CLEAR almost made us miss our flight. I want an apology!

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By Christopher Elliott

When Russ Higgins and his family try to use CLEAR, a security screening service, to verify their identities at the airport, they find a long line and almost miss their flight. What does CLEAR owe them?

Question

My family’s long-awaited spring break trip was nearly derailed at Dulles Airport because of an unexpected failure of the premium security service CLEAR.

We arrived an hour before boarding. My family was shocked to find CLEAR’s security line moving slower than the TSA PreCheck line. The employees displayed a lackadaisical attitude, refusing to expedite the process despite my family’s pleas and my young children’s tears. 

The situation escalated to the point where my family had to beg fellow travelers at the front of the line for mercy. 

We narrowly made our flight, reaching the gate just two minutes before boarding closed. The employees in Dulles were not interested in helping me, so I contacted CLEAR in writing. Dishearteningly, its response was robotic and dismissive, showing a lack of empathy. This incident raises concerns about the reliability and value of CLEAR’s services and highlights the importance of addressing such issues to prevent other travelers from experiencing similar frustrations.

 I’d like a public apology to my children from the CLEAR leadership team. — Russ Higgins, Falls Church, Va.

Answer

CLEAR is a membership service that offers a “quicker” way to verify your identity at the airport. Rather than show your ID or passport to a TSA agent before the screening, you use CLEAR’s eye or fingerprint scanner. Faster screening through CLEAR costs $189 per year. The company’s website is filled with promises that you will get through airport security faster.

Clearly, CLEAR shouldn’t have kept you waiting.

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But this happened during the busy spring break travel period. I always recommend that travelers give themselves at least an extra hour when flying domestically during busy times. You say you arrived at the airport an hour before your flight started to board, that might have been cutting it too close.

CLEAR should have also been prepared for an influx of air travelers during spring break. Adding extra staff might have helped move things along at the check-in area in Washington. Ultimately, CLEAR has no control over how fast the TSA screens passengers. I’ve seen longer lines for TSA PreCheck and CLEAR in the past, which is disheartening for people who pay extra to get a faster screening.

TSA’s screening methods are outdated

None of this should be necessary. There are better ways to screen passengers than the TSA’s outdated methods. It shouldn’t be necessary to fingerprint, scan and prescreen airline passengers. Everyone should receive the same treatment in the airport security line and be screened quickly and efficiently. (Here are my tips for standing in line at the airport.)

You contacted CLEAR in writing and asked for a refund for your membership. You also shared your experience and asked that it be “taken seriously.” In response, a representative refunded you $33, which represents your prorated membership for the year.

“I will share this feedback with local leaders so they can address it right away,” the representative added. You never heard from anyone at CLEAR after that.

How to get an apology from CLEAR

I think a brief, polite appeal to one of the CLEAR executives I publish on my consumer advocacy site might have gotten you a more substantive response. (After receiving your case, I published those contacts on the site.)

But I can help with that. I contacted the company on your behalf. You received a call from a vice president at CLEAR. The executive asked you detailed questions about your experience at Dulles so that he could provide coaching to the airport team. (Here’s what you need to know before you book your next airline ticket.)

“He also acknowledged that the initial customer support response I received was tone-deaf and assured me that the matter would be addressed internally,” you said. “Overall, I feel heard and am impressed that someone at such a high level in the company took the time to personally reach out and address my concerns.”

CLEAR offered you two free years of membership as an apology, which you accepted.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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