Consulting Tip: Three Ways to Breeze Through Airport Security

As a security consultant I do quite a bit of travel for my job. It’ssomething I enjoy immensely, but standing in airport security lines canquickly taint the experience.

For this reason I’ve looked into the various ways to speed up goingthrough airport security, and I’ve captured and given some input on afew of the options below:


Clear is a great option if you live ineither San Francisco or Orlando. San Francisco is my home airport, soit’s definitely on my list of musts.

How It Works

Clear is a private company that screens applicants and issues aspecialized identification card with biometric (retina scan) informationon it. Participating airports have a completely separate line for Cleartravelers, and you simply go to the attendant, show your card,authenticate with a finger print, and you get taken to the front of thesecurity line.

Participating Airports

Right now only a few airports are doing Clear: Orlando, San Francisco,Denver, and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Enrollment Procedure

Enrollment in Clear leverages pre-existing authentication–namely yourpassport and another type of official identification, e.g. driver’slicense, state ID, military ID, etc.


The cost is $179 a year, and it’s only $50 to add someone else onto your account.


This is the system I have the most experience with and I absolutely loveit. It does get a bit uncomfortable, however, when the regular line isa massive maze of nearly a hundred people, and you just walk to thefront within seconds. The attendant even asks you how many bins you needand walks you right to the belt themselves. Minus the feelings of guilt(which are coupled with relief), it’s a great experience.

TSA PreCheck



The TSA’s PreCheck program works much differently from Clear in that it is more “official” and less predictable in its operation. It already enjoys far more adoption at airports (with more being added constantly), but the process of getting into the system and actually using it is somewhat nebulous.

How It Works

First of all, you have to be invited to even be able to apply. You’llreceive some sort of invite from one of your carriers (my invite camefrom United where I have elite status) and they’ll send you to the TSAsite to apply.

This is where it gets interesting: rather than tell you you got in ordidn’t get in, you instead are told to just go the TSA Booth at theairport when you arrive for your flight, and when you scan your ticketthey’ll tell you if you can go to the Expidited Screening line.

If you are cleared for this, here are the advantages:

  • You won’t have to remove your shoes

  • You won’t have to remove a 3-1-1 bag from carry-on

  • You won’t have to remove your laptop

  • You can keep a light jacket on

  • You can keep your belt on

An interesting key to this is that the security information isintegrated into the barcode on your ticket, i.e. there’s no external bitlike with Clear, which I think is a major advantage.

What’s a bit strange, but understandable, about the system is thatthere’s no such concept as pre-approved. You can’t tell from your ticketif you’re approved or not, which makes sense given that it’d be a majorsecurity flaw if that were the case. But this means that every time yougo up to the desk you could go to the fast lane or get sent to the backof the regular line. You don’t ever know beforehand.

It’s obvious why this is done, but it does create unpredictability,which is precisely what we’re trying to eliminate by taking the securityline out of the equation.

Participating Airports

PreCheck enjoys decent adoption at this point, with the following airports participating.

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Enrollment Procedure

As mentioned above, enrollment is invite-based and comes from theairlines themselves. Look in your mail (don’t forget junk mail) forsomething tagged as TSA and PreCheck.


There is no cost for this program, as it’s basically an extension ofthe TSA’s regular rules. They’re essentially trying to make things moreefficient and improve the perception of the TSA in the same way thatthey did with relaxing the rules on younger and older people withroughly the same lighter screening options.


I’m already signed up for this system although I’ve not yet used it. Ifeel like there is every reason to sign up for it, but if I go to anairport that has both Clear and PreCheck, I’ll be using Clear. Why?Because it’s truly a pre-screening that’s guaranteed to get me throughthe line very quickly. The TSA model is still subject to theiralgorithms and (likely) glitches that are less likely to affect Clear.

Global Entry

Global Entry is anotherU.S. Government system designed to expedite travel through airportsecurity, but it’s oriented around international travel rather thandomestic. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Customs and BorderProtection division of Homeland Security.

How It Works

With Global Entry, users can self-authenticate using hand/fingerprintmachines that allow them to bypass the security line.

Participating Airports

The number of airports is pretty decent for this program.

Enrollment Procedure

Enrollment is done by submitting an application to the program via online form or snail mail.


There is a $100 application fee, but the program itself is free because,just as with PreCheck, the concept is actually an extension of standardsecurity procedures for low-risk travelers.


I’ve not used this system yet, but I am going to go ahead and apply sothat I have the option to get through line faster when travelinginternationally as well.

Summary and Recommendations

  1. If you frequently fly out of one of the Clear airports, definitelyget a Clear card

  2. Look out for an invite into the PreCheck program from your preferredairline

  3. If you do any amount of international travel, consider applying forGlobal Entry as well

[ Oct 8, 2012 ]

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