Speed Through Airport Security Checkpoints, One Way Or Another

airport security

As airport security checkpoints get more crowded and lines get longer, travelers are arriving earlier than ever to make that flight on time. Arrive late; miss the flight. Once at the gate, passengers may wait longer than normal as airlines juggle the start of boarding with actual anticipated takeoff time. Keeping passengers in the aircraft or on the ground too long may result in a hefty fine. While the aircraft may be ready and the flight crew willing, passengers may face delays beyond their control caused by budget cutbacks.

Frequently flying out of Orlando International Airport (MCO), I see crowds on most days at just about any time as vacationers come in town to visit Walt Disney World, Universal Studios or any one of a number of central Florida attractions. Frankly, the thought of the process being slowed down by budget cuts is terrifying to those who work out of that airport.

How terrifying? Enough to make frequent fliers re-think their game plans and look for new ways to expedite the boarding process.

Take The Express Lane
airport securityI recently re-joined CLEAR, the biometric fast pass through security at MCO. I had been a member in 2005 when the service had over 200,000 members. But shortly after a laptop with the names and detailed information of 33,000 CLEAR customers was reported stolen in 2008, the service shut down. Starting back up in 2010, I had thought about joining again but was a bit apprehensive about the whole program and lines seemed to move along pretty well at MCO anyway.

Then came talk of sequestering, budget cuts and TSA downsizing, which quickly reminded me just how much I hate lines, slow people and inefficiency. Example: On a rolling sidewalk at the Minneapolis/St Paul airport, clearly marked stand to the right, walk to the left, I made a point of educating our children that “there is no ‘mosey’ lane kids.”

Primed to take the bait of a LivingSocial CLEAR trial offer ($18 for three months, spouse included), we stopped by the CLEAR kiosk not long ago to complete registration. I answered a variety of security questions and gave prints of fingers and thumbs, along with a retina scan and a copy of my passport and driver’s license. The process took about five minutes. From what I could see, that was far longer than those observed going through the CLEAR security checkpoint.

Stopping briefly to verify their identity then right on through the normal x-ray scan without any wait has the potential to save passengers time. One TSA officer told me, without hesitation, that amount of time could be “hours if staffing is reduced.”

The main drawback with CLEAR is that it is only offered in a few airports. Besides Orlando International Airport (MCO), CLEAR service is available at Denver International Airport (DEN), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and Westchester NY Airport (HPN).

Will I keep CLEAR after the three-month trial? Hard to say; at an annual rate of $179 per person, frequent fliers working out of a CLEAR-enabled airport will probably have no trouble justifying the price. As reports of actual government cutbacks cause longer lines, even less-than-frequent fliers could suddenly become interested, as I was.

For travelers not based by a CLEAR-enabled airport, there are other options though. To get there, we need to start by thinking outside of the United States.

Global Entry Program
airport securityInternational arrivals can speed up the process of entering the United States by using automated kiosks at most major U.S. airports via the Global Entry Program. I signed up for this one too because I have several international flights coming up in the next few months. The $100 fee is good for five years.

One of several Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler Programs, including SENTRI (expedites crossing between the U.S. and Mexico), and NEXUS (expedites processing between the U.S. and Canada), Global Entry requires a fairly detailed online application to begin.

You’ll need your valid passport, driver’s license and a clean criminal record to get conditionally approved. A face-to-face appointment at an airport processing center completes the application.

airport securityThe TSA Pre✓ program allows some frequent fliers, invited by their participating host airline (Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines or US Airways), along with those enrolled in a Trusted Traveler Program, to speed through the airport screening process for domestic flights.

Odds are that if you qualify for the program through an airline, you already know about it. Those who don’t make it via airline invitation can back up to the Global Entry Program, pay the $100 for five years and enjoy the benefits.

Once enrolled in one of CBP’s eligible Trusted Traveler Programs, like the Global Entry Program mentioned above, air travelers are automatically qualified to participate in TSA Pre when flying a participating airline at a participating airport.

To make that work, once signed up for a Trusted Traveler Program, travelers provide their Trusted Traveler account number in the “Known Traveler Number” field when booking travel.

That number, along with reservation information goes into TSA’s Secure Flight system and enables access to the TSA Pre✓ line at participating airports by embedding a secret code in boarding passes.

In addition to a faster lane, TSA Pre✓-approved travelers can leave their shoes, light outerwear and belts on and keep their 311 liquids packed away. Laptops and small electronics no longer have to be removed either. The program is no guarantee of expedited processing, as TSA will continue random checks, but it sure can’t hurt.

Orlando International Airport where I am trying the CLEAR membership is one of those airports.
Observing both the CLEAR line and the TSA Pre ✓ line, CLEAR seems to be the winner for speed. We’ll find out as we test both over the next few months.

Travelers React to Big Changes on Airport Security

[Photo Credits- Flickr user alist tsa.govChris Owen]

CLEAR is back – biometric security returns to Orlando and Denver

In June of last year, the US lost its first biometric airport security service.

