Clear gearing up to return to airports

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Clear is back. The troubled U.S. company that, for a fee, bumped travellers to the front of airport security lines has found a new owner and is now gearing up operations, according to its newly reactivated Web site.

Launched five years ago by CourtTV founder Steven Brill as a way to speed up travel for frequent flyers, Clear abruptly declared bankruptcy in June 2009, leaving nearly 200,000 customers in the lurch.

After spending nearly a year queuing up with the rest of us, and remaining in the dark about their data, Clear flyers now have some answers, but questions remain. Yes, the company plans to let them jump lines again — however, there are still uncertainties about how exactly Clear plans to resume business.

The company quietly turned on its new Web site Monday, announcing that “Clear is Back.” A company spokesman said Tuesday that Clear is in negotiations now with an undisclosed number of U.S. airports to reopen operations, sometime after the Sept. 6 Labor Day holiday.

Customers should keep their old Clear cards, which will work in the new lanes, whenever the service becomes available.

The company didn’t say which airports were expected to start up with services. “We are in discussions with multiple airports to re-introduce the Clear service,” the company said in a FAQ document posted to its Web site. “We will have more to report over the next few months as we finalize our agreements.”

Clear has new owners — a New York investment firm called Algood Holdings, which is also supplying executive management. The company’s CEO is Algood partner Caryn Seidman-Becker. Another Algood partner, Ken Cornick, is now president of Clear, officially known as Alclear. Algood paid US$6 million for Clear, according to a source familiar with the deal.

The new company plans to honor existing memberships, and while it won’t pay out any refunds it will credit customers for the lost year of service.

Previously, customers paid a $199 annual fee to go through Clear’s fast pre-screening process and jump to the front of U.S. Transport Security Administration security lines at about 20 airports. Now, Clear will charge $179 per year, and will offer a family plan for $229 per year.

On Tuesday, a company spokesman had some answers about the most controversial component of its break up: What is to become of sensitive customer data? In addition to fingerprints and retina scans, Clear members also handed over financial data — employment history, financial data, Social Security numbers — and some had worried about this data being auctioned off to the highest bidder following a bankruptcy.

“Former Clear customers will soon be sent a notice asking if they want their personal data transferred to Alclear,” the spokesman said. “If they do not want it transferred, the new Clear will not get the data.”

If customers do not respond to the letter, however, their data will be transferred to the new company, the spokesman said. Lockheed Martin — the company contracted to run much of Clear’s operations — is still storing this data in a secure facility. Clear says it will move this data to a new, secure facility sometime in the next two months.

The new Web site has a new privacy policy, but that only covers data added to the Web site since Monday, not the comprehensive database of customer biometric and financial information.

That will be addressed in a new privacy policy that customers will be asked to opt into, the spokesman said. The company still keeps a copy of its old privacy policy on its Web site, written by Clear’s previous owner, Verified Identity Pass.

None of this matters much to Dave Maynor, a former Clear customer who is unhappy about the way his private information was held in limbo following Clear’s bankruptcy. “I am not signing up for Clear again,” he said in an e-mail message.

Updated at 9:30 p.m. PT to include more information on Clear’s plans for existing customer data.

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