Cloudy Skies Ahead for Frequent Travelers: The Demise of Clear

It was a great concept: Pre-register frequent travelers by collecting information about them as well as unmistakable personal identification (fingerprints, retinal scans), and help speed them through the security lines in airports.

More than that, it actually worked pretty well in practice. Kiosks were set up in major airports both to enroll travelers and to screen them. Processes were set up with the airports, airlines and the TSA. Everyone I know who used the service *loved* it. It seemed to be close to the tipping point–the place where a concept catches on and becomes mainstream.

So what happened? We’re not sure, but about a week ago with absolutely no warning, the company backing the Clear Lanes went out of business, literally overnight. The official statement said that there was no more funding for a program that it appears must have had a big upfront investment. Furthermore, because of the finances of the company, no refunds would be forthcoming.

Travelers were stunned, and almost universally have been mourning the death of a good idea. Not only that, but now there’s the question of what to do with all that detailed personal identification Clear was collecting. We’ve been reassured that all the data will be double and triple wiped off computers and we’ll all be safe.

That’s really too bad, because what I’m sure most Clear members really want is someone else to come in, takeover the operation, and continue operating the service.

Certainly the economy must have been a factor–both because it must have impacted the number of travelers willing to pay for this right now, as well as the fact that the capital markets have gotten downright stingy in this post-bailout world.

But I’m sure there was a pony in the form of a viable business model in there somewhere. The heavy lifting’s been done, the technologies and processes were in place, the idea was catching on–can’t we find someone somewhere who can pick this up from here and run with it?

A small bit of solace: We had just signed up our daughter for a Clear card the week before they shut down, and the credit card payment was processed *the day before* Clear went out of business. Ouch.  A quick call to Visa explaining the situation and they took care of refunding our payment, so at least we weren’t out for a year’s worth of non-service from a defunct provider.

Also, SPG (the hotel company) came through with flying colors on the customer service side. I had enrolled in Clear as part of an SPG-backed promotion. They sent out an email last week apologizing to the customers who enrolled through their promotion and offering to credit our frequent traveler accounts with extra points for our trouble. Nice move, SPG!

Meanwhile, I have to believe there’s got to be a way to fix this. Entrepreneurs, investors–where are you? Help us get back to clear skies soon.

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