American Airlines Blocking CLEAR From Setting Up Expedited Security Lines

CLEAR lets you skip to the front of the security line. You use a fingerprint for identification and even if you’re precheck you go ahead of everyone that’s waiting to have their ID checked.

Delta made an investment in CLEAR two years ago, and they’ve given out free memberships to top elites (and offered discounts to SkyMiles members). Clear initially shut down in 2009. It’s assets were purchased out of bankruptcy a year later for about $6 million.

Delta’s investment and assistance has helped them to expand, and in turn Delta got their biometric technology which they’ve experimented with for aircraft boarding and for SkyClub access. In the future you should be able to check bags based on fingerprints rather than showing ID.


Philadelphia

I like CLEAR because PreCheck lines occasionally get long. I’m finally going to break down and pay for it. It will give me certainty about how much time I need to get through the airport, which means arriving ten minutes later. Ten minutes later on each side of a roundtrip, 50 weeks a year, is 1000 minutes or 16 hours of my life back.

  • To be ‘clear’ I may not wait 10 minutes every time at PreCheck or even most of the time. I’d just rather not have to plan for it in case I need to.

  • And CLEAR isn’t everywhere, in fact it isn’t in most airports, but it is in my home airport of Austin and many others that I fly to.


Austin

Interestingly it isn’t in many American Airlines hubs. It’s available at Washington National and at LAX’s terminal 4 (and terminal 5 which American shares). At Dallas Fort-Worth it’s only in the E terminal which largely houses US and Canadian airlines not named American. There’s no CLEAR for Miami’s D concourse. There’s also no CLEAR in Phoenix or Charlotte.

I did a little digging around about why. The scuttlebutt seemed to be that this is because of American’s refusal to allow it. I reached out to American to see what was going on, and an American Airlines spokesperson confirms this telling me,

Our view is the best way to speed up the screening process is to invest in new technology, like Computed Tomography, and focus on getting more passengers enrolled in TSA PreCheck.


Dallas Fort-Worth

I don’t think that CLEAR makes airports much safer, but then TSA employees patting down passengers and x-raying bags doesn’t do a whole lot to catch dangerous items either.

And indeed American is probably correct that computer imaging of bags is likely to be more effective than the screening sitting behind the x-ray machine, getting up to talk to his co-workers, poorly trained and getting bored.


Washington National

Contra American I think that ‘getting more passengers enrolled in TSA PreCheck’ is going to make matters worse. Already PreCheck lines get long, they’re about to start signing people up in office supply stores and until TSA improves its staffing models having CLEAR as a backup makes a lot of sense for travelers.

CLEAR isn’t a long term solution, it’s a band aid, but sometimes that’s what you need when you’re bleeding. It takes up space and can’t be accommodated everywhere, but it’s sad to see customers inconvenienced and not able to do anything about it because American chooses not to allow the only workaround available that can be implemented today.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I think some background on how AA is able to block this in the first place would be helpful. I would’ve thought that the TSA checkpoints and security screening areas are not under the control of any particular airline, so how is AA able to do this?

  2. Also, I really wish one of the premium credit cards would start offering a discount on Clear Membership instead of yet another Global Entry/TSA PRE credit.

  3. They’ve been hiring for CLEAR in PHX but it’s been going on for months- now I know why…

  4. Wow, AS is so powerful and mighty that they can block anything and anyone from doing business. Maybe AA is blocking Southwest from DFW, which explains why they aren’t at DFW nor ORD.

  5. A side benefit of Delta’s investment in CLEAR is that it is free to Delta Diamonds. CLEAR has been a great benefit when it is available. I would not pay for it now due to limited availability. CLEAR periodically sends codes to its members for free three month memberships. You can give the codes to anyone, and I believe there is no limit on the number of times the codes can be used.

    Curious that AA blocks CLEAR at Austin when there is a CLEAR lane at DFW Terminal D.

    Another way to speed the security process is using bomb-sniffing dogs. When that happens everyone is treated as TSAPre.

  6. I am thankful that Clear is not everywhere. It’s terrible at SJC during peak hours where seemingly half the people have signed up for Clear.

    It is just another service to pay for and it makes the PreCheck lanes slower for those not paying for it. Clear doesn’t actually save much time in reviewing IDs, it’s only faster because they get to skip the queue.

