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Clear airport security fast-lane program shuts down

  • Story Highlights
  • Clear security system allowed passengers to use different security lines
  • Clear was operating in 18 airports and served 250,000 passengers
  • Air Transport Association said the program offered few benefits to travelers
  • "It's going to cost me time," says one traveler who relied on the Clear program
By Stephanie Chen
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(CNN) -- Verified Identity Pass Inc.'s Clear security system -- the program that expedited airport security line waits for paying customers -- ended operation Monday night because the company couldn't reach a consensus with its senior creditors, according to its Web site.

Clear promised to help passengers avoid security lines like this one at San Francisco International Airport.

The New York-based company founded by entrepreneur Stephen Brill targeted business flyers, promising passengers that they would whisk through tedious airport security lanes more rapidly by being placed in private lines.

Verified Identity Pass officials couldn't be reached for comment.

Clear's fast-lane program began at Orlando (Florida) International Airport in 2005. By the time the company shut down, it was operating in more than 18 locations, including major airports in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California; and Washington. USA Today reported that the company had about 250,000 members.

With nearly 700 million passengers traveling domestically in 2006, Clear company officials touted their program as a way to help avoid bottlenecks and, in some instances, reduce the wait time in security lines to as little as five minutes.

Passengers using the Clear program doled out more than $200 a year. After announcing the shutdown, the company released no information on whether customers would receive refunds.

John Harrington, a freelance photographer in Washington, renewed his Clear membership for the next two years about a month ago. He said he was disappointed to receive an e-mail from Clear officials saying the program had been terminated.

Harrington relied on the quicker lanes when he traveled for assignments out of Reagan National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

"With Clear, I could get into my gate in less than 15 to 20 minutes," said Harrington, who is flying to San Francisco next week and will now have to arrive at the airport an hour earlier. "Try that with regular airport security. It's going to cost me time."

The Clear program required applicants like Harrington to provide information such as a Social Security number and previous address for a background check. The applicant's fingerprints and iris were scanned. The information was placed into a credit-card-size pass and for scanning at an airport Clear booth.

After checking in at the Clear booth, customers were shuttled into a separate line overseen by the Transportation Security Administration. In some airports, Clear members were taken to security lanes reserved for them. In other airports, they used employee security lanes.

Clear members went through the same security procedures; they had to take off their shoes and take out laptops.

Clear arrived at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest airport in the United States, last fall, officials said. At the same time, the airport added 12 security lanes, cutting the average security wait time to 10 minutes, airport spokeswoman Katena Carvajales said.

"Clear shutting down is not impacting our passengers at this airport," Carvajales said, adding that customer service officials are stationed near the Clear booths to instruct members on where to go.

Some critics argued that the Clear lines were no faster than regular security lines.

The Air Transport Association, the industry representing the major U.S. airlines, said the program didn't enhance security. Spokesman David A. Castelveter said airlines already offered frequent travelers and elite members separate lines with no charge.

In 2008, the TSA also began expanding its free Black Diamond Self-Select Lanes program to Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, Orlando and Spokane (Washington) International Airport.

The program features a series of lanes broken down into categories for expert business travelers who fly frequently, casual travelers who don't fly as often, and skiers or families with strollers who need special assistance.

The program has helped decrease wait times at pilot locations in Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah, according to a TSA statement.

"Clear was a personal decision by travelers," Castelveter said. "If they could afford it, then they could buy it, but it didn't offer anything that wasn't already there."

Seven years ago, Congress approved the creation of a speedier airport clearance system that would make the skies safer after September 11 rattled the travel industry. Government officials wanted to vet passengers and put those with a clean history into a separate, quicker line. But government officials worried that potential terrorists could sneak onto the approved list.

The government program was handed off to private companies, like Verified Identity Pass, that saw the convenience factor as something they could sell.

All About Transportation Security AdministrationBusiness TravelTravel and TourismSeptember 11 Attacks

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