Going “Clear” at Dulles

Security lines suck. There is just no other way to describe it. Imagine any other location where you are dragging luggage behind you, trying to juggle papers, and then have to take your shoes off to get somewhere. If Metro started enforcing rules like that, there would be a riot in most of DC.

The biggest problem with TSA security is how long it takes. (I’m going to ignore the “gigantic” problems for now – I’ll hold my TSA ranting for later.) Arriving at an airport is a crap shoot – you could fly through security, or you could wait an hour for a single lane. And, as a frequent traveler, that drives me crazy. It’s a lot of time I could be using doing something useful – like blogging.

So, after seeing the Clear Lanes expand in to Dulles, and then working my way towards the $128.00 fee (most of which is paid by my company), I decided to take the plunge and find out how much faster this new system is.  

I’ve been through Orlando multiple times over the past three years, so I’ve definitely seen the Clear lanes in action. And they are a great idea – if you sign up for the service, you can skip most of the hassle of the security lines. Clear members get priority right at the front of the line. But you do have to go through an X-Ray machine – however, since almost all Clear members are expert travelers, it is significantly faster than normal.

Signing up for Clear is a model in web efficiency. There is a multi-step form, but it’s very well designed and intuitive. It took me about 20 minutes to fill out, including finding my passport and getting the information out of it.

Once you complete that step, there is a second “on site” step. You have to show up at a Clear location to verify your identity and get fingerprinted. Clear has sign-up locations at Dulles and National (no BWI yet), and a third at an AmEx office on K Street.

I completed the second step at Dulles (having some time before my delayed flight) and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at an airport. Customer service – real, honest to god customer service – started with being very friendly and walking me through the process. I forgot my Clear ID number (it’s 16 digits long), but no problem, they called customer service and retrieved it for me. Then the agent checked my ID, and scanned it in. And then we moved on to the fingerprint and iris scans.

The equipment they use is great stuff. The fingerprint scanner took all of 3 minutes to get everything – and on the first try. The iris scanner (not a retinal scanner – this one just takes a picture of the outside of your eye) took a little longer. It turns out there is a trick to it – you have to line up the circle in the mirror with your non-dominant eye. After three tries, I finally figured that out, and everything moved on nicely.

Now, I have to wait 2-3 weeks for the security to clear, and then I get my ID card. I’ll write more when I finally get to try out the Clear Lanes.

I must say, so far Clear is some of the best money I have ever spent on travel. The service was excellent. A request to take pictures was met professionally (no pictures of staff, but some great shots of the setup) and the staff were first rate. This may not make security any safer – but it will make it a lot more tolerable.

Traveling from DC will be published every Wednesday (except when the author is on the road and can’t get the internet connection to work). Please email suggestions to jonebaker at we love dc dot com.

Jonathan Baker

came to DC, left for San Francisco, and then realized he couldn’t live without a daily fix of politics and came back. When not traveling to crazy locations, he speaks and writes for a major software house in CA.

7 thoughts on “Going “Clear” at Dulles

  1. I’d love it if they opened it up to more than just hyper-frequent travelers. I only fly 4-5 times a year, but I hate the bullshit TSA screening theatre, and wish that I could somehow take advantage of the option to be “pre-screened”.

  2. I suppose if I traveled as much as you do this would be worthwhile, but I can’t remember the last time I had to wait in line at DCA for more than 10-15 minutes, then I usually head straight to Five Guys for a preflight coma burger.

  3. Tom I didn’t think they cared how often you flew, just if you were willing to shell out the $100.

  4. Anyone can sign up, it just costs $128.00 per year. If you aren’t a frequent flier, this might be a little too much for the privilege.

    Of course, you can always shoot for the Diamond Lanes – see my last post. That’s free.

  5. It kinda bugs me to have to pay for the privilege of decent service. Because you will still be screened at the airport just like anyone else; you’re paying for the privilege of a shorter — or no — line.

    That said, I’d still consider it if it were available at every D.C. area airport (it’s not at BWI) and also, more airports across the country. There’s a lot of major hubs that don’t have “Clear” lanes.

  6. A year ago at Heathrow they started a trial of iris scanning tech instead of passport control for entry to the UK. I signed up and now when I land there I just have to wiggle my eyes at a machine and walk on through. No more long lines. It is fantastic and even better – free! Interesting to see the different uses for the technology.