07/31/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Travel Writer in Defense of the CLEAR Card

CLEAR is gone. So are Michael and Farrah and Ed. But for me, the biggest loss last week was the now-infamous CLEAR Card that would rapidly take members through security. As a travel writer and entrepreneur who has to pay for my own travel, CLEAR was my way of saving time and aggravation when I flew. Unless I dropped the cash for First Class, I had to wait in those ridiculously long security lines with the rest of the folks who have traveled once in their life. Before CLEAR, I was getting sick and tired waiting for those country boys who wore big, shiny silver belts that took forever to remove, the kids who refused to take their shoes off, and all those moms who were on the verge of mental breakdowns as they were forced to throw away bottles of Gatorade they packed, not knowing they can't bring more than 3-ounces of liquid through security. With CLEAR those frightful memories were just vestiges of a tragic past.

CLEAR was more than a time saver for me, it gave me a sense of peace that is pretty hard to get when traveling. Their sky blue kiosks were tranquil gateways through a usually unpleasant security check. With CLEAR I felt well taken care of. And, instead of racing to the airport two hours before my flight to wait in a line filled with impatient travelers, I knew that I could saunter into the CLEAR line. There, I would place my index finger on a scanner, seconds later, I would be magically whisked to the front of the long, menacing security line with a lovely gentleman who would carry my laptop straight to the x-ray machine. The experience was always delightful -- a word rarely used in air travel.

It seems to me that one of CLEAR Card's mistakes was not tell its members what was going on with its creditors before the whole system collapsed. The other mistake was taking people's money hours before shutting down. And yes, I would be pretty pissed off at CLEAR if I just renewed my $200 annual membership and lost my money (which I meant to do 10 days ago when I was flying from SFO to JFK, but I was running really late.) But what would have happened if, say, Jim Moroney, the CEO, sent out an e-mail to all its members and said something like: "Hey there, we are about to go bust, but if you can help us out, we can stay around. We need $XXX from each member to survive." USA Today said that there were 200,000 members. At $200 each that's $40,000,000! I am sure they could have figured out how to stay in business with that kind of cash, if they asked their members to pay for an extra year -- I would have.

Then again, CLEAR had a few powerful people who did not care for them. There's a group fellows who are part of the "old boys club" that fly First Class everywhere they go and didn't care to see a program like CLEAR succeed. Take David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, an airline trade group that had opposed the program. He said, "I don't see any future in Registered Traveler." Of course he doesn't, because he one of those executive who fly VIP wherever he goes. You think he cares about the rest of us -- the business owners, travel writers, the hard working entrepreneurs who do our best to meet with clients across the country, visit new destinations, and do it all on our own dime? CLEAR was our chance to pay for a much-needed break through the gauntlet of air travel security checks.

It sucks. I am bummed that I have to get back in line with the screaming kids, bitching seniors, and rowdy teenagers. But then again, I could always just stay at home.