I was lured into trying Clear. Here’s why I canceled it.

I fly so much that I pride myself on having my airport routine down pat to ensure I make it through security without any problems. Regardless, long lines and strict rules mean airport security is never fun. 

In October 2021, I was traveling to LAX to catch a work flight to the Reno airport. When I arrived at the terminal, I saw the security line swirling down the stairs, but I wasn’t worried — I’d arrived at the airport with plenty of time to get to the gate and even grab breakfast before boarding. 

As I walked toward the line, someone stopped me and asked if I was interested in bypassing it. I followed the associate to a Clear machine, where he guided me to enter my information. I had heard about the airport security shortcut Clear before, but it freaked me out that they scan your face to log you in. Where does all that information go?

Clear pods are available in several airports across the country. 

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For $189 a year, a Clear Plus membership grants you front-of-the-line access at airport security. The service uses biometrics (i.e., scanning your eyes or fingerprints) to confirm your identity, meaning you can keep your passport or ID in your bag. All you have to do is scan your boarding pass, and your face or fingers, at one of the Clear “pods” to check in. From there, a Clear employee escorts you to the screening area, bypassing the general line and taking you straight to an airport security agent. 

I guess I could’ve told the employee, “No thanks,” but it felt rude. Down the rabbit hole I went — filling out my information and letting the Clear pod scan my eyes, fingerprints and passport. Within five minutes, the machine knew where I lived and the school I had attended to confirm my identity. Five minutes later, I bypassed the hourlong security line and reached my terminal. 

Clear might seem like TSA PreCheck with a more expensive price tag — but the program offers different perks. TSA PreCheck is an expedited screening process offered by the Transportation Security Administration. But it’s hardly America’s best-kept secret or a “travel hack” anymore.

The program launched in 2013 and reached 10 million members in 2020, according to TSA, which also reported that between March 2019 and February 2020, 18% more people registered compared with the previous year. And although 89% of TSA PreCheck travelers waited five minutes or less in March 2023, passengers using the service have complained about the TSA PreCheck line sometimes being longer than the regular security line for years.

TSA PreCheck lines tend to be shorter, but that's not always the case.

TSA PreCheck lines tend to be shorter, but that’s not always the case.

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Comparatively, Clear lets you cut the line, but if you don’t have TSA PreCheck, you still have to follow regular security procedures. The most sophisticated (or impatient) passengers might want both. And, for what it’s worth, Clear promises that you own your biometric data and that it won’t use your data with new technology or new partners without your approval. (Clear can’t sell it, either.)

Clear lets you skip the airport security line, but the program is on the pricier side. 

Clear lets you skip the airport security line, but the program is on the pricier side. 

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Clear is $189 a year, but you can apply directly at the airport within minutes, and it’s available to any traveler. TSA PreCheck has a lengthier approval process, and “disqualifying offenses” could keep you from being approved. Remember, this is a “precheck,” so you have to prove to the agency in advance that you’re not a danger to yourself or others. Critics have accused the screening process of ableism due to its strict requirements for people diagnosed with a mental illness. After your application is approved, you finish the process in person at an enrollment center (one of the easiest ways to find one is to check your local Staples). But the application fee is only $78, and the approval lasts five years.

The TSA PreCheck application process is lengthier than applying for Clear.

The TSA PreCheck application process is lengthier than applying for Clear.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On my way back from my trip to Reno, I decided to put Clear to the test. I slept in and left my hotel with only an hour to get to my terminal. But when I arrived at security and saw the line wrapped around the building, I was confused — where was the Clear pod? Imagine my horror: Clear was nowhere to be found. I felt guilty when I waited only two minutes because I had wandered into an unmonitored Delta priority line looking for my special perks. But I was also grateful — because I wouldn’t have made my flight otherwise (thanks for nothing, Clear).

While TSA PreCheck is available at more than 200 airports (including its first international airport, Lynden Pindling in Nassau, Bahamas), Clear is available at only around 50 U.S. airports. However, you can use your membership to bypass the line at some stadiums and even national parks (an SFGATE staffer loves Clear for bypassing the security line at Oracle Park; the entrance is right in front at the Willie Mays Gate — and it makes up for the fact that her husband keeps forgetting to either cancel their Clear membership or upgrade by adding TSA PreCheck).

As for me, I canceled Clear after my three-month free trial. I couldn’t justify the price tag when I’m most often traveling internationally, which means I can’t use it on the way back. But if you find yourself running through major U.S. airports on a regular basis, Clear might be worth it to get that extra hour of sleep. 

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