    Clear should need to pay for their own separate security lanes if they want to offer the service, completely separate from the PreCheck lanes.

  7. Also given that Amex and Delta collaborate on deciding where to put Centurion lounges (mostly not where Delta is based, or where Delta needs more capacity), it seems only fair that AA returns the favor by blocking Clear at its airports.

  8. Unless something has changed in the past month and the Clear website does not reflect it is offered at DCA.

  9. I have always hoped that CLEAR would open up at ORD–one of my much detested airports–and I have family there so I go there fairly often. Now I understand. And am angry!

  10. Getting more passengers enrolled in TSA Pre will make matters worse for those who have TSA Pre, but will speed up the security process for the system overall. Making things worse for passengers with TSA Pre makes CLEAR more valuable and more desirable.

  11. Love CLEAR, works great in many locations. Totally garbage that AA is playing games, even if it is a bandaid.

  12. I agree with john, though I’d add that it is possible that increased PreCheck signups could prompt airports to switch more lanes to PreCheck.

  13. Nothing in your comments gave evidence that AA is blocking CLEAR, only that they are pursuing other means to the same end. Meanwhile, your title is rather sensational and allow you to beat up on your favorite punching bag.

  14. Dylan made the key point here: “Clear doesn’t actually save much time in reviewing IDs, it’s only faster because they get to skip the queue.

    Clear should need to pay for their own separate security lanes if they want to offer the service, completely separate from the PreCheck lanes.”

    PreCheck is different, because it makes the security process more efficient, so it has the potential to speed things up for everyone. Clear just helps one group of passengers by hurting another group.

  15. I use CLEAR as opposed to TSA Pre-Check, although I noticed that since having CLEAR all of my boarding passes as now marked for Pre-Check, so even in those airports where there is no CLEAR I can utilize the Pre-Check line.

    I like having CLEAR because let’s face it, the employees are far more polite than those at the TSA.

    It’s a shame that AA can block CLEAR access. They copy Delta in so many other areas, why not follow their example with CLEAR?

  16. I have TSA pre and CLEAR but fly United and AA mostly. It’s frustrating that I can’t use it more often but it is a huge time saver in Denver for sure. DFW seems to only have one weird check point with CLEAR and I think IAH has one in Terminal A. It’s just so random.

  17. Clear should pay for their own security TSA lanes. Glad AA didn’t/doesn’t want clear services.

  18. @Mark did you miss the part where AA confirms they are blocking clear? [And by the way I had this separately from an airport and from clear]

  19. @HoKo – each airport is different in some places the airport itself can do a deal with clear (LAX, DCA) while at others the airline controls the terminal.

  20. Savvy travelers always have to be one step ahead of the crowd. Right now CLEAR offers that advantage at the airports where CLEAR is offered. TSA pre-check has become a joke. I can’t tell you how many airports I’ve been to recently where the TSA pre-check line is longer than the regular line. And so many of the newbies don’t know how to go through efficiently, doing things like taking off their shoes or removing their computers. So for now, I LOVE CLEAR. I just wish they had it in more places. The last time I went through Denver, they had CLEAR, and that one experience alone was worth it, Denver regular line and TSA pre-check lines are SO BAD.

  21. Random comments:

    @Don in Atlanta —> I couldn’t agree more!

    @Marvelous Martha —> You wrote (in part) “Wow, AS is so powerful and mighty that they can block anything and anyone from doing business.” I *presume* this is a typo and you didn’t really mean “AS” (Alaska Airlines), but rather “AA” (American).

    @Dylan —>. You wrote (in part), “It [CLEAR] is just another service to pay for and it makes the PreCheck lanes slower for those not paying for it. Clear [sic] doesn’t actually save much time in reviewing IDs, it’s only faster because they get to skip the queue.” I would disagree, on multiple counts. 1) I find it saves A LOT OF TIME when it comes to checking someone’s identity. A quick read of fingerprints or a scan of one’s iris is much faster than having a TSA agent (or an employee of a private security contractor) tick off every item on a passport or driver license, every item on a boarding pass. 2) At SFO (*my* home airport, as opposed to SJC), LAS, LAX, DAL, DCA, SEA, etc., the *longest* line for CLEAR has been 5-6 people. (SJC may be different; I haven’t flown in or out of SJC since the 1980s.). Then, I am led past a line of 30, 40 people, past the TSA agent, and I’m in line to drop my carry-on through the X-ray machine. There has *never* been an occasion when this has not saved me a significant amount of time and while this may be a “YMMV” situation, I am quite happy to pay for CLEAR for both my wife and myself. Indeed, my only complaint is that it’s not available at T7 @ JFK due to its remodel.

