Airport security 'express lane' becomes more accessible
MasterCard, Clear strike deal, may speed cardholders through lines
By Jason Aycock | Published: March 20, 2008
For years, airline travel and reward cards have gone together like matched luggage, with travel rewards being one of the most popular perks for card members. Now some MasterCards are coming with a promise to put more air travelers in the fast lane through security screening.
MasterCard recently announced a multiyear deal with Clear -- a private company licensed to operate express lanes for prescreened people at some airport's security checkpoints -- to allow MasterCard issuers to discount the program's cost to their card members. Clear members normally pay a $128 annual fee, $28 of which goes to the Transportation Security Administration for government processing.
The TSA launched its Registered Traveler program as a private-public partnership in 2004 to offer faster screening to frequent travelers willing to submit to deeper annual scans of their personal information.
The Clear program is run by Verified Identity Pass, one of three firms in TSA's Registered Traveler program. For travelers who will preregister with two government-issued forms of photo ID -- and to allow scans of their fingerprints and retinas to be stored -- the program promises to save time on one of the more frustrating aspects of air travel.
According to the TSA, applicants' information are run through a variety of government databases, including criminal and terrorism-related files, before applicants can receive access cards.
Once at the airport, Clear members proceed to their lane and have their fingerprints or retinas scanned. The lanes promise shorter security lines, though for now, travelers must still have luggage X-rayed, proceed through metal detectors and remove their shoes like all travelers. Brill is pushing for technology that scans for shoe explosives, saving Clear members the hassle of having to remove their shoes in security lines.
Participating airports few, but big
The program's express security lanes are operating at only a fraction of America's airports, but they are among the busiest. Lanes are in place at 16 airports, including busy New York-area hubs JFK, LaGuardia and Newark; and Northern California's San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland. On March 19 it added the Dulles and Ronald Reagan airports in the Washington, D.C., area; the company says it is steadily expanding its list of airports.
Clear spokeswoman Cindy Rosenthal says reaching out to consumer cardholders, in addititon to those with corporate cards, broadens the program's appeal.
"We don't think price has been a barrier to entry for the frequent travelers that sign up for Clear. Our surveys are showing members are flying 36 times per year," Rosenthal says. "It is a good strategy for us to reach out to those travelers" who already carry MasterCard plastic.
The MasterCard promotion follows recent news that some Hyatt Hotels Gold Passport members can receive free one-year Clear memberships. And the Clear program has arranged marketing partnerships with airlines and other travel companies including British Airways, Air France, Frontier Airlines and Orbitz.
The Clear program today has more than 110,000 registered members. Verified Identity Pass competitors Unisys Corp. (operating Reno-Tahoe International Airport) and Vigilant Solutions (operating Jacksonville International Airport) also run Registered Traveler programs. All members of an RT program can use their card at any participating airport.
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