Biometric screening service helps flyers "clear" long security lines

Skip airport security lines
Skip airport security lines 03:19

Under fire for long security lines at its checkpoints, the TSA took steps to relieve the wait times, including hiring more screeners. The agency told CBS News nearly all passengers now get through in less than 30 minutes.

But a new concierge service is helping some flyers skip the line altogether, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave.

"Clear" is a private company using biometric authentication - an iris scan or fingerprint to verify a passenger's identity. Once cleared, the passenger is led around the long line of people waiting to have their IDs checked by the TSA and right to screening.

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"The stress, the anxiety, the hassle that everybody feels -- it's a meaningful experience upgrade," said Clear CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker. "What Clear has done is not different from what ATMs have done or what E-ZPass has done."

Clear is different from TSA PreCheck, which allows pre-screened passengers to go through an expedited physical screening.

But nearly 40 percent of Clear's 600,000 customers use both services, like business traveler Erica Hyman.

"How much time do you think it saves you at the checkpoint on a busy day?" Van Cleave asked.

"Thirty-plus minutes," Hyman said.

The time savings come at cost of $179 a year for Clear and $85 for five years of TSA PreCheck.

But passenger rights advocate Charlie Leocha said these concierge services just add to overall traveler frustration.

"It's just creating one more break between the upper crust and the hoi polloi which is not healthy," Leocha said. "I don't mind paying my $85 to the government so I can go through PreCheck. However, it's a little bit distasteful to me when private companies can sort of horn in on a government operation and find a way to make money from it."

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The biometric data is also in the hands of a private company. But Becker dismissed the concern.

"We are extraordinarily focused every day on the security of our data, on the privacy of our members' data," Becker said. "It's core to our business, it's core to our mission."

Clear is not affiliated with the TSA, but administrator Peter Neffenger said he sees the potential for biometric technology to improve airport security.

Right now, Clear is only available in 13 airports across the country. The company hopes to have 24 airports on board by the end of the year.

And while the company is currently focused on getting passengers to the front of the line, it sees a future where passengers can show up to the airport with just their bags and fingerprints, eliminating the need for an ID, boarding pass or credit cards.