California could ban Clear, which lets travelers pay to skip TSA lines

A new bill, the first of its kind in the U.S., would ban security screening company Clear from operating at California airports as lawmakers take aim at companies that let consumers pay to pass through security ahead of other travelers. 

Sen. Josh Newman, a California Democrat and the sponsor of the legislation, said Clear effectively lets wealthier people skip in front of passengers who have been waiting to be screened by Transportation Security Administration agents. 

“It’s a basic equity issue when you see people subscribed to a concierge service being escorted in front of people who have waited a long time to get to the front of TSA line,” Newman told CBS MoneyWatch. Everyone is beaten down by the travel experience, and if Clear escorts a customer in front of you and tells TSA, ‘Sorry, I have someone better,’ it’s really frustrating.” 

If passed, the bill would bar Clear, a private security clearance company founded in 2010, from airports in California. Clear charges members $189 per year to verify passengers’ identities at airports and escort them through security, allowing them to bypass TSA checkpoints. The service is in use at roughly 50 airports across the U.S., as well as at dozens of sports stadiums and other venues.

Gov. Gavin Newsom inaugurates HOPE Center.
California State Senator Josh Newman, seen here speaking at a ceremony in Orange County on Oct. 27, 2022, in Fullerton, California, said his bill to ban the travel screening service at airports in the state is “about dignity in the travel experience of people who don’t have money to pay for upsell services.

Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A media representative for Clear declined to comment on the proposal to ban the company’s service in California.

“We are proud to partner with nine airports across California — creating hundreds of jobs, sharing more than $13 million in annual revenue with our California airport partners and serving nearly 1 million Californians,” the company said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. “We are always working with our airline and airport partners as well as local, state, and federal governments to ensure all travelers have a safer, easier checkpoint experience.”

Newman said his bill, SB-1372, doesn’t seek to prohibit Clear from operating its own dedicated security lines separate from other passengers. 

The bill doesn’t seek to punish Clear or put it out of business. It wants to create a better traffic flow so customers aren’t intersecting with the general public and causing a moment of friction that is so frustrating to the average traveller,” he said. “All it does is up the tension in the line.”

“It’s about dignity”

The legislation has bipartisan support from Republican Sen. Janet Nguyen. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) also supports the bill, as does the union representing Transportation Security Officers in Oakland, Sacramento, and San Jose.

In a letter to Senate Transportation Committee Chair Dave Cortese, AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson said the bill “would restore equal access and treatment at the airport security checkpoint by requiring companies like Clear to operate in a dedicated security lane, separate from general travelers and TSA PreCheck members.” 

James Murdock, president of AFGE Local 1230, the TSA officer union’s local chapter, also weighed in. “Clear is nothing more than the luxury resale of upcharge of space in the airport security queue, where those who pay can skip the line at the direct expense of every other traveler,” he said in a letter to Cortese. “While Clear may save time for its paying customers, non-customers suffer from Clear’s aggressive sales tactics and longer security queues while they enter an essential security screening process.” 

The bill, which is set to come before the California State Senate’s transportation committee on Tuesday, does have significant adversaries in the form of major airlines, including Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, United and others. Carriers claim the measure threatens to restrict how airports manage security lines, which they say would worsen the experience for passengers and hurt business. 

Delta, United and Alaska each have partnerships with Clear.

But Newman is undaunted, describing his bill as an effort to improve travel for the majority of passengers. 

“It’s about dignity in the travel experience of people who don’t have money to pay for upsell services,” Newman said. “If you have money, by all means, but that business shouldn’t be at the expense of the average traveller.”

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