When it was announced last week that CLEAR, "the nation's pre-eminent biometric secure ID program," was setting up shop at DFW Airport's Terminal E, it struck me as odd. Seemed that TSA was abdicating some of its responsibility to a private company, which of course it was, but I had to track down the details from a March New York Times story.
Clear CEO Caryn Seidman Becker prefers to frame things a bit differently. She called me this morning from DFW, where she was helping launch the program. It's not an abdication, she said, but a public-private partnership that is both more convenient for customers and enhances airport security.
Here's how it works: Members register for $179 per year and go in person to have their identity registered and verified. They are given an encoded card which they can use, along with an iris or fingerprint scan, to verify their identity at the airport. Clear customers still have to pass through a TSA security checkpoint, but the members-only clear lane allows them to skip to the front of the line.
She likens Clear to an ATM, the advent of which allowed people to withdraw cash quickly and conveniently, without having to wait for a teller. It takes Clear members five minutes or less to get through security; the goal, Seidman Becker said, is to become "the Starbucks of airport security."
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This is actually the company's second iteration. The first go-round, it went bankrupt.
"Members loved it and it should have been successful, but it had bloated cost structure mismanagement and a lot of debt," said Seidman Becker, who was among the investors who purchased it out of bankruptcy.
Things are going better the second time around. DFW marks the company's fourth airport, but its first that wasn't covered by the original Clear. Eventually, the company plans to be in the country's 20 or 21 largest airports. And the company would eventually like automated, biometric screening to play a greater role in airport security. Negotiations to that effect are underway with TSA, and she said they have been productive.
As for the question of what's in it for DFW, she couldn't remember the exact terms of the contract but thinks the airport's cut of Clear's revenue is about 10 percent. I've emailed DFW spokesman David Magana for an exact figure.