  22. Spoken like someone who doesn’t hav CLEAR, and gets ticked off whenever those that do get to skip the line…

  23. I’m so glad that clear is not available at Newark, and that some airlines are resisting it. The goal needs to be to speed things up for everybody and get more people into TSA Pre (which eventually will mean that most TSA officers work TSA Pre lines — in other words, very fast screening). Even when TSA pre has long lines, they usually move extremely fast.
    It’s in the airline’s interest to improve the screening situation for regular, non-elite flyers, and not have passengers be frustrated by watching people skip the line.

  24. Yes, listen to AA and get more enrolled in Pre-Check. With that and all the (self-imagined) elites clamouring to get to the head of their dedicated lines, the ‘general hoi poloi” line will be almost deserted, allowing the casual flyer a quick ‘n easy pass through.

  25. Seems like lots of wild comments here so far. My understanding of CLEAR is that their presence or lack thereof is up to the specific airport authority ($) which if you want to play in ATL, DL better like you and if you want to be in CLT, AA better like you. Their presence isn’t free just like any other airport concession. Now as far as paying TSA “more” money? Why should they. Clear PAX know how to travel more than the lottery winning precheck random traveler and btw, that extra biometric data info you give to them (retina scans still going?) are a bit of a commodity for TSA and whoever else they end up selling it to (ie google)?

    I don’t have clear personally but will I sell my eyeballs if I legit think I can save 20min per checkin, sure but so far I don’t see it as a time saver.

  26. @SRobert – Not sure where you are looking but this is on the Clear website:

    DCA

    TERMINAL A
    Gates 1-10
    CLEAR Lane and Enrollment

    TERMINAL B
    South Checkpoint (Gates 10-22)
    CLEAR Lane and Enrollment

    TERMINAL B/C
    Center Checkpoint (Gates 23-34)
    CLEAR Lane and Enrollment

    TERMINAL C
    North Checkpoint (Gates 35-45)
    CLEAR Lane and Enrollment

  27. Love Clear and happily pay the fee every year. Like Gary, it saves me time every trip because I usually start at SFO. Saves even more time entering baseball games. Not sure why all the hate because every person in a Clear line is one that is not in a precheck line or a regular line so it saves time for everyone. Yes we cut to the front but nobody is stopping you from paying for the same privilege – it costs less than upgrading to F on most flights and is good for the whole year.

  28. I was fine with Clear in its first iteration years ago when it was a separate dedicated security channel.

    I’d perhaps be happier if PreCheck areas also had a first class/preferred lane during busier times for the id check phase, which is effectively what Clear is charging for.

  29. @8bb8b8 —> You wrote, “My understanding of CLEAR is that their presence or lack thereof is up to the specific airport authority ($) which if you want to play in ATL, DL better like you and if you want to be in CLT, AA better like you.”

    Did you miss what Gary Leff wrote in response to HoKo? In part, he said “…each airport is different in some places the airport itself can do a deal with clear (LAX, DCA) while at others the airline controls the terminal.” In other words you are right some of the time (it’s up to the specific airport authority), and you’re wrong some of the time (it’s up to the airline).

    But note: Gary said that, at some airports, “the airline controls the terminal.” Further explanation is needed.

    /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

    @Gary, that’s fine if one airline takes over an entire terminal (e.g.: United is the only airline @SFO-T3; Southwest is the only carrier to operate out of OAK’s T2). But what happens if multiple airlines operate out of the same terminal? In that case, does the dominate airline control, or in all cases is it the airport authority that controls the terminal?

    SFO’s T2, for example, is home to AA and VX(now AS), and CLEAR *is* available in T2, but is that due to the ruling authority that governs SFO, or that the airlines agreed to let CLEAR in?

