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June 29th, 2009
10:03 PM ET

Fly Clear program shuts down

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/26/tinker.clear.art.jpg caption="CNN Producer Ben Tinker reports on the sudden shutdown of Clear lanes at U.S. airports."]

From CNN Producer Ben Tinker

Well, it was a novel idea. "Fly through airport security" was their motto.

The Fly Clear program allowed passengers to bypass often-lengthy airport security lines - for a fee, of course. The price of a year's membership was around $200; with about 250,000 members, we're talking about a revenue stream in the ballpark of $50 million.

As a member, you can imagine my surprise when an email popped up on my BlackBerry at 12:52 a.m. last Tuesday, announcing:

"At 11:00pm PST today, Clear will cease operations. Clear's parent company, Verified Identity Pass, INC. has been unable to negotiate an agreement with its senior creditor to continue operations. After today, Clear lanes will be unavailable."

It just so happened that I was booked on a flight out of Atlanta Tuesday morning and arrived at the airport late, as usual, only to discover the Clear kiosks had already been shut down. Clearly by "today" the company meant they were shutting down "yesterday," Pacific Time, a mere hour and eight minutes after sending out that email.

I wasn't the only one confused. Along with travelers across the country, I relied on airport employees to explain what had happened and point me in the right direction. Even the majority of news networks, including CNN, didn't really touch the story until Wednesday morning.

CNNMoney.com: Clear Lanes abandons customers

Clear later added a date clarification on their Web site, as well as a paragraph on customers' personal information.

APPLICANT AND MEMBER DATA IS CURRENTLY SECURED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION'S SECURITY, PRIVACY AND COMPLIANCE STANDARDS. VERIFIED IDENTITY PASS, INC. WILL CONTINUE TO SECURE SUCH INFORMATION AND WILL TAKE APPROPRIATE STEPS TO DELETE THE INFORMATION.

Some news consumers, posting comments to online message boards, said they found it hard to believe any employees would be kept around to properly dispose of this data, seeing as how the shutdown was so quick and complete. Clear’s call center and customer support email service are no longer available.

Also posted on FlyClear.com is a disclaimer reading, in essence, no refunds! Some former members blogged that they found this particularly disturbing, due to the amount of email solicitation in the weeks and even days leading up to the end. Evidence of this manifested itself in both my work and personal email accounts, touting gift memberships for Fathers' Day.

While my membership was also a gift, I feel for those who signed up for two- and three-year memberships, thinking this program would be around forever.

For their part, the TSA had "no comment." Then, in a written statement, offered:

THE CLEAR PROGRAM WAS A MARKET-DRIVEN, PRIVATE SECTOR VENTURE OFFERED IN PARTNERSHIP WITH AIRPORTS AND AIRLINES IN CERTAIN LOCATIONS.

So will anyone swoop in to pick up the pieces?

Former CEO Steve Brill, who we should note has had no role in the management of Clear since February, said he was "deeply saddened for Clear's dedicated staff and loyal customers that the company has ceased operations." His written statement reads:

I CAN ONLY SPECULATE ABOUT THE CAUSES OF THE COMPANY'S DEMISE. WHAT I DO KNOW FOR SURE, HOWEVER, IS THAT THE NEED FOR INTELLIGENT RISK MANAGEMENT HASN'T DIMINISHED AND THAT PROGRAMS LIKE CLEAR SHOULD HAVE A ROLE IN OUR FUTURE, AS WE TRY TO USE COMMON SENSE TO BALANCE SECURITY NEEDS WITHIN FREEDOM AND THE FREE FLOW OF COMMERCE.

Personal emails from me and other members seeking more information than is available on the barren Web site went unanswered until Friday afternoon, at which point a “Clear Member Update” was sent out. The door was left open as to whether personally identifiable information could be sold. The information, the email said:

...MAY NOT BE USED FOR ANY OTHER PURPOSE OTHER THAN A REGISTERED TRAVELER PROGRAM OPERATED BY A TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION AUTHORIZED SERVICE PROVIDER... IF THE INFORMATION IS NOT USED FOR A REGISTERED TRAVELER PROGRAM, IT WILL BE DELETED.

So it seems that yes indeed, there is still hope someone may swoop in, pick up the pieces, and resurrect this program for those airline passengers willing to pay to "fly through airport security."


Filed under: Technology • Transportation
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Michael david

    Hi,

    just found this post feed URL from my Technorati Top news Page.Really great post. Keep it up.

    Thanks,
    Michael

    December 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm |
  2. Bobby Smith

    Took some notes, I recently got a good deal on airfair from a little trick I was told about, nothing like sitting next to somone on a plane knowing you paid half of what they did!

    December 7, 2009 at 9:56 am |
  3. Lee

    Fly Clear Class Action at http://www.flyclearclassaction.com

    The Brand Law Firm Located in Orlando, Florida will be filing a lawsuit against Fly Clear and Verified Identity Pass, Inc. on behalf of consumers that have purchased “Clear Card” services from Fly Clear. Clear Card is a service sold to travelers that expedites the security screening process at airports, and costs approximately $199 per year. Clear Card was in use at airports such as Albany, Denver, San Francisco, and Orlando International Airport. According to its website, Fly Clear has ceased its operations as of June 22, 2009, and its Clear Lanes are no longer available. According to the Clear Card website, Fly Clear will not issue refunds to consumers.

    If you have purchased a subscription to Fly Clear’s Clear Card services, please contact the attorneys at 877-407-Brand or fill out the contact form on http://www.flyclearclassaction.com

    July 20, 2009 at 1:22 am |