ve been hearing from BAT readers, too wondering why we don’t have it at a major hub airport like SFO or even OAK or SJC.

Last week I got a hopeful response from SFO spokesperson Mike McCarron: “It is ultimately up to the airlines to work out the arrangement with the TSA.  From what we understand, PreCheck should start showing up with United and Delta about mid-November.” All the TSA will say is that it “will be in 35 airports by the end of 2012.”

Virgin America spokesperson Abby Lunardini told The BAT, “We’re in discussions with TSA and are supportive of program and hope we can offer to Virgin America’s T2 guests in the near future — but there is no definitive roll out date yet.”

So there you have it…. I guess we’ll just have to sit back and wait our turn. Stay tuned to The BAT for updates and a big announcement when PreCheck finally arrives- hopefully this November.

Have you enjoyed PreCheck at other airports? Have you used CLEAR lanes at SFO yet? Are you finding airport security a bit more manageable now that the summer crowds have gone home? Please leave your comments below. 

>Chris McGinnis

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✈ 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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