Friday, September 19, 2008

Traveling "Clear"

A few months ago I signed up for a product that allows me to cut past security lines in certain airports. It's an identification card that stores a scan of your retinas and your fingerprints that gate agents use to know you are who you say you are.

I've used it in San Francisco on once occasion, and SFO was the reason I was willing to pay $100 a year given their abysmal security set up. It's hard to believe that in all the years since the security processes changed, that SFO still thinks it's okay to operate on a bunch of folding tables. Even Albuquerque went ahead and built a modern security center.

In SFO, you enter via a different line and you're checked and plugged into a shorter bag check line. It's approximately the same here in Denver, where I tried it for the first time this morning, except that once your fingerprints are checked, and the Clear Valet had grabbed your bins of stuff, you are directed over to the regular line where the Valet asks some poor passenger if it's okay to cut the line since I am a "registered traveler." Of course the hapless dupe says "yes", what else are they going to say? But the thing I figured out and what is not clear to those being displaced is that "registered traveler" means nothing more than I've paid $100 for the privilege of stepping in front of anyone who hasn't paid it.

The extra checks I went through to qualify are not conducted on anyone else. The fact that they have to stand in that long serpentine (and today it was long) doesn't make them as secure as I am by virtue of my stored biometrics. It just means I have a bunch of data on file, and that I am willing to pay to cut the line. It's funny, because the system is a really good idea from a security standpoint, except that someone wanting to do something bad isn't about to apply, pay the fee and then cut line. Rather they'd probably like to stand in the long line with the rest of the anonymous travelers.

I guess it simply boils down to another case of rank hathing its privilege, because no matter how much I muse on this over my lemon poppy seed muffin, I can't figure out how it does anything but move me to the front.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing (wink, wink.)


Many airports are now offering free WiFi to travelers. Some have installed "hot spots" which require a credit card and others (ABQ, PDX) have done the nice thing and simply made it free. Denver has taken the middle ground - free access with annoying advertising.

When you first connect you're told you'll be watching a 30 second commercial prior to being given open access. Well, fine, I can do that. So I watched the commercial and clicked on my favorite page, Cyclingnews, to get an update on the Vuelta. It's not that easy. If you don't click on the special button that says "Begin FREE Internet Session NOW" you get dumped into the 30 second commercial loop a second time. I suppose the upside of that is that I now know what cell phone service I will never buy. Anyway, clicking on "Begin FREE Internet Service NOW" takes you to wherever you want to go, but with a tidy little banner across the screen offering a continuously changing palette of more advertising along with a couple of links to local shops, flight schedules and games.

Very cute, offer a free service and capture the audience. Smart thinking DIA!

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