CLEAR allowed passengers to register with their service, and a special smart card helped them speed up the whole agonizing process of getting to the gate.

Several months after it shut down, it became clear that things were not going to be gone for good. Investors picked up various portions of the service, and had hoped to relaunch it by Christmas 2009. Sadly, that deadline came and went without any announcement. But now it really is back.

The new CLEAR is launching at Orlando airport, and will be available at Denver International later this month. For $179 a year, passengers can present their CLEAR card, and proceed through the checkpoint after scanning their fingerprint or iris.

In the coming months, CLEAR will also introduce a family plan, allowing family members to be added to the $179 plan for an additional $50. During the introduction period, all members will receive a free month.

Previous members of CLEAR are not being forgotten – the new CLEAR will honor all memberships, and these cards will be reactivated once CLEAR arrives at their home airport or when the old card is used at a CLEAR checkpoint.

I’m happy to see CLEAR return, but unless they manage to spread to a lot of airports in 2011, it is going to be an uphill battle to get new customers signed up. Still, if you regularly pass through Orlando or Denver, the $179 investment shouldn’t be too hard to justify.

To learn more about the CLEAR, or to sign up for a membership, head on over to their new web site.

Can mobile 4G broadband work for a travel writer? Mostly.

One of the difficulties that I have in living a travel lifestyle is paying for utilities when I’m only home half of the time. Water, gas and heat I can deal with, since those are mostly used upon consumption, but what about internet? Paying $50 a month for service on top of the mobile Boingo/Hotel/Airport wireless is an irritating and costly measure, especially when I’m hit with egregious hotel wireless fees.

My solution came in the form of wireless broadband internet, in my case, 4G+ mobile hotspot provided by Clear (full disclosure: I pay for my own service). Basically, a small device the size of a deck of cards streams 4G service and then converts it to a wireless signal picked up by my computer or mobile phone. Statically, I can leave it in my apartment turned on 24/7 and pretend it’s my home wireless internet.

But if I ever leave home, I can unplug the widget, take it with me and stream the signal on the road. A three hour battery life keeps the data pumping while away from a power source and I can connect up to five devices to the unit at a time. As far as speed, I’m currently downloading at 7Mb/sec, which is plenty of bandwidth for a few Youtube videos and this travel editor’s needs.

The critical point in the whole operation though is reliability. After I first got the 4G+ mobile hotspot in June my service was rife with faults and disconnects. I was only able to connect to the internet some 70% of the time, which is far too seldom to stay in tune to a travel blog. But ever since late August (plus a new modem plus a firmware update), service has stabilized and I’d rank my service at about 97% connectable. That I can deal with.

As for taking the service on the road, Clear doesn’t provide service countrywide but will operate well in larger metropolitan areas. My recent trips to New York, Los Angeles and Dallas have provided 100% coverage, and I’ve even loaned my service out to distraught, roaming wireless users.

To that end, Clear’s 4G+ has provided a great deal of use over the past few months and I have high hopes for continuing the service. Next month my defunct, home internet goes into the dumpster.

Rover by Clear offers unlimited 4G broadband for just $5/day

Well, now we know for sure that the U.S. prepaid mobile broadband market is finally taking off. A mere 4 days after our Virgin Mobile Broadband2Go review, a new product from 4G company Clear is offering another prepaid / no contract broadband solution.

Their product is called Rover, and offers 4G service on a USB stick ($99.99) or a WiFi router ($149.99). Best of all – service is offered on these devices starting at just $5. The three price points are simple – $5 for a day, $20 for a week and $50 for a month.

Coverage is still relatively limited, but in the places where I’ve been able to experience the Clear 4G network, it has been very, very fast. In Vegas last month, I was regularly downloading around 6mbit/s, which is about four times faster than any of the 3G operators.

So, if you know in advance that you’ll be in a Clear 4G coverage area, you now have another affordable way to get online. Hopefully we’ll have a full review of Rover up on Gadling as soon as we can. The Rover product page is here, which is where you’ll be able to order the Rover Stick or Puck.

Clear iSpot is a $25 WiFi enabled 4G friend for your iPod or iPad

Clear just launched their iSpot 4G mobile router. The basic idea behind this device is that it’ll create a WiFi hotspot anywhere you are in range of the Clear 4G network, allowing any Apple WiFi enabled mobile device to get online.

Now, mobile routers like this are not really new, what is new is that the iSpot is on sale for just $24.95, and that 4G service is a mere $25/month. Speeds are in line with many DSL and cable Internet providers, and there is no contract – your plan is month to month, and can be canceled whenever you want.

There is of course a catch – the iSpot was designed to work with Apple products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad – and it isn’t exactly clear whether it’ll also work with your laptop or other device. The $25/month plan is very cheap (and $15 cheaper than most other Clear plans) which does make it a good alternative for the iPad data plan. If you have a non-3G iPad, this is also a great way to get your device online – assuming you are in the Clear coverage area. The plan allows for unlimited data transfers, so you won’t run into the same overage charges found on some of the current 3G offerings.

To learn more about the Clear iSpot, or to place an order, head on over to their site.