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I travel a lot. I always have. The ease of air travel runs in cycles – we seem to be at another low point where lines are long, planes are full, flights are late / delayed / canceled, and almost all travel personnel (except apparently those on Southwest) are somewhere on the spectrum between grumpy and rude.
But that’s just travel. You’ve got to get past the crazy TSA people before you can actually embark on your trip. The experience of standing in a long line, having to take your id out of your wallet so they can inspect it carefully, unpacking all your liquids and gels, listening to the same inane announcements over and over again, and having a completely random "inspect board pass as you go through the metal detector" algorithm gets old. Really old. Oh – and don’t forget to take your shoes and belt off. All in the quest to fly safer.
When Clear came out with their Registered Traveler program, I was immediately sold on it. For a mere $100 / year plus a one time $28 TSA vetting charge, they promised me that I could fly through security "faster, with more predictability and less hassle." Their PR machine has done a nice job of promoting their fast lane. I paid my money, got my retina scan, and now have my Clear card (actually – my second one – the first one was apparently lost in the mail – ah the secure irony.)
I’ve been using my Clear card regularly in the supported airports that I fly through (so far only DIA and SFO – but they promise many more soon.) And I can affirm Clear’s marketing pitch – I am flying through security much faster. But not because of a separate line or a reduction in "are you safe to get past the TSA people" algorithm based on my key biometric data matching up.
Nope – Clear has a simpler approach. They help me cut in line. I go to my special Clear line (there’s only one at DIA – you’ve got to find and it remember to go to "the other left" when you enter on the west side of the airport.) I show the Clear person my boarding pass and id (just like the TSA person, but this person says hi and smiles at me.) I go to the biometric machine and get asked for the Nth time if I’ve used this before (I say yes.) I put my card in the machine and do a retina scan (most of the time it works – sometimes it takes a few tries.) Once I pass, a nice person grabs my bags, helps me undress myself and my laptop into two TSA buckets, and leads me, shoeless – but with the two TSA buckets – to the very front of the TSA check line. The 126 people behind me in line sneer at me. The TSA person gives me a really dirty look and then proceeds to double check my boarding pass and ID. Once I’m cleared, the nice Clear person once again takes me to the very front of the line – this time the front of the metal detector / x-ray machine / whatever it’s called line.
Pause. The reactions here have generally been priceless. Last week the the woman that I cut in front of said "why are you cutting in line?" I explained that I had paid $128 to Clear (including pointing at the Clear line machine) to "get through security faster." She smiled a very cynical smile and said "ok – I was just checking to make sure you weren’t an asshole." And that was one of the nice ones.
Overall, I’m saving a ton of time getting through security with Clear. It’s easily worth the $100 to me since I get hit with a $40 change fee by United on a regular basis when I miss a flight (even though I’m a treasured 1k / Million Mile flyer with one of those fancy dark brown get out of jail free treat me nicely cards.) But it’s not because of any fundamental innovation or extra magic biometric security. It’s because I just paid $128 to cut to the front of the line.
Hedge fund Pardus Capital Management which owns 2.6% of Delta and 4.82% of United is urging them to merge. While this might be good for Pardus, as a frequent traveler on United out of DIA, this sounds like a really bad idea to me. Probably 50% of the flights that I’ve been on since United came out of bankruptcy have had some sort of problem (mechanical, routing, crew delay, undermined) and I have several situations where the plane simply didn’t show up.
I’m actually starting to be impressed with the TSA folks – in comparison to United. At least my experience with them is more random and entertaining – I never really know what to expect. With United, I’ve become conditioned to just expect that things aren’t going to go as planned.
The really cool thing about having friends like Paul Berberian is that I can act out my desire to participate in a real life equivalent of Being John Malkovich. Paul has a fascinating new company that is launching at the end of the year. His product is both physical and virtual; the physical part of it (nicknamed “the bong” by me) is manufactured in China.
I don’t really have any desire to go on an eight day business trip to a factory in Qingdao, but it’s awesome to read Paul’s description of it in his post China visit – nothing is as it seems. Now – the conclusion (signaled by the title) is no surprise, but my voyeristic view of Paul’s week was satisfying this early morning in Boulder.
Best “how I viewed it” moment: “Generally negative on the food experience but positive on the environment – we ate inside a giant green house –trippy. BTW dog sucks – it is chewy and tastes like dog!”
As a special bonus this week, I got to go to GwangJu, South Korea as part of my experience of Being Kimbal Musk. Those pig heads look worst then I envision the dog did.
My friend Kimbal Musk (owner of The Kitchen and CEO of Me.dium) is in GwangJu, South Korea with his wife Jen installing her light harp. As usual, Kimbal is hysterical. A typical paragraph:
“And NO ONE speaks english. It’s like we’re aliens. They can’t even read the tourist map. We spent about 45 minutes in an insane, high speed taxi ride trying to explain where we wanted to go by pointing at the map the hotel gave us. I think the map we got was a joke played on the only western tourists to hit GwangJu this year. The cab driver thought we were retarded. We thought he was out to kill us.”