With the swipe of a finger or a blink of an eye — and $179 a year — travelers at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport can go directly to metal-detecting machines and bag-scanning lanes, bypassing serpentine lines at security checkpoints as passengers wait for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents to manually check identification and boarding passes.
Clear, a private service offered by a New York company that uses biometrics to verify identity, debuts Wednesday at both the north and south checkpoints in Terminal 1.
"The single most important benefit is predictability," said David Cohen, Clear's chief administrative officer. With instant identity checks with a retinal scanner or touch pad, "that means another 30 minutes at home, another business meeting or more time to relax before having to get to the airport."
In Minneapolis, the service arrives just ahead of the busy spring break travel period, when wait times in traditional security screening lines tend to creep up. Last year, after the airport merged its multiple checkpoints into two and while TSA was understaffed, travelers in the general security lanes commonly waited 20 minutes or more during February and March. Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan does not expect those types of waits this year, but "we wanted to have one more option to get passengers through security quickly. It will be faster than the regular lines."
Clear signed a two-year contract with the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) to operate at MSP and complements TSA PreCheck, the government's traveler program that charges $85 for five years. PreCheck clients have to wait to see an agent, but then they can pass through special lanes, leaving on shoes and light jackets.
According to the agreement, Clear will pay the MAC 10 percent of gross sales with a minimum annual guarantee of $150,000. "We see this more as a customer service than as a moneymaker for the airport," Hogan said, noting that much of the income will be used to complete audits required by Homeland Security.
Like TSA's PreCheck, Clear will have dedicated lanes at both Terminal 1 checkpoints. Passengers check in at the biometric machines, and from there it's to the front of the line in the baggage and personal screening area. This week, MSP officials reconfigured security checkpoint lines to accommodate Clear, but Hogan said that should not disrupt other passengers.
Enrollment is processed on site, meaning travelers don't have to wait days or weeks to be approved like they do with TSA PreCheck. It takes five minutes to answer questions "that go deep into your personal history" to prove you are who you say you are, Cohen said. Questions are similar to those one might get when calling a financial institution to access their accounts, such as the address you lived at in 1987 or the automobile you owned in 1992. "If you fail the test, you can't be a member of Clear," Cohen said.
Clear then validates an applicant's driver's license, military ID or passport, collects 10 fingerprints, performs an iris scan and takes a high-resolution facial photo. Users then step to a pod at which they check in by swiping their finger or blinking their eye to prove their identity.
The service is cheaper for travelers with a Delta SkyMiles membership, which reduces the fee to between $79 and $99 a year. Additional family members can be added for $50 and children 17 and under can register free.
The company claims 1 million members nationwide and says it is growing rapidly.
Minneapolis-St. Paul is the 22nd U.S. airport where Clear has its machines in place; others include Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston and Washington, D.C. It plans to expand to Los Angeles and a handful of other airports in the next six months, Cohen said.
The MAC on Tuesday also voted to spend $1.6 million on new automated security lanes that allow up to five passengers to place their bags on a conveyor belt, allowing travelers with fewer items to move through metal detectors or full-body scanners more quickly. Each station has a bin dispenser so travelers can fill bins without waiting as long for a spot.
Other airports with the "innovation lanes" have reported that they speed up screening by as much as 40 percent. They could be in place at MSP by summer.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768