  30. @Jason Brandt Lewis – an airline can literally own a terminal, even if multiple airlines operate out of that terminal. An airline’s lease can give it veto power over commercial enterprises in the terminal as well.

    Basically if AA has veto power through lease or ownership they’re not letting CLEAR operate. Where CLEAR operates and AA is in the terminal it’s because AA has no say.

  31. CLEAR is ESSENTIAL at DCA on an average morning before 7am. Everyone has precheck and the line is across the terminal. CLEAR is the only way I can make my flight on time. And I would give anything for AA to have it at JFK as well.

  32. On June 22, 2018, I was flying out of Denver airport after a business meeting. I had timed my arrival with assumption I can go through TS precheck, for which I am enrolled. At the TSA precheck line, 2 CLEAR employees stopped me, told me that I will have to wait 15 minutes to be able to use TSA precheck, but however, if I sign up for CLEAR they will let me through. I told them my flight was leaving in 40 minutes, but they didn’t care, and told me it will only take 5 minutes to sign up. This, to me is BLACKMAIL, which I do not respond well to. I went through regular security line, and THANK YOU to all the kind people who were sympathetic to my position and let me jump the line. CLEAR, I will not be subscribing and intend to tell everyone of this sleazy practice of your company to force people to sign up.

  33. @brian, I’m not sure what was going on, but I live in Denver and it’s a completely separate queue. Coming from the side where the train is at, Clear is a middle lane, TSA is on the left and on the right is the non-TSA/Clear queue.

    That said, I’ve had times where the TSA queue is very long (beyond the roped area) and it still took roughly 10 minutes to get through, so not too bad even without Clear.

    Ultimately, they need more people checking IDs (though There are 3 for Pre Check in Denver (on the side i go through…more on the other side) and more for scanning carry on luggage.

  34. @Brian – maybe next time get there sooner – its not like CLEAR is mandatory – you don’t sign up you wait in the pre-check line with everyone else. . . .

  35. Just a bunch of haters who are upset that I get through the line quicker. I’m on about 8-10 planes a month and it saves me an incredible amount of time. Worth every penny. If you fly once or twice a year and are upset that I “skip the line” i simply do not care, at all.

  36. I have TSA Pre-Check and was skeptical of CLEAR because of cost and limited locations especially when it’s not located in my home airport. However, I sign up in the Denver Airport and while the TSA Pre-Check line was stretched around the corner and within minutes I was ahead of everyone. However if and when more people have CLEAR just as TSA Pre-Check, the lines will get long as well. What I don’t really understand regarding AA decision to block CLEAR is that passengers still have to go through TSA.

    I do not agree that CLEAR should work with non TSA Pre-Check Members. TSA Pre-Check Members paid for an expedited service and because someone pays a bit more they get to go first? I believe CLEAR and TSA Pre-Check should go together. This would also add an extra layer of background checks and security.

    I do think it is correct that adding more TSA Pre-Check customers isn’t the answer. Especially when the pre-check lines are not properly staffed or equipped to handle the amount of pre-check customers. Also pre-check lines are not always open so you’re paying for a service that you cannot always use.

    In addition my experience the TSA Pre-Check process and procedure is not consistent throughout airports, for example some pre-check lines may still have you remove your laptop and larger electronic devices or remove your footwear or belts or light jackets. So when traveling to different airports you never know what you’re going to get asked to do. Also TSA staff memo are not the friendliest or customer-centric. One can still provide safety and security with a smile. Remember TSA nor the airlines would be here without the customer.

  37. CLEAR isn’t that valuable for airports alone (particularly if you’re TEA Pre) but if they can get their shit together and start setting up at big sporting and entertainment venues then it becomes a serious option.

  38. @Rick Miles —>. To each his own…I find CLEAR to be a huge timesaver at the airports through which I fly the most (SFO, LAS, JFK). I view it as a supplement to TSA preCheck: it jumps me through the l-o-n-g line of people waiting to get up to the officer checking your passport and boarding pass. With CLEAR, I go straight past the 20, 30, sometimes 50 people waiting there, and through to the preCheck lane. (Generally, I can bypass most of that line, too, but I wouldn’t necessarily advise what I had to go through for that “privilege.”)

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